|Today March 8th we celebrate International Women's Day|
Panaftosa, March 8th, 2013 - Women are powerful agents of social change and development through their unique roles in family and child care, food and nutrition security and food safety. They play a critical role in enhancing agricultural development and protecting family health therefore contributing to the reduction of poverty levels and improved well being in their communities. For example in the Andean Region (Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador) women are central to their traditional agriculture systems.
Despite the fact that women produce 60-80% of the food consumed at the household level in developing countries, 60% of the chronically hungry are women and children. This is in part due to lack of economic and land rights for women to access land, credit, seeds, fertilizers etc and also to key aspects related to nutrition security such as limited household food access, education, access to maternal and child care and health services. The inter-relation of gender norms and poverty within households often prioritizes food consumption by male bread-winners, with women eating last (if at all) and the least healthy food choices.
As women live in different circumstances, it is important to recognize the different challenges women of various groups face with respect to access to resources that can protect and maintain their health. Factors such as ethnic group, age, marital and socioeconomic status play a role in women’s health. Rural women, for example, tend to have less access to health care services, information (e.g. HIV/AIDS transmission), water and sanitation and maternal health care than urban women. Similarly rural children are twice as likely to be malnourished as urban children. The cumulative effects of malnourishment in girls impacts their later maternal health and child survival rates (there is 40% higher under five mortality rate in rural than in urban settings), health, mental and physical development and future productivity and livelihoods.
According to FAO, ensuring women’s equal access to productive agricultural resources—land, inputs, training and credit - productivity would increase by 20-30%, countries’ total agricultural output would increase by 2.5-4.0% and 100-150 million fewer people would be hungry. Equal access to agricultural resources alone, however, will not directly increase farm productivity nor decrease hunger. Empowering strategies that enable women to manage those resources effectively have been found to complement increases in access and overall health outcomes. For example, women that participated in empowering activities to fight sexual harassment were less likely to have stunted children than women having participated in strict nutrition interventions. This reinforces the fact that in order to address health and food and nutrition security it is critical to invest in women’s empowerment and transformative leadership in agriculture and health.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called country leaders and philanthropists to commit more money to improving health services for rural women and reducing the range of gender-based health inequities that impede their health. Investments in gender equality, in girls and women's health and education and in programs that support their empowerment, economic improvement and engagement on agriculture and health decision making, benefit everyone.
Men and women at PAHO and at the PAHO/WHO Center PANAFTOSA are working together to enhance women’s leadership to address food safety and to integrate health, food and nutrition security and gender equality as essential elements of sustainable development.