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For Rouaya, 33, raising five children in the small town of Akkar in northern Lebanon, times are tough.
After the double crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic collapse of Lebanon, he has had to double his workload, “working in the fields and at home”. But still, he struggles to earn enough money to eat. The Russian invasion of the Ukraine and its impact on the food supply has only made matters worse.
“I often don’t have enough money to buy food to cook, so I give the children bread sprinkled with thyme. Sometimes, too, we only eat twice a day. Times have never been so bad,” she said.
Rouaya is not alone. She is one of tens of millions of women around the world who find themselves eating last and eating less as the worsening food crisis exacerbates existing gender inequality issues.
Of the estimated 828 million people worldwide affected by hunger in 2021, around three in five (59%) they were women, according to the report published earlier this month by the humanitarian organization Care.
That equates to 150 million more women facing food insecurity than men.
And the gap widens.
Since 2018, the disparity between men’s and women’s food security has increased 8.4 times, accelerated in part by the coronavirus pandemic. Now, with the start of Russia’s war in the Ukraine and consequent food shortages, coupled with broader inflationary factors, the situation looks set to deteriorate further.
“It’s not just a huge gap, it’s a gap compared to 2018 that is growing rapidly,” Emily Janoch, Care’s senior director of thought leadership and one of the report’s authors, told CNBC.
The findings, which are based on data from the United Nations and the World Bank, report the state of affairs through December 2021. The consequences of the 2022 crises will not be known until next year, but the forecast looks bleak.
“Everything we’re seeing tells us it’s going to get worse,” Janoch said.
“If you look at the impact on agriculture after the fertilizer crisis in Russia, the implications are astronomical. We don’t know exactly what they will be like, but we know that they will fall heavily on women and girls,” she said. .
According to the UN 2022 ‘The state of food security and nutrition in the world’ report, women have poorer food security than men in all regions of the world. That disparity is especially pronounced in developing countries and specifically in the Global South.
The Care report also found that as gender inequality increased in 109 countries, so did food insecurity. In Sudan, for example, that the World Bank scored 2.5 out of 6 for gender equality —nearly two-thirds of women (65%) reported being food insecure versus nearly half (49%) of men.
That as girls and women we are responsible for 85-90% of home food preparation globally and most food purchases, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
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“Women are very socialized to carry that burden on themselves. And everyone around them is socialized to assume that they will,” Janoch said.
In fact, even when both men and women are technically food insecure, women still tend to bear the greatest burden.
In Somalia, for example, men reported eating smaller meals, while women reported skipping meals altogether.
In Lebanon, at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, 85% of people reported that they reduced the amount of food they ate, but more women (85%) than men (57%) reported that they also ate smaller portions. .
Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, one in five (21%) women reported experiencing an increase in domestic violence as a result of rising food prices.
These gender gaps in food security have important implications not only for women and the families they may be responsible for, but also for the economy as a whole.
Often, a large part of women’s economic contributions are unrecognized or difficult to calculate, at least in economic data. In fact, the IMF estimates that the economic value of unpaid work, which he says is mostly done by women, represents between 10% and 60% of the gross domestic product.
Rebecca Burgess, Country Director for The Hunger Project UK, said further enabling women’s economic participation and decision-making, both at household and legislative levels, would go a long way to reducing poverty and improving nutritional outcomes in all areas.
“A proven way to overcome many systemic barriers to a woman’s success has been increased participation by women in local, regional and national lawmaking as empowered change agents,” Burgess told CNBC.
“Time and again studies have shown that when women are given the opportunity to earn and control an income, they typically invest significant portions of their income in food, health care and education for their families,” she said.
In fact, a 2021 Care study in Burundi found that investing in gender equality in agriculture generated a return of $5 for every $1 invested, compared to a return of $2 for every $1 invested in agricultural programs that ignored gender equality. gender equality.
“Women are big players in economic supply chains that you don’t always see,” Janoch said. “A dollar in the hands of a woman goes further to increase food security.”