Why Does East Africa Need More Gender Equality in Food and Nutrition Security?


Why Does East Africa Need More Gender Equality in Food and Nutrition Security?

The East African Legislative Assembly has approved a motion proposed by MP Fran├žoise Uwumukiza, urging EAC Affairs Ministers to recommend that partner states improve gender equality in access to food and nutrition security in the six-member bloc.

On Thursday, June 9, the Rwandan legislator justified her motion by stating that it was part of a commitment she made during training from April 24 to May 6 on "Achieving Gender Equality in Climate Change and Food Systems: Actions of Parliamentarians and Policy-makers."

"I'm moving this motion to urge the Council of Ministers to address the EAC's identified gender gaps in food and nutrition security," she explained.

Food poverty and malnutrition have a wide range of health and developmental effects, with mothers and children being particularly vulnerable.

She expressed concern that food insecurity and malnutrition put mothers at risk of dying during childbirth and giving birth to low-birth-weight babies who do not survive childhood, passing on the broad economic consequences of malnutrition to future generations and perpetuating the vicious cycle of gender inequality in food and nutrition security.

According to the 2019 global nutrition report, women in the EAC have higher rates of obesity and diabetes than men. According to Fingers, obesity affects 11.5 per cent of Rwandan women and 2.5 per cent of Rwandan males. In Tanzania, women made up 15.2 per cent of the population while males made up 5.0 per cent, and in Uganda, women made up 10.4 per cent of the population while men made up 2.3 per cent. Kenya had a women's rate of 13.4% and a men's rate of 3.0%.

Uwumukiza stated that if given the opportunity and resources, women can play a critical role in the fight against hunger and malnutrition (as outlined in UN SDGs 2 and 5).

She stated that while evidence suggests that women are equally capable of generating food as men, there is still a persistent gender disparity in accessing essential inputs, particularly land, finance, and education.

She emphasised how publications acknowledge the necessity of gender mainstreaming in the agriculture sector for better food nutrition results.


Gender disparities, for example, are identified as important hindrances to women's access to opportunities in production, marketing, access, and control of productive sectors in all partner governments' agricultural and food security policy documents, according to Uwumukiza. However, at the practical level, the highlighted barriers to women's access to land, credit, information, marketing, and other resources have yet to be properly addressed by various regional and partner state programmes.

MP Anne Leonardo Itto (South Sudan), who supported the motion, highlighted small distinctions between what men and women do that amount to discrimination.

The ancient grinding mill used by women in rural villages to produce floor is one such minor distinction.

Itto remarked: "Women are prevented from participating, earning money, and obtaining nutrition and food security as a result of this type of labour. We will never be able to address issues of gender inequality until we comprehend the minute disparities that inhibit gender equality."

Unpaid labour is a major issue

Lawmakers are also urging partner countries to take appropriate steps to address gender-based restrictions on agricultural land and other productive resources, to end discriminatory socio-cultural norms "including food taboos imposed on women and girls," and to promote positive and equal gender norms at the household and community level.

Itto stated that it is a matter of commitment because the bloc already has knowledge and policies.

Women's contributions to agriculture and broader food systems are not always fully or formally recognised, and in certain situations, females receive half as much as men or do unpaid and inhumane labour, according to Uwumukiza.

"The issue of unpaid work is a very serious concern in our community," said MP Oda Gasinzigwa (Rwanda).

Gasinzigwa, for one, wants to see women actively participating in and profiting from their job across the full agricultural value chain, rather than slaving away with archaic equipment.

Women are less able to present collateral for financial services because they have less access to inputs and assets, which are generally of poor quality, according to Uwumukiza. This weakens their resilience to income shocks.

The Assembly's monitoring work on the impact of Covid-19 on women cross-border traders revealed that the epidemic aggravated existing social disparities and widened gender gaps, with women small-scale cross-border traders losing jobs disproportionately.

Girls were also more likely to be pulled out of school than boys

Uwumukiza further mentioned that studies have indicated that women who have completed secondary school are half as likely to have stunted children as women who have not completed secondary school.

The Council of Ministers was represented by Burundi's Minister for EAC Affairs, Amb Ezechiel Nibigira, who thanked MPs for raising the issues and stated, "I trust the Council will look into this."

The Assembly's recommendation to establish a gender-sensitive regional food crisis response plan, including a regional food reserve, will be taken into account by the Council of Ministers. Small-scale farmers and herders in drought-stricken rural areas, particularly women and children, are always the most disadvantaged.

Other recommendations include encouraging partner countries to increase women's participation in agribusiness and enterprises, as well as in the production of nutritious foods; incorporating nutrition education into school curricula to raise awareness and promote healthier eating habits, as well as conducting outreach activities on the role of nutrition as a critical aspect of safe pregnancy and motherhood.

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