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Are Disadvantaged Women in Africa 'Eating Last and Eating Least'?

Photo: Women farming (Getty Images)

On International Women's Day, Human Rights Watch (HRW) hosted a Twitter Space meeting looking at the impact of food scarcity on women. Eating Last and Eating Least: The Food Crisis is a Women's Right Crisis put into context the food crisis exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine war through the lens of women and girls, especially in the Global South.

The cost of living, which has rapidly increased since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine is being increasingly felt by people in regions that are already beset by conflict or the effects of the climate crisis before the invasion. For countries still reeling from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine has made an already desperate situation much worse. Millions more go to bed hungry across the world each night since the war disrupted supply chains and pushed up already inflated food and energy prices, according to HRW.

A record 349 million people across 82 countries are facing acute hunger according to the World Food Programme, a staggering 200 million people more than before the pandemic. Countries that have become increasingly reliant on food inputs following the pandemic, and often decades of drought and floods, bear the brunt of the present crisis most acutely. Of the 24 countries, the UN has identified as hunger hotspots, 16 are in Africa.

Women and girls are bearing the disproportionate toll from the war, from conflict, from COVID-19 and the climate emergency. Almost 3 in 5 of those affected by hunger are women. In times of food shortages and crisis, women eat last and eat least.

For many people in low and middle-income countries, hunger was already a reality before Russia's full scale invasion of Ukraine disrupted food chains. For years, droughts and floods have been destroying harvests. The speculation and influence of financial markets and food commodities have increased since the economic crisis in 2008, and ongoing conflicts in parts of Africa and Asia, make farming difficult and dangerous.

"Millions of women are starving. The world is in the midst of a devastating and escalating hunger crisis. Some governments are stubborn, they are not declaring famine, but definitely teetering on the edge of famine. The conflict in Ukraine, one of the world's major breadbasket, is compounding what was already years of catastrophic hunger in most spaces.

Ukraine and Russia together supply 30% of globally traded wheat, 20% of maize and 70% of sunflower supplies so a shortfall in export supplies of different magnitudes is driving prices up and leaving import dependent countries with higher food import bills, or no food to eat at least," according to Angela Machonesa, the regional head of influencing and strategic communications for Middle East, Eastern and Southern Africa at Plan International.

Machonesa says since the start of the crisis in Ukraine, food shipments from the Black Sea have reduced and the costs have grown significantly. This has immediate impacts on import dependent countries, military operations that are continuing unabated have disrupted Ukraine's agricultural production for the 2020 to 2023.

In times of crises, when there is literally nothing to put on the table. It is women and girls who suffer the most, women and girls eat last, and they eat least. Out of the out of the 350 million that are going severely hungry in the world right now, nearly 6 out of 10 are women and girls.

"Women are feeding the world as finders, as feeders, as makers along with also taking up the bulk of unpaid care and domestic work. And yet statistics shows that they often eat at the end, and they often are malnourished and are the most food insecure," according to Ayushi Kalyan, a lawyer and researcher with a focus on human rights advocacy, corporate accountability and women's rights.

"Entrenched patriarchal norms, gender inequality, you're talking of socially ascribed gender roles, gender-based violence, women carrying the bulk of care, reproductive work, and also multiple other systems of oppression that rip women of their agency and their decision making about their own bodies and their health are also the causes of why women around the world are going more hungry than men," adds Kalyan.

According to Kalyan, the current food crisis is a women's right crisis.

"It is essentially a crisis for anybody who falls outside of this dominant global hegemony or systems of power. Anybody in the margins and in the periphery would be disproportionately impacted by the global food situation. So it's a crisis of indigenous peoples rights, migrant and seasonal workers rights, agricultural worker rights who are all systematically also excluded from labour rights protection for example. For instance, members of the LGBTQI+ community are also at higher risk of hunger and malnutrition and face systematic barriers to access food," says Kalyan.

The fact is that women eat last and eat least, that women are definitely at the end of the food chain, very often, despite the fact that there are the producers of food and they're very often responsible for putting the food on the table affects their health and that of their children.

Source: AllAfrica


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