5 Min Inspiration: Closing the Gender Food Gap

5 Min Inspiration: Closing the Gender Food Gap

Did you know there 150 million more hungry women than men in the world? That’s 3 times the population of Ukraine. The problem isn’t only that there are more hungry people in the world now—although that is tragically true. Women are more likely to hungry than men. That gap is growing—in 2021, the gap was more than 8 times higher than in 2018. The current crisis in Ukraine will make that worse, as will climate change, conflict, and the continued effects of COVID-19 on economies around the world.

CARE’s new research shows that the more gender inequality there is in a country, the hungrier people are. It’s a correlation so strong across 109 countries that we re-checked all our math to be sure. This is the first global research connecting gender inequality to global hunger. Inequality is not just bad for women. It’s bad for everyone.

Here’s what else you need to know: no one else in the world will tell you this data. We see this play out in global food policy: of 84 food policies in December of 2021, only 4% refer to women as leaders who can play a role in food security. 39% of those policies overlook women entirely.

So what can we do about it? This is a problem we know how to solve. In fact, CARE’s been running programs for years that help close the gender gap in food, build gender equality, and build people and systems that can respond to shocks. We have dozens of programs that show evidence when we invest in gender equality, we see not only more people who can eat, but also more resilient farmers who grow more food.

What do we see change?

  • More people can eat. Since 2015, CARE has helped 22.6 million people improve their food security, agriculture, or nutrition. In POWER Africa in Cote d’Ivoire, 14,295 more people could eat 3 meals a day. In Ethiopia’s LINKAGES, the hungry season went from 8 months a year to 3.7—even in the worst drought in more than 35 years.  In Ghana, ALP’s support of off-season vegetable gardens has caused the hungry season to go from 144 days a year to 7 days a year. 
  • Returns on investment go up. 52.5% of participants, 53,889 people, in the Pathways to Secure Livelihoods project got better food security—and a $31 return for every $1 the project invested. In Burundi, investing in gender equality in agriculture brought a $5 return for every $1 invested, compared to a $2 return for every $1 invested in agriculture programs that ignored gender equality.
  • Gender gaps close. Mozambique’s SANI project narrowed the gender gap. Families where men were in charge saw their food security go from 16% to 22%. Where women were in charge, the number jumped from 12% at the beginning to 27% at the end of the project. In Ethiopia’s Food Sufficiency for Farmers project, the gaps between men’s and women’s average annual income, use of agricultural techniques to cope with climate change, and access to finance got smaller. Women went from being 13% of loan holders to 21%. In Ghana, in 2015, women farmers were earning 63 cents for every dollar a man earned. By 2018, they were earning .90 cents on the dollar. That’s better than the US—where it’s 71 cents per dollar. In Mali, before the Feed the Future project, men were 9% more likely to get access to agriculture services than women and 16% more likely to use improved practices on their fields. By 2019, those gaps were 1% and 9% respectively.
  • Farmers can react better to climate change. The Water Smart Agriculture project increase the ability to build resilience by 47.2% (from 50.6% to 97.8%). Mozambique’s Nampula Adaptation to Climate Change (Nacc) helped food insecurity fall from 81% to 55%, increasing food security for 19,647 people (60% women & girls). WE-RISE in Ethiopia raised the ability to build resilience from 3.9% to 31%.
  • Farmers have more skills. The USAID Agricultural Extension Support Activity in Bangladesh helped 79,969 people improve their farming skills and ability to grow food. In Lao’s, the Women Organized for Rural Development contributed to improved agricultural capacities for 14,295 people. In just one project, 7,865 people in Georgia got better farming skills.
  • Women farmers grew more food, more efficiently: In Ghana, small-scale producers saw an average 55% increase in production per acre on specific crops—usually the crops considered to be “women’s crops” and the ones that make up most of the family diet. The average yield per acre more than doubled, from 196kg at the start of the project to 436.2kg at the end of the project. In Mali in 2016, men produced 10 times more than women did. By 2019, it was only 4 times higher. Women are able to get 5 times more millet per hectare at the end of the project. In Guatemala, there was a 13.8% increase in green bean yield, a 2.9% increase in black berry yield, and a 3.6% increase in pea yield. In Bangladesh, dairy farmers were producing 2 litres more of milk per day 5 years after the project ended—despite COVID-19 disrupting their markets.
  • Land is more fertile. In Niger, more than 12,000 community volunteers to regenerate 1,209 hectares of land, planted 23,000 trees, and put 5,352 hectares of community land under sustainable NRM practices.
  • Communities are prepared to deal with emergencies. ECOFERME in Mali worked with communities to establish cereal banks to save surplus grains. The project was able to help communities have 269,000 servings of millet on hand in case of emergencies—enough to feed everyone in the project for a week.  If there was no emergency food shortage, the communities sold their stocks during the lean period for higher profits, and were able to invest over $11,000 into inputs and tools for the next year.

How did it happen?

  • Invest in gender equality for farmers. CARE’s Farmers’ Field and Business School model puts gender equality at the center, and takes women seriously as farmers. It not only gets women farmers access to training, tools, and resources. It also helps women negotiate with the men in their lives to make better decisions together.
  • Respond to crisis. Supporting people when crisis hits (including farmers)—with cash transfers, trainings, food, farming inputs, and emergency assistance they need—helps them bounce back faster and prevent total catastrophe in their systems.
  • Help women connect to each other. Savings groups are incredibly powerful—not just connecting women to savings and loans, but also giving women the space to build solidarity and leadership, which help them prevent, prepare for, and react to crisis.
  • Engage men and boys. Couples’ dialogues, male champions, and work with male community leaders are critical to making a change. Women cannot do it alone—they need support from the people around them.

Get the private sector involved. Getting the private sector to change the way they do business—so they are including women in their supply chains, their decisions, and their trainings—makes a huge difference in long term sustainability.