Feminist approaches can make failing food systems fit for the future: to feed everyone, we must include everyone!


Climate, Energy & Natural Resources

Picture of Hannah Scheuermann
Hannah Scheuermann

Advisor at the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development of GIZ

Picture of Birte Brecht-Drouart
Birte Brecht-Drouart

Advisor at the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development of GIZ

The global food crisis and its impacts on women and girls are a wake-up call to make agri-food systems more equitable, inclusive and sustainable. Feminist development policies offer the tools for such a change.

Multiple crises, climate extremes and the ongoing pandemic have exacerbated the global food crisis in recent years. Currently, up to 828mn people worldwide are undernourished. Women and girls in particular are at risk of hunger, especially in times of crisis. A recent United Nations report found that one in three women globally experienced moderate or severe food insecurity in 2021, a figure that has more than doubled since 2019. At the same time, women are often left out of decision-making processes that shape the agri-food system and are denied rights and resources that could enhance their resilience, strengthen food security and increase agricultural income. Feminist development policy has the potential to recognise and work upon these multi-layered situations and can thus structurally address the ongoing food crisis to the benefit of everyone.

Following the example set by Sweden in 2014, many countries base their feminist policy approach on the three pillars of rights, representation and resources, also called the ‘3Rs’. How does this apply to the agriculture sector?

Merely including women, however, is not enough

In many legal and cultural contexts, women still lack the right to own and inherit land. They also have insufficient access to resources such as agricultural finance, materials or knowledge. Finally, representation is key: being insufficiently represented and consulted in agricultural ministries and local decision-making bodies leaves women’s perspectives and needs ignored.

Merely including women, however, is not enough. Both women and men are immensely diverse groups in which landowners have privilege over the landless, married women might have advantages vis-à-vis widows, and queer people might be forced to abandon their rural livelihoods altogether in hostile environments. The concept of intersectionality, coined by Dr Kimberly Crenshaw, offers a useful tool to describe how those different forms of inequality intersect and exacerbate each other. Feminist development policy recognises that existing inequalities in terms of gender, ethnicity, class and other aspects overlap and are defined by power structures and social norms. Making these power structures and social norms explicit and addressing them in an intersectional manner is a key starting point of feminist approaches to fight inequalities and thus to tackle root causes of hunger and poverty.

Equitable opportunities also require an increased self-reflection of development partners, looking at possible colonial continuities and current power relations. Local perspectives can be different from what is initially considered important from an outside perspective. When designing and implementing projects, development organisations should build more thoroughly on local and indigenous perspectives by working with grassroots organisations and local actors of change. The aim is to strengthen strategies of co-creation and to be structurally flexible and supportive towards indigenous solutions. By critically reflecting on power relations and focusing on local perspectives, feminist development approaches provide a much-needed framework to transform agri-food systems in an inclusive, sustainable way.

Feminist development policies have the potential to go beyond individual empowerment and become an asset for the whole community

One current approach to the intensified food crisis is to strengthen local resilience, thereby reducing humanitarian needs, and to boost sustainable local production and diversify the used crops, thus decreasing dependencies on imports and increasing resilience to climate change. Women, girls and marginalised communities experience crises and hunger differently than men, and they have their own solutions and contributions to achieve a prosperous community. While men tend to prioritise cash crops, women tend to focus on staple crops, which contribute to local food security. Making up nearly half of the agricultural workforce in low- and middle-income countries, women’s perspectives must be moved from the sidelines to the centre stage. Gender equity and the inclusion of the marginalised is not something to add, but rather to put at the heart of development projects.

Feminist development policies have the potential to go beyond individual empowerment and become an asset for the whole community. Instead of promoting some women selectively and quantitatively, they strive for transformative change in the framework of inclusive equity to the benefit of everyone, no matter what gender. Firstly, because the definition of what should change comes from local actors, leading to more sustainable outcomes. Secondly, because increased empowerment of women and the marginalised leads to greater benefits for entire communities. For example, according to the African Development Bank, the gross domestic product (GDP) in Africa would increase by about 12% if women had access to the same resources as men. Beyond this economic perspective, feminist development policy reminds us that women are entitled to equal opportunities simply because of universal human rights. Something can indeed be done structurally against the world food crisis. Feminist development policies provide an opportunity for Europe to drive transformative change and to dive deeper into the objective of bringing women and men on board, with the aim of equitable rights, resources and representations, to achieve a sustainable life without hunger.

This article is a contribution from a member or partner organisation of Friends of Europe. The views expressed in this #CriticalThinking article reflect those of the author(s) and not of Friends of Europe. It took inspiration from a recent conference on “Rural Development goes Feminist” held by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH from 24-26 October 2022 in Bonn. Speakers included by Dr. Nozomi Kawarazuka from the International Potato Centre (CIP) in Viet Nam and Njeri Kimotho, Global Inclusivity Lead at Solidaridad, amongst others.

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