Framing the Agenda for Gender-Just Food Security
Source: IFPRI

As noted in a recent blog, women’s participation in food production often goes unrecorded but is critical to ensuring access and utilization of food in India. The main objective of the National level “Gender-Just Food Security” workshop organized by IFPRI and ANANDI on 14-15 December in Gujarat was to frame an agenda for understanding the issues and opportunities for policy advocacy and research for gender-just food security in India. The methodology in which this workshop was framed was an open-space technology in which the invited participants were asked to highlight the current issues they were engaged in and would like to take forward as part of their work as well as issues they would like to prioritize for discussion under the broader thematic question of ensuring gender-just food security in India.

A number of important thematic priorities emerged from the group, including collective action and women’s empowerment, nutrition-sensitive agriculture, gender aspects of droughts and disaster, and women’s access to productive resources, which need to be examined in-depth for taking the gender-just agenda forward in the short term. What emerged clearly were the interlinkages between the different themes discussed at the workshop – resource access and control, migration, feminization, unpaid work, displacement and violence. The group felt that it was important to think of these as interconnected elements that contribute towards understanding gender-just food security. It could be useful to aggregate to a few meta-themes which could potentially include: agriculture, production resources and food security; collectivization as a cross-cutting strategy including to counter violence; technical areas such as developing a household nutrition index that would require domain knowledge; and integration of policy messages from the bottom-up rather than fragmented in terms of sectors.

A key issue that seemed to emerge was that food and nutrition security is multi-dimensional and needs to be considered as a cross-cutting goal that engages multiple stakeholders – nutritionists, farmers’ groups, WASH experts, etc. This calls for a more detailed analysis at the programmatic level in terms of budgets, implementation and accountability structures, rules and norms of inclusion and exclusion. There is a need to bring this into the constitutional framework if gender justice is a priority.

There was a call for improved awareness and communication regarding compliance with the provisions of food security and nutrition policies and programs. Efforts should be made to increase women’s role in decision-making for the allocation of government and non-government spending. Sensitization of the communities on caste issues while accessing services (e.g. Aganwadi Centres) is needed.  While the social security policy is needed for rehabilitation, there is a need to ensure the implementation decisions are taken by Gram Panchayats and Sabhas on land use and also installation of the development projects in their region.  Indian supply chains could promote focused efforts for collectivization of women farmers so that they have enhanced negotiation capacity.

In terms of some of the key themes discussed, there was emphasis on the importance of considering gender in disaster response and management policies and in particular, the impacts on the work burden of women after disaster and women’s access issues for relief and compensation.  In addition, water rights/allocation and sustainable water use policies should be evaluated from a gender perspective in each basin.  Nutrition-sensitive agriculture needs to be based on a community-specific approach, where fathers are involved in the process, alongside women.  Along with hot cooked meals, education of caretakers and support to caregivers on feeding practices is important. Food practices in states such as Gujarat and Rajasthan could be documented as well as the program responses in states like Bihar to the distribution of eggs for learning and adaptation in other states.

Along with education, local procurement, processing and distribution (i.e., Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-Day Meals (MDMs), Integrated Child Development System (ICDS)) can support local agricultural economy and livelihoods of agricultural workers as well as small-scale farmers. Allocation of adequate budget for fair returns on produce as well as additional efforts to building evidence on the outcomes for food security, health and nutrition could be considered. In particular, this could include studying the impact of public provisioning through women and their collectives on food security in comparison with centralized models using the private sector. Linking public feeding programs (ICDS, MDMS) to local production, mandating a percentage to be procured locally can be helpful in improving nutrition.

Nutrition needs of women and girls at all stages of life (including infancy, adolescence, pregnant, lactating and post-menopausal) should be prioritized as well as recognizing the importance of delaying early pregnancies and preventing repeated pregnancies to combat low-birth weight, malnutrition, through an effective contraception usage among adolescents and young women. Engaging men, boys, and elderly in the family should be used for gender-equitable food distribution.  In addition, more research is needed to link WASH, nutrition and gender especially changes in nutrition status of women and children.  

In terms of institutionalization, there was a sense that a national body with responsibility for nutritional research and monitoring was essential. The topic is not just a health concern and needs greater visibility and accountability.  In addition, different state level programs should be analyzed to ensure joint land titles and to understand the impact of subsidized land registration policies on land rights for women, access to productive resources and the impact of female land ownership on the food security of other females. A need was expressed to adopt a broader definition of gender-based violence to include the denial of food to women as a form of control as well as violence and the links to other aspects of food security. There is a need to focus attention on marginalized groups, especially tribal food systems, the links between food and livelihood security and the rights and entitlements of these communities. Recognizing migrant and unpaid work as one of economic value is critical.  In addition, protection of migrant labor with compensation and support at the destination, institutionalization of electronic registration and tracking of labor similar to what is being done by the health department for mother and child tracking is needed. Impact assessment of the migration of women involved in interstate and inter-district movement and related dietary changes is also important.

Using ICT for awareness building and transfer of knowledge on gender can also be used to disseminate culturally-appropriate and gender-sensitive messages. Digital platforms can contribute to the scaling-up of successful interventions and do need to be seriously considered and used by this community. Finally, it is not just policy advocacy for new interventions, but also a need to review the statewide impact of existing programs and constraints to implementation as well as the role and impact of the media on stakeholders. Central to the framework is the need for accountability of different actors and in particular the state.


By:  Jaspreet Aulakh and Mamata Pradhan, IFPRI

Photo credit:IFPRI