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Right to Food – a Matter of Gender Equality?

25 March 2013
Photo of Olivier de Schutter
Olivier de Schutter; Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food; UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food presented his report to the Human Rights Council last week, stressing that ending hunger and malnutrition is actually all about gender equality.

He started his address by citing a study which concludes that 43% of the reduction of food insecurity in developing countries in recent years can be attributed to the progress in women’s access to education. The difference this progress in women’s education has made in reducing hunger and malnutrition is more significant than that of the increase in global agricultural production.

In other words, ending hunger and malnutrition is not an issue of increasing the world’s food supply. It is rather about ensuring equality amongst the consumers and producers of that food supply.

In fact, all studies the Rapporteur has recently come across point to this strong correlation between gender equality and food security, which is why he dedicated his entire rapport to this correlation.

This correlation can mostly be explained by the ‘feminization of agriculture’. In short, this means there is a general trend in developing countries for men to leave their farms and go to the city to find alternative work. Meanwhile, women, because they are generally less educated in developing countries and because of ingrained gender roles in society, stay behind, looking after the children and the farm.

Women are therefore now more than ever tasked with not only looking after the family and household, but also being responsible for the farming and agricultural production. In practice, due to a lack of access to resources and services and an undervaluing of their work in the domestic sphere, this means not having enough time for both. Regardless of this, women have proved to be more successful in reducing food insecurity as they have increasingly taken up the farming and agricultural work.

The solutions the Rapporteur suggested in his report are therefore two-fold:

  1.  We need to invest in services releasing women from this heavy burden. This needs to be in the form of education for their children, a working water and electricity network, and services like crèches.
  2. We must also recognize that the impact of these reforms might remain limited unless we seriously redistribute the gender roles between women and men in society. This includes having serious conversations about parenting, discrimination against women and challenging existing perceptions of masculinities.

He concludes his remarks by noting that the most valuable investment we could make in reducing hunger, malnutrition and even poverty is an investment in supporting women as farmers. We need to strengthen their bargaining positions within the household by a better sharing of tasks and bolstering their access to property, credit, education and economic opportunities.

Gender equality is therefore not only a goal to be achieved on its own, but is also a shortcut to ending hunger and malnutrition globally.

The Resolution on the Right to Food was later introduced in this Human Rights Council session and emphasized the need for this gender approach to the Right to Food to fulfil the specific needs of women and girls. It however fell short of acknowledgement of the positive contributions that gender equality can bring about for food security. The resolution was subsequently unanimously adopted.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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