Gender-based violence affects food security and nutrition

Interview with FAO’s Deputy Director-General, Daniel Gustafson

©FAO/Paballo Thekiso


When women are hurt, food insecurity and poverty prevail in many households. Eliminating gender-based violence (GBV) is crucial, not only because it violates human rights but also because it reinforces many contributing factors as an interview with FAO’s Deputy Director-General, Daniel Gustafson outlines on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Why is this issue important for FAO? 
Daniel Gustafson: Globally, but in particular, in the agriculture sector and in rural areas, where FAO operates, gender-based violence (GBV) is pervasive. Statistics show that on average one in three women experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime. This is one of the most widespread human rights violations in the world, and it not only affects victims and survivors, but also their families and communities, as well as the peace and prosperity of nations at large.

Humanitarian emergencies, food insecurity and poverty are increasing the prevalence of GBV, undermining our efforts to ensure household and national food security and nutrition. It is seriously impacting people’s physical health and emotional and mental well-being, as well as their ability to work and participate in community life. GBV affects primarily women and girls in their productive and reproductive years, compromising their capacity to be productive workers, earners and caregivers - re-enforcing the vicious cycle of poverty and jeopardizing agricultural productivity, food security and nutrition.

GBV is the most extreme manifestation of gender inequality and a fundamental human rights violation. Protracted crises can create and exacerbate many forms of GBV, having a devastating impact on the agriculture sector and food security by reducing the capacity and productivity of survivors as a result of illness, injury, stigma and discrimination.

FAO is committed to protect, support and restore the human rights and sustainable livelihoods of women and girls and also of men and boys. This is crucial for the elimination of hunger and poverty and for ensuring the safety and dignity of people.

Left: ©FAO/Nosim Kalandarov; Right: ©FAO/Olivier Asselin

What is FAO doing to address GBV?
Daniel Gustafson:  Primarily, FAO is contributing to the protection of individuals at risk of gender-based violence through its focus on food security and nutrition, poverty alleviation, restoration and strengthening of rural livelihoods – all of which are shielding factors against GBV.

Reducing the inequality gap between rural women and men in access to productive resources, services and rural institutions; ensuring that women can have a say and be part of policy decision-making processes; and increasing their access to economic opportunities that can improve their individual and household well-being is of fundamental importance for a sustainable change. FAO works with both women and men, institutions and other partners to address this issue.

For example, through programmes such as the Dimitra Clubs and Junior Farm Field and Life Schools, men and women are coming together to address gender discrimination and violence against women.

FAO is also involved in the Safe Access to Fuel and Energy (SAFE) initiatives in South Sudan, Somalia and Kenya, among others. A SAFE intervention could be the provision and/or production of fuel-efficient stoves and alternative fuels; investments in sustainable natural resources for fuel, or promotion of less wood-fuel-intensive livelihoods. These interventions in times of conflict or natural disasters, have proven to reduce the risk of gender-based violence against women and children who are tasked with collecting fuel, by reducing the amount of times they need to venture into risky areas.

In follow-up to the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), FAO has made ten specific commitments focused on achieving gender equality and two for preventing and mitigating GBV. The commitments include implementing strategies to engage men and boys, and to increase staff training on inclusion of gender and protection-sensitive measures in the design and delivery of programmes.

More recently, FAO has developed a guide for staff and partners on how to address gender-based violence titled “How can we protect men, women and children from gender-based violence? Addressing GBV in the food security and agriculture sector.” Awareness raising and capacity development around these issues have begun, with training delivered to staff in Mogadishu, Hargeisa and Rabat over the last couple of months.

©UN Women/Deepika Nath

What are some of the results FAO has seen from its work? 
Daniel Gustafson:  We at FAO address GBV within field programmes in the context of protracted crises, disaster risk reduction and the building of resilient livelihoods for women and men. 

For example, the Junior/Farmer Field and Life Schools (J/FFLS) have contributed substantively to positive transformations in household relationships. These schools are also known as “schools without walls”, that work to improve and strengthen men and women’s life skills and knowledge of agronomic practices whilst raising awareness on human and women’s rights, gender stereotypes, and how to protect themselves from GBV and HIV.

By providing an opportunity for men and women to work together and learn effective approaches to livelihood sustainability, men have come to see the value of women’s work and more importantly, the value of women.

The Dimitra Clubs are a signature programme within FAO proven to transform gender relations and empower rural men and womenThe clubs are groups of rural women, men and young people – mixed or not – who voluntarily meet to discuss the challenges they face in their daily lives and take collective action to resolve their problems. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this participatory and rights-based approach has resulted in more equitable relations between men and women at household, community and institutional levels. For example, FAO staff have observed young men collecting fuelwood and water, tasks that were previously seen as the responsibility of women and girls only.

The success of the Dimitra Clubs is due largely to two factors: the inclusion of men and boys as change agents and champions in the process of women’s and girls’ empowerment, and the opportunities provided to women to express their opinions in public and have their views incorporated into decision-making processes.

Source: UN Women

What is FAO doing to mark this occasion?
Daniel Gustafson:  Our goal is to equip our staff and partners with information on how GBV is relevant to our work. We will be holding a joint event with IFAD and WFP to raise awareness and discuss how to better design and deliver food security and nutrition programmes in ways that prevent and mitigate GBV and contribute to the protection of survivors and those at risk.

FAO, together with UN Country Teams, UN Women, UNFPA and other national and international partners, will also be championing the “16 Days of Activism to end Violence against Women" campaign in 5 regions of Niger (Maradi, Tillaberi, Dosso, Tahoua and Zinder). In 120 villages where there are Dimitra Clubs, the campaign will raise awareness on gender-based violence. The municipal authority will be sponsoring the campaign.

The United Nations Secretary-General’s campaign, UNiTE to End Violence against Women (UNiTE), calls for global action to increase awareness and create opportunities to discuss the challenges and solutions to end GBV. 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is an annual international campaign that runs from 25 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women through to 10 December, Human Rights Day.

This year’s theme Leave no one behind: End violence against women and girls, reinforces the commitment to a world free from violence for all women and girls around the world, while reaching marginalized men and women, including refugees, migrants, minorities, indigenous peoples and people affected by disasters and climate-related shocks.

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5. Gender equality