Food Security, Gender, and Education
Food Security, Gender, and Education
- Hester L. FureyHester L. FureyPerimeter College at Georgia State University
“Food security” is a term that came into use in the second half of the 20th century as government leaders and nongovernmental organizations began to apply systemic thought to global issues of availability of food, the safety and nutritional sufficiency of available food, and the stability of individuals’ access to it. Hunger and starvation as global problems began to be studied at the end of World War II. Concerns about global food supply management prompted the establishment of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and increasing levels of policymaking and intervention, enacted through a series of conferences and culminating in a World Food Summit in 1996. Although world food production increased by 50% in the decades following WWII and the 1990s were believed to be a “golden age” of food security, the United Nations believes that before the 2020 world health crisis some 815 million people experienced chronic hunger. Spikes in unemployment such as those associated with the 2008 world financial crisis and the 2020 coronavirus pandemic cause accompanying increases in food insecurity. Global climate change continually challenges efforts to address food-related crises, and at the same time rising numbers of refugees add to the numbers of people who would be food insecure even if all other conditions were optimal.
Awareness of the special role of gender within this field has only begun to develop since the first decade of the 21st century. Although the field of food studies is older, most academic studies of food focus on histories of specific commodities, regional folkways, and/or food and literature. Systemic studies of food policy outcomes have not examined gender as a vector of knowledge until about 2010. Consequently, this more specialized field of knowledge remains in an early stage of development, with activists at the forefront more often than academics. Considerable pushback has emerged against the idea that experts should educate locals about food, and many food activists now argue that education should arise from those in production rather than those who create policy.
Women represent 60% of all people living with hunger and food insecurity. They also make up at least 60% of agricultural workers. Most of these women growing food are feeding families and regions rather than aspiring to be participants in global economies. As women they experience food insecurity because of cultural gender biases, and as farmers they are twice disadvantaged because neither agriculture nor women’s production within families tends to garner widespread respect or wealth. Gender-blindness has plagued efforts to resolve these issues even when the UN and others have placed women’s progress at the forefront of millennium goals. Organizations charged with analysis of poverty and hunger still operate using out-of-date analytical tools that themselves perpetuate sexist discrimination. “Global” does not necessarily mean more progressive or inclusive. Despite the discourse of goodwill, in practice the unquestioned dominance of WWII-era paradigms of large-scale agricultural production and food supply chains has limited rather than supported collective ability to effect change. In the final years of the 20th century, a growing number of alternative voices such as the anti-globalist scholar Vandana Shiva and fair trade and sustainability groups like Café Campesino began to introduce dissenting ideas about food security using the terminology of food sovereignty and biodiversity, tying these concepts to the empowerment of women, local communities, and “eaters.”
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