Gender in Agriculture Partnership

Transforming agriculture to empower women and deliver food, nutrition and income security

Woman: Life at the Sharp Edge

Blogpost by Kenanao Moabi, #CFS44 Social Reporter – kenanaomoabi(at) This post covers the #CFS44 side event, “Women’s roles and rights in situations of food crises, famines and conflict.”

I have attended a number of side events during the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), but this one was different. The room a bit quiet, I could see more women than men. It was almost impossible to hold back the tears rolling down my cheek to hear the burden our mothers and sisters are carrying. It seems no one cares much. The discussion was on “Women’s roles and rights in situations of food crises, famines and conflict.”

According to the 2017 report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World: Building resilience for peace and food security, when the state, socio-economic systems and/or local communities do not have the capacities to prevent, cope with or manage situations, the worst affected are generally the poorest and most vulnerable sector of the society—women and children. The speakers have emphasised that women are already the poorest and most under-resourced sectors of the society in times of peace, to then be in a conflict is a double or triple burden.

The report further looks at gender dimensions. It argues that it is important to assess how conflict affects food security and nutrition, as men and women often have different roles and responsibilities in securing adequate food and nutrition at the household level. Conflict tends to alter gender roles and social norms. Men and boys are most likely to be engaged in fighting. The engagement of men in conflict puts greater responsibility in the hands of women in sustaining the livelihood of the household, including access to food, nutrition and health care for household members. Conflict s are mostly characterized by sexual violence mostly targeted at women. Such violence and trauma not only cause harm to women but also tend to affect their ability to support their families.

Rural women often have less access to resources and income, which make them vulnerable and hence more likely to resort to riskier coping strategies. There a is setswana saying mosadi o tshwara thipa kafa bogaleng which literally translates into a mother holds a knife at the sharp edge. It means women will strive very hard to fend for the family, especially for the children, even when it puts her in danger. These strategies may affect their health, which in turn is detrimental to the food security of the entire household as food production and the ability to prepare food decrease with illness.

What was most striking was the presentation by Azra Sayeed of International Women Alliance. She challenges the current societal order. She maintains capitalism, feudalism, patriarchy and religion are current structures of our society which are to be blamed for the situation women find themselves in today. She asserts that the structure of society is very unfriendly, and at times hostile, to women’s wellbeing. She insists it should be about food sovereignty, not security. Indigenous food production should be promoted within their regions so that the future is controlled by women not multinational companies which have destroyed indigenous seed and replaced them with patented seed.

The other speaker was Adwoa Sakyi from IUF in Ghana. She gave her perspective for women in Africa. She argued women do not have a voice, especially in times of conflict. The ability to negotiate is taken away as the power paradigm shifts even more against them during crisis. She pointed out that women still have to consult and be given permission to enter the job market either by their husbands or fathers. Even though women are 51% of society, they do not have the power to own and control factors of productions.

The discussion then shifted to what can be done. Azra Sayed argued passionately that government has developed sound and good policies to address women’s challenges. The problem, however, is that they are never implemented. The same institutions of government which are supposed to protect women, victimize them. She cited examples of police blaming women for being raped, due to their state of dress or their whereabouts. Ms. Sayed encourages women to continue with their struggle no matter what obstacles are put in their way. It was discussed that during conflict there is always the idea that humanitarian efforts should take precedence over human rights. However, the two are not exclusive of each other.

In my opinion, the issue of women’s rights should not be framed as women’s issue but as a societal one. It should be fought on both fronts by men and women as a collective. It should not be seen as us against them, instead as a collective effort. The role of educators is an important one, as they shape the perspectives of human being at an early age. Businesses should invest and empower women through education, giving access to productive resources such as finance. This will increase the purchasing power of women, the largest sector of the population. Empowering a woman this way has a trickle-down effect: she will empower her children who then become consumers of good and service. This is good for business.

Women should unionize and be highly active in politics, because, at the end of the day, politicians are the decision markers. Since they have the numbers they should lobby hard to vote into power those who will develop and implement the policies that favour their well-being. The role of civil society is also critical in sensitizing and lobbying government, businesses and society at large about the rights of women. Government can also effect change by offering incentives such as giving tax cuts to businesses that empower women. Affirmative action mechanism such as implementing quota system in decision making bodies such as parliament and public institutions. This will increase women in decision making hence bring women concerns to the forefront of the agenda. This will foster good women rights policy development and implementation

It’s fair to say each and every one of us was made by a woman or at least impacted in a positive way from childhood to a point of maturity. Every successful man or woman no matter what position they may hold in the society—president, company director, engineer and others—can be traced back to the role played by a woman. The role of women is crucial socially and economically, therefore their rights must be fully respected to express their full potential so that society can reach the progress and prosperity it ought to. Hence the life of a woman need not be at the sharp edge.

This post is part of the live coverage during the 44th Session of the Committee on World Food Security. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.

Photo Credit: Mohamed Abdiwahab
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