by Priya Bapat, Humanitas Global
It is a truth universally acknowledged that women hold the key to ending global hunger. Although there are research gaps on the impact and role that women play in agriculture, it's clear that women play a major role as smallholder farmers and global and local food producers. Women are also the key household decisionmakers when it comes to providing for the health and nutrition of their children and families. Economic development and microfinance advocates frequently state that women offer a better return on investment for social development, choosing to spend more of their increased incomes on their family's health, education and overall well-being.
As fuzzy as the exact figures may be, experts all agree - women are the cornerstone for improving health and nutrition of their families. In honor of International Women's Day, we ask - what's missing? In a word, equality. This year's International Women's Day theme focuses on the need for gender equality and the impact that this can have on local communities, nations and the world as a whole. In the words of Secretary Ban Ki-moon, "The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all."
Development work tends to focus on women for a reason. Women face inequalities in a number of areas that limit society's ability to provide a higher level of health and nutrition, including:
- Land tenure issues/land rights - Globally, women face challenges in terms of land ownership rights, inheritance and are less likely to have the resources or ability to purchase their own land.
- Access to inputs - Women also tend to have less access to much-needed agricultural inputs like information, fertilizer and technology.
- Access to credit and financial resources - Microfinance groups tend to focus on women because they have less access to more traditional financial services.
- Education inequality - In many parts of the world, girls still do not have the same access to primary, secondary and post-secondary education as boys.
- Social status - Women still face gender-based discrimination worldwide, leading to reduced influence in household decision-making, violence and death.
Gender equality is a cross-cutting issue that touches on all aspects of development, including health and nutrition. In turn, women's access and rights in each of these areas affects their abilities in others. For example, improved access to credit and financial resources could improve their ability to purchase land or fund the education of themselves or their children. Access to land and financial resources improves their ability to care for their families.
It seems strange to have an observance day dedicated to half of the world's population, but as long as the status of women remains so out of equilibrium with that of men, it is necessary to not only highlight the progress that has been made, but the road that lies ahead.