International Women’s Day: Women in Food Systems with Zuhra Dadgar-Shafiq

Women's Nutrition, Asia

Do you feel that food systems support you as a woman?

Women have a prominent role all across the value chain of the food system, for instance as farmers and food producers, merchandisers, educators, cooks, servers, and leaders of food organizations. Food systems enhance women participation and benefits they receive through improved access to resources and innovative technologies and practices. Food systems empower women, improve their nutritional status, and helps them in their contribution to the household’s financial security.  Women’s roles are enhanced, for instance, by increasing their involvement in specific roles or stages of the value chain, such as processing or marketing, and expanding opportunities for women. When women are able to engage more directly or more extensively in these activities, they can increase their contributions to household incomes and resources. Moreover, there is a growing recognition that transforming food systems for inclusion means not just ensuring women’s participation and access to benefits but also their empowerment to make strategic life choices (1).

How do you think global food systems could be improved?

In addition to make global food systems more inclusive to ensure maximum benefits to the society and to improved nutritional status or women and their households, global food systems must be sustainable. It is important to invest in practices that make food systems resilient. Unsustainable practices in our food systems threaten both human and planetary health, with hunger and malnutrition rising, poor diets are the leading cause of poor health worldwide. With a growing population, changing diets and high levels of food loss and waste, food production is exerting increasing pressure on the earth, contributing to climate change and biodiversity loss. One strategy to improve food systems can be through the reduction of food waste, by reviewing food and agricultural policies to ensure that programs and support systems are inclusive of a diverse range of food and agricultural operations across different scales, production practices and market channels, particularly those that promote sustainable practices (2). In addition, establishing supports and training opportunities for farmers and fishers to transition to more agro-ecology production regimes, including significant new support for new entrants and public funding for farmer-led R&D in organics and knowledge transfer.

In summary global food systems can be improved through certain strategies such as:

  • Ensure women are including in several aspects of the food system
  • Promote sustainable practices such as reduction in food waste, safe and sustainable agricultural practices
  • Capacity building and training for farmers
  • Protecting farmers livelihoods
  • Increase political commitment and finance to fight hunger
  • Ensure access to agricultural technologies in low and middle income countries

(1) Quisumbing, A., Heckert, J., Faas, S. et al. Women’s empowerment and gender equality in agricultural value chains: evidence from four countries in Asia and Africa. Food Sec. 13, 1101–1124 (2021).