The going is tough for Rouaya, 33, who is raising five kids in a small town in Akkar, north Lebanon.
She has had to increase her workload as a result of the economic collapse in Lebanon and the Covid-19 outbreak, “working in the fields and in the house.” She still struggles, though, to make enough money to buy food. The impact that Russia and Ukraine had on food supplies has only made things worse.
“Often I don’t have enough money to purchase 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 isn’t by herself. She is one of the many tens of millions of women throughout the world who are forced to eat last and least as a rising food crisis exacerbates already-existing gender inequality concerns.
Increasing gender differences in food access
According to a survey published earlier this month by humanitarian group Care, about three-in-five (59%) of the predicted 828 million people who were afflicted by hunger worldwide in 2021 were women.
That translates to 150 million more women than men experiencing food insecurity.
The difference is getting wider.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the gap between men and women’s food security has increased 8.4 times since 2018.
“Not only is that a stark gap, it is a gap compared to 2018 that is growing rapidly,” one of the writers of the research is Emily Janoch, senior director of thought leadership at Care, who spoke with CNBC.
The conclusions, which are based on statistics from the World Bank and the UN, describe the situation as of December 2021. The consequences of the crises of 2022 won’t be apparent until the following year, but the outlook is dismal.
“Everything that we’re seeing is telling us that it’s going to get worse,” Janoch said.
“If you look at the impact on agriculture following the Russian fertilizer crisis, the implications are astronomical. We don’t know exactly what they will look like, but we know they’re going to fall heavily on women and girls,” she said.
As gender equality declines, food insecurity rises
In every region of the world, women have less food security than males, according to the United Nations’ 2022 report on “The situation of food security and nutrition in the world.” Particularly in the Global South, developing nations have a particularly prominent gap.
The analysis by Care also discovered that when food insecurity rose across 109 nations, so did gender disparity. For instance, in Sudan, where the World Bank gave a score of 2.5 out of 6 for gender equality, more women (65%) than men (49%) reported experiencing food insecurity.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, girls and women prepare 85–90% of the food consumed in households around the world and carry out the majority of the grocery shopping.
“Women are very heavily socialized to pull that burden on themselves. And everyone around them is socialized to assume that they will,” Janoch said.
In fact, despite the fact that both men and women may theoretically lack access to food, women nonetheless tend to carry a heavier burden.
Men in Somalia, for instance, reported eating smaller meals, whereas women in Somalia reported skipping meals entirely.
At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, 85% of people in Lebanon said they had fewer meals, although more women (85%) than men (57%) said they had lower quantities as well.
While this was going on, in Bangladesh, one in five (21%) women claimed that rising food prices had led to an increase in domestic violence.
These disparities in food security between men and women have significant effects on not only women and the families they may be responsible for, but also on the overall economy.
In economic data, at least, significant portions of women’s economic contributions sometimes go unnoticed or are difficult to assess. In fact, the IMF calculates that the economic value of unpaid work, which it claims is primarily performed by women, contributes for 10% to 60% of the nation’s GDP.
Rebecca Burgess, country director for The Hunger Project U.K., asserted that increasing women’s economic engagement and decision-making would have a significant impact on lowering poverty and enhancing nutritional outcomes on a broad scale, both at the household and governmental levels.
“A proven way to overcome many systematic barriers to a woman’s success has been increased participation by women in local, regional and national legislation as empowered change agents,” CNBC spoke with Burgess.
“Time and time again studies have demonstrated that when women are given the opportunity to generate and control an income, they routinely invest significant portions of their income in food, health care and education for their families,” she said.
In fact, a 2021 Care research from Burundi revealed that investing in gender equality in agriculture generated a $5 return for every $1 invested, as opposed to a $2 return for every $1 invested in agriculture initiatives that neglected gender equality.
“Women are huge players in economic supply chains that are not always seen,” Janoch said. “A dollar in the hands of a woman goes further to increase food security.”