Respecting women improves food security: study

A recent study in Zambia has found that increased respect for women improves household food security.

The study, published in the journal ‘Insights’, highlights the positive effect of changes in attitude to gender yield in Southern Africa.

From 2003 to 2008 researchers and development workers of the Agricultural Support Programme, largely funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, encouraged women and men to take joint responsibility for household food security.

Through regular meetings, all adult members of the household were involved in creating a plan for their resources, which all had to agree to.

The programme was based on extensive field research around the world, which shows that closing the gender gap generates significant agricultural and societal improvements. Gender justice and ending hunger are closely entwined, interdependent goals. In fact, where women have equal access to resources on small farms, agricultural output increases by 20 to 30%. Women are more likely to spend surplus household money on food, health, clothing and educating their children than men.

The results of the programme were described as “astonishing”. Both men and women believed agricultural outputs increased and that household food security is better. Significantly, participants also came to understand that assets belong to the whole household rather than one individual.

Empowering women became seen in positive terms by men, rather than as a threat to their masculinity, leading to less-tense intra-household relationships. Both women and men felt empowered and became more productive.

Like Zimbabwe, food security is a challenge in Zambia, as most food production systems are rain-fed and crops are harvested once a year, resulting in highly seasonal income flows. In this environment long-term planning is essential to feed a household throughout the year.

A recent estimate by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations suggests that around 925 million people do not have access to food each day despite surplus production; agricultural resource management is a priority.

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Does empowering women threaten men?

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