WomenWatch - Information and Resources on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women

Overview: Food Security

Employees prepare bread dough for baking in the Jenishkul Bakery in the village of Kara Koo, Kyrgyzstan.
Employees prepare bread dough for baking in the Jenishkul Bakery in the village of Kara Koo, Kyrgyzstan. (Photo: UN Women/David Snyder)

Food security is defined as having four main components: availability, access, utilization, and stability. Women play key roles in maintaining all four pillars of food security: as food producers and agricultural entrepreneurs; "gatekeepers" who dedicate their own time, income and decision-making to maintain food and nutritional security of their households and communities; and "managers" of the stability of food supplies in times of economic hardship.

In many countries women supply most of the labour needed to produce food crops and often control the use and sale of food produce grown on plots they manage. However, the gender disparities in ownership of, access to, and control of livelihood assets (such as land, water, energy, credit, knowledge, and labour) negatively affect women's food production. For instance, compromised land access often means that women obtain lower yields than would otherwise be possible if household resources were allocated more equitably. Insecurity of tenure for women thus compromises their production potential and increases food insecurity. Greater food security would be achieved if women had access to needed assets and resources and had a voice in the decisions that have an impact on the lives of their households and communities.

A significant proportion of women work in informal non-agricultural sectors, such as trading and small-scale processing, which both contributes to the food value chain and generates income for them to purchase food. However, rural women often face constraints to market engagement due to factors such as lack of mobility, capacity, and technical skills. Likewise, women food crop entrepreneurs can play important economic roles that have positive effects beyond the micro level (e.g. supplying food products and employment opportunities), but are often hindered by discriminatory practices and stereotypical attitudes from accessing opportunities to expand their businesses. Improving women farmers' participation in marketing chains and entrepreneurial activities – e.g., by investment in transport and infrastructure, improved provision of training and information, or changes in policy and regulatory frameworks – would mean giving a boost to aggregate food security.

FAO supports rural women's involvement in global governance for food security through the Committee on Food Security and its work on the right to food. Other notable FAO initiatives include policy and technical assistance to stimulate gender equitable food security and agricultural policies, productive employment and decent work opportunities for rural women; support to initiatives designed to strengthen rural women's capacity to organize themselves, form associations and act collectively for their common interests; and a range of research and policy initiatives geared towards making rural development interventions — including food security and agricultural intensification programmes, agricultural extension schemes, technology and infrastructure innovations, agriculture-related investments, and trade and market regulations — work better for rural women.

Many IFAD-supported activities working with poorer households recognise and address their core need to improve household food and nutrition security, by stimulating smallholder production and improving post-harvest handling.

In the Occupied Palestinian Territories, UN Women supports rural women in the development of businesses to serve school canteens that can contribute to the improvement of health and nutrition of school children.