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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

Guidelines on the Empowerment of Women and girls in Nutrition and Food Security

We do not propose to comment on the draft provided or suggest additions to it. However, we intend to examine the problem with respect to its causes with a view to outlining some ways by which the inequities in the area may be alleviated. First of all, we need to make certain that the words we use are clearly defined and their meanings are reasonable and not merely rhetorical.

‘Empowerment’ may sound ‘obvious’, ‘self-evident’ etc. But is it in this context? Consider nutrition; we used the word to include both food production and individual consumption. After all, if food is not produced, its consumption becomes purely academic. This would raise the question, does this empowerment applies to food production, its consumption or both?

As to the empowerment between sexes in food security, the two previously mentioned components are equally important, for there cannot be food security without its appropriate production and consumption. Just producing food and stockpiling it does not constitute food security unless people are able to consume adequate quantities of it. Therefore, it would be reasonable to suggest that we ought to direct our attention to ‘empowerment’ in food production and consumption as well as ensuring their sustainability and resilience. Neglect of any one of those four aspects would make such empowerment useless.

What does this ‘empowerment’ mean? Taking food producton first, do we mean that both sexes who are engaged in it should be free to do any one or more of the following:

  • Engage in any form of food production
  • Dispose of the food one produces in any chosen way; since this often involves the use of trade sub-system of a food system, great deal of words have been written/uttered about it with nugatory effect.
  • Consumption of any food in whatever quantity desired.

Let us remind ourselves that food security depends on possessing an adequate, resilient and appropriate food production that is environmentally sustainable whose output is consumed in appropriate quantities with minimal waste. If the argument thus far is accepted, we might propose the following:

  • Let there be equal opportunities for both sexes to produce food, dispose of it and to procure a wholesome, varied and a balanced diet.

True, this statement is too simple, it lacks the high-soundning verbiage beloved by those who plough the paper with their pen. But is it not what is desired? Well then, let us consider what basic obstacles would have to be overcome to achieve our objective.

En passant, let us look at the fashionable current proposals aimed at attaining the present goal. Irrespective of their exact wording, they fall into three categories:

  1. Proclamation of rights.
  2. Legislation.
  3. Technical and/or financial aid to women and girls.

Please note that legislation would promulgate laws that require women and girls access to ‘education,’ ‘training’ etc., as recommended by local expertise which often remains ignorant of the prevailing conditions in their own countryside. We will remain silent on people’s belief in declared rights because we do not with to engage in religious debates.

Perhaps, a rare reader might ask, “what on earth is he talking about?” It is a fair question; before one acts, one needs to know what is desirable to achieve and how much of it is possible to achieve. Would not one think this reasonable?

In this context, have we ascertained any of the following:

  • Trainable abilities of the target group.
  • Technical and financial resources at the ‘trainers’s and supervisors’ long-term disposal.
  • Availability of requisite infra-structural support services.
  • Access to social goods like education, health care, etc.
  • Physical security of the individual.

Let us assume that everything listed just above obtains to some degree, for it cannot be found in a perfect state anywhere in the real world. Then, how may one explain the need for the present empowerment only in some areas?

We hold that the birth of regulations and rest of the legal machinery is greately posterior to social norms; some of which were concerned with ethics both secular and religious. For instance, nobody would deny that stealing has been condemned even in the most ‘primitive’ societies. And two hundred years ago, in some highly civilised lands, children were hanged for stealing a loaf of bread. Even there, it took a long time to make this legal norm milder and perhaps, a little less civilised.

Discrimination against females has taken a long time to ameliorate even in countries it is virtually absent now. Meanwhile in some others, their belief systems inculcate into people the notion that women are somehow inferior and ought to be treated as such. In some cases, this is done in a covert fashion while in others, it is overt and even extreme.

We cannot hope to attain our goal if we pretend not to see what is glaringly obvious. Neither screamed rhetoric nor loud abuse could pave the way either. Most belief systems seem to have some shared norms of common decency. It may be possible to base them as a point of departure for honest diplomatic exchanges with a view to modifying the undesirable social norms.

Best wishes!

Lal Manavado.