5 Reasons why Hunger is Feminine (and what can be done about it)

On March 8, countries all around the world celebrate International Women’s Day. Yet even though great strides have been made regarding women’s rights since the day was first inaugurated by the United Nations in 1975, much progress has yet to be made. Taking into account issues such as gender-based violence to unequal pay, as of 2023, no country has yet to reach gender equality.

Green Pedal wishes to honor all of the advances as of yet made and all of the people who fought for such advances, in addition to recognizing the work yet to be done. One of these areas relates to an issue close to our heart – that of the “gender of hunger.” Today, in honor of March 8, join us in exploring 5 reasons why women suffer hunger more, and learn what can be done about it.

1. Sexist cultural norms, especially regarding women’s roles in the household.

In almost every country in the world, a woman’s “role” is still seen as tied to that of motherhood, inextricably linked with the idea of “family.” This connection continues to lead to gender differences, especially within households.

For example, of the money women do make, they invest, on average, 90% of their income back into their families – whereas men tend to invest 30-40% of their earnings into taking care of their family. According to Time Magazine, women also do 85-90% of the cooking and grocery shopping.

Yet, ironically, despite their connection to food production and family investment, according to Concern USA, in nearly ⅔ of the world’s countries, women are more likely to go hungry than men. Many customs still dictate that a woman must eat last, after all the male members of a household and the children have been fed. Sometimes, mothers “voluntarily” (often due to internalized gender roles) choose to eat less so that their children and husbands eat enough (especially when food is scarce).

2. Discriminatory Laws

Furthermore, although in low- and middle-income countries women are responsible for 60-80% of food production (and half globally), they own less than 10% of this farmed land. Thus, women do most of the agricultural labor, but have almost no legal access to the land they toil over. 

Additionally, on average, women have only 3⁄4 of the legal protections granted to men during their working lives. These protections range from laws pertaining to employment bans as well as to workplace sexual harassment. These legal repercussions bleed into a woman’s ability to feed herself.

3. Women are more likely to live in extreme poverty and suffer during conflict.

Even in more “egalitarian” countries, according to the World Food Program, on average, women still only earn approximately 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. So, not only do they have less labor protections, they have less access to economic resources, and the economic resources that they do have, they tend to invest in their families.

Also, during conflict (an increasing problem due to climate change and the current geopolitical environment) women tend to suffer greater food and economic insecurity. Often left as the heads of their households as their male partners are killed or leave to fight, women lose their partners’ income (sometimes the only one of the household) in addition to facing all the other gendered challenges that arise during conflict (fear for safety, increase in violence, exchanging sexual favors for resources like food, etc.).

4. Men tend to receive more resources.

In societies where sexist norms exist, male children also tend to be sent to school more, while female children tend to be more often neglected, denied access to education or health care, or receive less or lower-quality food than their male counterparts. 

According to Concern USA, 60% of people experiencing food insecurity are women and girls, and 150 million more women went hungry in 2021 compared to men.

5. Lack of understanding in issues regarding women’s health.

And, in 2019, almost 30% of women of reproductive age had diet-related iron deficiencies (anemia) – a problem that can cause organ damage later on in life if left untreated. 

Part of this is also driven by sexist norms, especially regarding meat consumption. On average, even though women (especially at certain periods of their lives) actually need more nutrient-rich food than their male counterparts (such as during menstruation, pregnancy, or breastfeeding), globally men tend to eat more meat than women do. In part, this is driven by women’s role in eating last or least, as well as due to ideas about masculinity tied to meat consumption.

Lastly, access to public health – especially during pregnancy and breastfeeding – is also affected by gender, and can have devastating effects for not only the mother but the children as well (resulting in lifelong issues for the yet unborn child).

So, in light of so many obstacles toward women’s hunger, what can be done about it? Green Pedal points out three ways we can combat feminine hunger below:

#1. Educate women and girls.

According to UNESCO, a girl’s wage later in life increases by 20% for each year of primary school that she completes. This increases to 25% for every year of secondary school completed. Education increases a woman’s purchasing power, giving her more economic resources to invest in herself, her family, and her female children.

#2. Invest in female farmers.

According to Time Magazine, seeds, locally sourced fertilizers, clean energy, and the knowledge to become climate-smart farmers are four key ways female farmers can become more resilient and food secure.

#3. Combat sexist norms, especially regarding invisible labor.

The World Economic Forum shows that of the 7 average hours that men work a day, they receive paid compensation for 6 of those hours. In comparison, of the 7.5 hours that women on average work in a day, they only receive economic compensation for 3 of those hours. 

Gender equality must be reached at all levels in order to address women’s hunger, especially regarding paid labor and gender roles within the home. This March 8, support Green Pedal’s work in Mozambique toward increasing access to education and reducing hunger for all by clicking HERE.

Author: Shannon Leigh O’Brien