Food security exists, according to the World Food Summit Draft Plan of Action when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious and, some would add, culturally adequate, food to meet their dietary needs for an active and healthy life. In other words, food security depends on the availability, accessibility, adequacy and acceptability of food. In each of these areas women worldwide play crucial roles: as food producers, as income earners responsible for the provision of food for their households, and as those who process and prepare the food to keep the members of their families healthy and active.
Women are the majority of the world's agricultural producers, playing important roles in fisheries and forestry as well as in farming. Worldwide, women produce more than 50 percent of the food that is grown (FAO, 1995a). Moreover, in many places of the world, women are responsible for providing the food for their families, if not by producing it than by earning the income for its purchase. Finally, women are nearly universally responsible for food preparation for their families. AU this they do in the face of constraints and attitudes that conspire to undervalue their work and responsibilities, reduce their productivity, place upon them a disproportionate work burden discriminate against them and hinder their participation in decision and policy making.
Unless urgent action is taken to remove these constraints and change these attitudes, there can be no hope of achieving food security for this and future generations.
This paper gives an overview of the current and changing roles of women in food security in the different regions of the world, particularly as food producers, in the context of global and regional agricultural trends. It looks at the major factors, including those at the macro-level, that affect and constrain women in their roles as food producers and providers. Finally, it recommends action to remove these constraints and to promote conditions that enable women to carry out their roles in food security more effectively and thus promote the food security of all people, at all times.
This paper is based on and synthesizes the regional papers on "Rural Women and Food Security: Current Status and Perspectives" from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Near East, prepared by the Women in Development Service (SDWW) of FAO as part of the preparatory activities for the World Food Summit.
The data presented comes from these sources unless otherwise stated. Unevenness in information from the regions and countries is primarily due to gaps in or lack of gender disaggregated data and indicates where further information and data collection is needed.