FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

Women in Latin America and the Caribbean face greater poverty and obesity compared to men

FAO calls for empowering rural women to eradicate hunger on the eve of World Women's Day.

In Latin America, 40% of rural women over the age of 15 do not have their own income. Photo: Max Toranzos / FAO

7 March 2017, Santiago, Chile - International Women's Day is commemorated tomorrow, and FAO emphasized the need to empower women to reduce their poverty and obesity rates and to advance towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

The SDGs calls for greater equality and empowerment for women, not just as a specific goal but as part of the solution to the major development problems the world currently faces, as they are a cornerstone of rural economies and food security.

According to FAO, empowering rural women and investing in activities that significantly increase their productivity could lead to a significant reduction in hunger and malnutrition.

"To achieve this, all countries must incorporate a gender equality approach into their public policies, ensure its effective implementation and make it a top political issue," said Claudia Brito, FAO’s Gender Officer.

In January of this year, Latin America and the Caribbean took a big step in this direction, when the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) adopted the gender strategy of the region’s most important hunger eradication initiative, the CELAC FSN Plan.

Higher rates of malnutrition and poverty

According to the Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security in LAC 2016, obesity disproportionately affects women in the region. The rate of female obesity is 26.8 percent, compared to 18.5 percent for men.

There are multiple factors behind this regional trend, such as poverty and lack of access to productive resources, comprehensive health services, poor access to nutrition education, and excessive workload, especially for rural women rural.

Despite the fact that overall poverty in the region has declined, women's poverty has increased: according to the index of femininity of poverty, there are 121 indigent women for every 100 indigent men in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In Latin America, 40% of rural women over the age of 15 do not have their own income, although they work on a daily basis, unpaid. In addition, rural women in the region only have a fraction of the land, credit, productive inputs and education that men do.

Ensuring access to property

SDG 5 recognizes the importance of women's access to land and other forms of ownership, since it bound together with other fundamental rights such as food security, health, access to water, decent work and a safe home.

A study of six countries found that the percentage of female owners is higher in Mexico (32.2%) and Paraguay (29.7%), but only 20% in Nicaragua and 14% in Honduras.

For indigenous women - who make up about 10 percent of rural women in the region - land rights often take the form of collective property rights and are key to their food security.

"The access to land of indigenous women in the region should be strengthened, in line with the mandate of the World Conference of Indigenous Peoples in 2014, which established a commitment to support the empowerment of indigenous women," Brito said.

Inequities in the rural labor market

In Latin America and the Caribbean, 121 million people live in rural areas, who represent approximately 20% of the total regional population. 59 million are women, 48 % of the total rural population.

Although they account for 20% of the agricultural labor force in Latin America and the Caribbean, women face a number of inequities that affect both their economic development and food security.

Agricultural censuses show that in Latin America and the Caribbean, 30 per cent of farms in Chile, Jamaica and Saint Lucia are managed or headed by a women; while only 8% of farms in Belize and Guatemala are female led. In general, however, female-headed farms are smaller and on lower-quality land.

An FAO study that analyzed, from a gender perspective, the value chains of cassava (Belize), quinoa (Bolivia), maize (Guatemala) and cotton at a regional level, found that in rural areas women carry out a variety of farm activities, in addition to domestic work and unpaid care in their homes.

According to the study, the participation of women is more marked in activities that involve time and physical effort, such as planting, weeding and harvesting. Conversely, they participate less in the links of the productive chain related with the generation of higher incomes.

The study "Women of cotton" identified several factors of inequality in the value chains of this crop in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru, such as limited access to credits and financial support schemes, lack of control over profits, and their low power of decision with regard to productive assets.