Photo: UN Women.
Ahead of the United Nations Food Systems Summit, which is being criticized by civil society for being disproportionately influenced by corporate actors, we asked Chiara Martinelli and Harriet Nakasi to reflect on the linkages between gender equality and food justice.
Chiara Martinelli is Senior Advisor at CIDSE and Harriet Nakasi is Executive Director of the Advocacy Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture in Uganda (ACSA).
What is, for you, the connection between food justice and gender justice?
Harriet: Food justice requires a holistic and structural view of the food systems. It sees healthy food as a human right and addresses structural barriers to that. In that sense, food justice is directly linked to gender justice. By looking at the situation of food production with respect to access and control over land and other resources by women in Africa, we see that there is control by men over the produce and proceeds from the production. Women’s involvement in decision making with respect to food and land is minimal. For example, the man may choose to dispose of the land without consulting the woman, which exposes women and children to vulnerabilities. Due to cultural provisions, it is common women do not inherit property and yet over 60% of food production is done by them. This ultimately affects the livelihood of households, communities and the country at large.
Women’s reproductive role also calls for adequate nutritional requirements, however, women have indicated that “our men sell the good quality food we produce leaving us with low quality for food in the households”. This may also explain the mismatch between food production and consumption where we may have high levels of malnutrition in big food producing areas, such as in the case of Uganda.
The fact that women often do not own land also excludes them from accessing resources and finance and keeps them dependent on men. Other options for women to access finances often put emphasis on a “group rather than individual approach”. Therefore, there is a need to engender decision making and resource allocation. In addition, many households rent land for food production but failure to pay the rent leads to forfeiting a big percentage of produce (bigger than what the farmer remains with). This calls for clear guidelines on renting land and public awareness on their right over land.
African laws leave gaps in succession of property, a small percentage of which goes to women and their children. No rights are guaranteed to women in the case of couples that are not legally married. This also relates to unequal access to justice for women. Uganda tried to improve the situation with the Human Rights Enforcement Act of 2019, which allows to a certain extent to redress inequalities and injustices for women. It is also a matter of access to justice. It is necessary to ensure that the process of seeking justice at lower-level courts and access to government lawyers is not complicated to address human right violations.
Why it is so important to highlight women’s contribution in the field of nutrition?
Chiara: Food insecurity has a disproportionate impact on women around the world. However, women are not only victims of this dominant food system that does not guarantee food justice, but they are also agents of change, bringing inputs to build these food systems from an integral ecology perspective. We must talk about a culture of care, with a women’s perspective of taking care of the planet, of others, of diversity, and ensuring an inclusion of various actors in building resilient food systems. This is a contribution that women can bring to this discussion. In addition, women are in the front lines of producing their own crops in different regions of the world, but also in diplomacy, in politics, and in business, bringing forward a common thread of a culture of care.
The United Nations Food Systems Summit could be a game-changer for the evolution and transformation of food systems. Which policy and advocacy messages related to gender equality, human rights and food justice do you see as crucial to emphasize in the run up to the UN Food Systems Summit?
Harriet: Ahead of the UN Food systems Summit various players should refocus their aspirations towards an inclusive food system that can work for the poor and marginalized groups. This should encompass the following: investment in “agriculture as a business” implying, for example, additional efforts to provide farmers with a strong bargaining power for produce, the ability to add value to produce, undertaking collective production and management, together with the diversification of enterprises with well-planned farm activities and access to technical advice whenever needed; ensuring access to markets and agro-processing facilities; support towards climate resilient agriculture production systems; mainstreaming agro-ecology in policies around food systems; and addressing gaps in human and structural capacity to support the agricultural sector. On the other hand, one of the immediate goals should be the empowerment and mindset change of women and men to know their rights and to break through cultural demands in addition to increasing access to human rights information.
Chiara: What emerges for me as a common thread is inclusiveness: a focus on listening to the concrete experiences of those on the front lines who face the issue of food insecurity, listening to the experience and expertise of small farmers from different parts of the world, listening to the contribution of women in this process. The Summit should be inclusive, and we should ensure that there’s a seat at the table for the people who suffer the most from food insecurity in the world, but also for the small farmers in various parts of the world who contribute to the production of food for all of us.
How do you see the role of the Church and other participants in this transformation of food systems towards caring for our common home so that no one is left behind?
Chiara: The Holy See and the various actors of the Church should contribute to this process towards the United Nations Food Systems Summit with an approach based on the vision of integral ecology that Pope Francis presents us in the Encyclical Laudato si’. This is key to addressing global challenges in a systemic and non-sectoral way. We should not look at food injustice only as a problem of food scarcity, which certainly needs to be addressed, but also as a problem of justice. Inequality must be addressed through the entire food system from production to consumption to distribution to waste management. Therefore, a 360-degree vision is needed that helps us see which key elements are needed to have a food system that is attentive to the scarcity of food in some of the most vulnerable parts of the planet, but also aims to be resilient, able to adapt to climate change, and can ensure healthy nutrition for all.
Chiara Martinelli’s answers are adapted from the following interview: Le donne agenti di cambiamento nel campo della sicurezza alimentare – Vatican News
Harriet Nakasi shared her views on food justice more broadly during a webinar organized by the Vatican, titled: “Food justice: jobs, Innovation, and finance at the service of food justice”. Her intervention can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsCLjyh_TDQ (Minute 39:00 to 49:30)
More about CIDSE’s position and role regarding the UN Food Systems Summit can be found HERE. Some reflections on food systems and justice from CIDSE Secretary General Josianne Gauthier can be watched HERE.