People's Stories Equality

Why the majority of the world’s poor are women
by Oxfam International, OHCHR, agencies
Gender inequality is one of the oldest and most pervasive forms of inequality in the world. It denies women their voices, devalues their work and make women’s position unequal to men’s, from the household to the national and global levels.
Despite some important progress to change this in recent years, in no country have women achieved economic equality with men, and women are still more likely than men to live in poverty.
Lower-paid, unpaid, undervalued: gender inequality in work
Low wages. Across the world, women are in the lowest-paid work. Globally, they earn 23 percent less than men and at the current rate of progress, it will take 170 years to close the gap. 700 million fewer women than men are in paid work.
Lack of decent work. 75 percent of women in developing regions are in the informal economy – where they are less likely to have employment contracts, legal rights or social protection, and are often not paid enough to escape poverty. 600 million are in the most insecure and precarious forms of work.
Unpaid care work. Women do at least twice as much unpaid care work, such as childcare and housework, as men – sometimes 10 times as much, often on top of their paid work. The global value of this work each year is estimated at $10 trillion – which is equivalent to one-eighth of the world’s entire GDP.
Longer work days. Women work longer days than men when paid and unpaid work is counted together. That means globally, a young woman today will work on average the equivalent of four years more than a man over her lifetime.
Increasing women’s economic equality would reduce poverty for everyone
Gender inequality in the economy costs women in developing countries $9 trillion a year – a sum which would not only give new spending power to women and benefit their families and communities, but would also provide a massive boost to the economy as a whole.
Countries with higher levels of gender equality tend to have higher income levels, and evidence from a number of regions and countries shows closing the gap leads to reduction in poverty.
In Latin America for instance, an increase in the number of women in paid work between 2000 and 2010 accounted for around 30 percent of the overall reduction in poverty and income inequality.
Supporting women to have access to quality and decent work and improve their livelihoods is therefore vital for fulfilling women’s rights, reducing poverty and attaining broader development goals.
Women’s economic empowerment is a key part of achieving this. We need a human economy that works for women and men alike, and for everyone, not just a few.
* Read Oxfam’s report “An economy that works for women”, via the link below.
* 70% of world’s hungry are women, says UN expert on the right to food
“Women account for 70 per cent of the world''s hungry, and are disproportionately affected by malnutrition, yet they are responsible for more than half of global food production,” said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver.
“Faced with discrimination on multiple levels, women’s right to access food is affected at all stages of life. Indeed women in many countries receive less food than their male partners, as a result of their lower social status,” said Ms. Elver launching her latest report to the UN Human Rights Council.
“Social segregation based on gender, when combined with other forms of discrimination grounded on religion, race, ethnicity, class and caste, disadvantage women even further,” added the expert.
“Despite their critical contribution to world food and agricultural production, women face difficulties in maintaining household incomes due to increased competition with imported agricultural goods, reduced prices, and declining commodity prices in international market, as well as in engaging in market activities when cultural norms make it socially unacceptable for them to interact with men.
Migrant women workers with precarious immigration status and indigenous women are particularly vulnerable,” said the Special Rapporteur.
“Closing the gender gap in agriculture requires the development of gender-sensitive policies. Ensuring land rights, reinforcing the rights of girls and women to education and social protection and increasing women’s participation in decision-making in a meaningful manner are critical”, stressed the independent expert.
“Increasing women’s access to and control over assets has been shown to have positive effects on important human development outcomes, including household food security, child nutrition, education and women’s well-being and status within the home and community”, she added.
The Special Rapporteur encourages States to focus on gender-sensitive policies in all fields, particularly in the context of climate change, in order to achieve further improvements in women’s access to their right to food.
“Respecting, protecting and fulfilling women’s rights will inevitably solve broader problems in food systems in general and can help communities achieve improved development outcomes,” concluded Ms. Elver.
* Access the report:

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The Global Malnutrition Epidemic: A Human Rights Agenda
by Hilal Elver
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
Nearly 800 million people worldwide remain chronically undernourished, and over two billion suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, also known as hidden hunger. Another two billion are overweight, with 600 million of these being obese.
Meanwhile some 159 million children under five years of age are stunted, approximately 50 million children from this same age bracket are wasted, and 42 million are obese.
For the first time in human history, there are more obese than underweight adults in the world. As a result, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) associated with obesity have surpassed undernutrition as the leading cause of death in low-income countries.
These figures indicate that the challenges of malnutrition in all its forms are daunting. Nevertheless, in many developing and least developed countries (LDCs), policies against hunger receive more attention than does the prevention of malnutrition in general, or the stunting and wasting of children. Therefore it is important to emphasize that the right to adequate food includes nutrition.
“Adequacy” with respect to food simply embraces nutritional value. This means that the quality of the food we consume has to become as important as the quantity. It is not enough to provide quantities of food as measured by caloric intake to eliminate hunger. This caloric intake must include the necessary ingredients for human health.
Like access to food in general, access to nutritious food is often a key indicator of economic inequalities, as well as of discrimination.
Therefore including nutrition in a rights-based framework is critical to ensuring that marginalized and vulnerable segments of the population are able to access adequate, healthy, and nutritious food.
Despite recent well meaning initiatives and an existing framework for action, there are several barriers to implementation.
Poverty, social exclusion, gender inequality, low socio-economic status and lack of control over productive resources (issues such as land grabbing and seed patenting) are all major contributors to malnutrition.
Similarly, malnutrition is aggravated by poor sanitation and the absence of safe drinking water and adequate housing, as well as a lack of education, health and social protection services in many societies.
Besides all these economic and social determinants, the current food systems are based on industrial agriculture involving the dominance of few big food companies and supermarket chains that systematically contribute to resource scarcity and environmental degradation, as well as unsustainable production and consumption patterns, food losses, waste, and distribution imbalances.
The legal duty to provide access to adequate nutrition
International law instruments provide a normative and legal foundation for the human right to adequate food and nutrition.
There are several human rights documents that support the claim that the right to adequate food and nutrition is not only legitimate, but constitutes a legal duty.
The clear inclusion of a focus on nutrition is revealed, for example, in the “right to adequate food” of Article 11 of the ECSR Covenant (International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights), closely linked to the “right to health” of the Covenant’s Article 12.1, which recognizes “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”
If nutritious food is not sufficiently available and accessible, there will be adverse consequences for physical and mental health.
In its General Comment 12, Paragraph 14, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) interpreted the right to adequate food as follows: “Every State is obliged to ensure for everyone under its jurisdiction access to the minimum essential food which is sufficient, nutritionally adequate and safe, to ensure their freedom from hunger.”
Furthermore, General Comment 14 Paragraph 43 (b) reiterates that one of the core state obligations under the right to health involves ensuring “access to the minimum essential food which is nutritionally adequate and safe, to ensure freedom from hunger to everyone.”
The FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security (Voluntary Guidelines, 2004) notes that “States should take measures to maintain, adapt or strengthen dietary diversity and healthy eating habits and food preparation, as well as feeding patterns, including breastfeeding, while ensuring that changes in availability and access to food supply do not negatively affect dietary composition and intake.”
Besides the universally protected right to food and nutrition for all, further protections have been adopted for children, pregnant and lactating women due to the fact that malnutrition does more harm to these populations, especially poor women and children.
Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) acknowledges that to pursue the full implementation of “the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health…” states “shall take appropriate measures to (c) combat disease and malnutrition… through, inter alia… the provision of adequate nutritious foods.”
Article 27(3) states that: “Parties… shall take appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right and shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.”
The Committee of the CRC in its General Comment on Article 24 calls on states to ensure that all segments of society are informed of the advantages of breastfeeding. The protection and promotion of breastfeeding is also enshrined in the International Code on Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, which was adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981.
The Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, adopted in 2002, sets out the obligations of states to develop, implement, monitor and evaluate comprehensive national policies addressing infant and young child feeding, accompanied by a detailed action plan.
The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) highlights the importance of children, as well as the importance of lactating and pregnant women.
Article 12 stipulates that all states shall ensure to women appropriate services in connection with pregnancy, confinement and the postnatal period, granting free services where necessary, as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation.
Unfortunately, CEDAW fails to fully protect a woman’s right to adequate food and nutrition as an individual, but only provides protection within the parameters of pregnancy and breastfeeding. It is vitally important to correct this protection gap as soon as possible.
The role of private sector
Considering the pivotal role of the private sector in the provision of adequate food and nutrition, it is appropriate that the primary role of regulating and monitoring the private sector should be given to governments.
A human rights framework underlines the responsibility of corporations that produce food and shape nutritional standards to respect human rights and to contribute to equitable access to nutritious foods for all persons.
Such responsibility is implied in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which clearly asserts that “everyone has duties to the community” (Art. 29), and that groups and persons must refrain from activities causing encroachment on the rights enshrined within the Declaration (Art. 30).
In 2011 the UN Human Rights Council endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, formally recognizing the responsibility of enterprises to avoid infringing on the human rights of others and to address adverse human rights impacts arising from their commercial activities.
This responsibility extends to the adverse impacts caused by the food industry in relation to the right to adequate food.
Although there is no significant resistance opposing a human rights approach to adequate food and nutrition, several potential barriers exist that affect proper implementation.
As indicated earlier, the impact of industrial food systems on nutrition and public health is alarming. These systems focus on increasing food production and maximizing efficiency at the lowest possible economic cost and highest profitability.
They therefore rely on mono-cropping, factory farming, industrial food processing, mass distribution and aggressive marketing that promotes the affordability and availability of their products. The marketing strategies of these industrial producers generate a very significant portion of the world’s food sales.
More importantly, trade liberalization and foreign direct investment by transnational corporations in the processed food industry have played a large role in increasing the availability of ultraprocessed (junk) foods that are marketed globally.
These corporations furthermore pose a challenge to the policymaking process itself. Although the private sector has a role in fighting malnutrition, there is a danger in giving corporations unprecedented access to policymaking processes under the banner of “multi-stakeholder partnership,” since it may generate conflicts of interest at numerous levels unless governed properly.
Moreover, corporations greatly prefer voluntary commitments to regulatory frameworks, which often results in lax implementation.
At both the domestic and international levels, we see other forms of corporate intransigence, such as their resistance to labeling, taxing, and limiting excessive advertisements for junk foods, which covers highly processed foods containing excessive amounts of salt, sugar and saturated fats.
Then there is a governance problem, since nutrition poses a multifaceted challenge that needs to be coordinated through the cooperative effort of several parts of government machinery.
Finally, the complex character and long-term impacts of malnutrition on human health, as well as the absence of indicators and lack of robust data, creates difficulties when it comes to establishing workable monitoring, accountability and transparency mechanisms.
Taken together, these issues pose significant challenges that must be addressed if the human rights to decent nutrition are to become truly operational on a global scale.
Nutrition, Human Rights, and the Sustainable Development Goals
In September 2015, 170 world leaders gathered at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York to adopt a 2030 Agenda. The new Agenda covers a broad set of 17 Goals and 167 targets and will serve as the overall framework to guide global and national development action for the next 15 years. The SDGs are universal, transformative, comprehensive, and inclusive.
If we evaluate the SDGs from the perspective of nutrition policies, we notice that nutrition is relevant to all 17 goals. As with all SDGs, nutrition also has a universal character. Without achieving nutrition targets, development policies cannot be successful. The present burden of malnutrition on public health and the national budget has become staggering.
At the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), world leaders recognized that a key action for improving nutrition governance is to anchor nutrition targets in the SDGs.
While Goal #2 explicitly references “nutrition” (“end hunger, achieve food security, improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture”) and Goal # 3 refers to noncommunicable diseases, nutrition is arguably “interwoven” in relation to all 17 SDGs, as at least 50 of the indicators set forth in the 17 SDGs pertain to nutrition.
The root causes of malnutrition are more complex than the lack of sufficient and adequate food, reflecting as they do a variety of interrelated conditions addressed in the SDGs with respect to health, care, education, sanitation and hygiene, access to resources, environmental degradation, climate change and women’s empowerment.
All of these conditions are directly related to development policies. The underlying reality is this: the SDGs cannot be achieved without special attention to nutrition, and the nutrition goals cannot be met without the fulfillment of other SDGs.
Despite the potential success of the SDGs on account of their inclusion of nutrition (in contrast to the antecedent Millennium Development Goals [MDGs]), they still arguably fail to establish a framework that will facilitate the development of sustainable food systems—something which is crucial in the fight against malnutrition. Moreover, some SDG targets lack the focus to enable effective implementation, and a number are not quantified.
Many targets are associated with several goals, and some goals and targets may be in conflict with one another. Action to meet one target could have unintended consequences for others if the pursuit of all is not coordinated. Among the 169 targets, only one is dedicated specifically to nutrition; and obesity is not even mentioned. So the indefiniteness of the SDG framework seems to create gaps between the ambition of the goals and the likely performance of states, which gives cause for concern.
Furthermore, the lack of an effective accountability and monitoring system is a major obstacle to realizing the SDGs. Voluntary national reporting and reviewing mechanisms through the High Level Political Forum of the UN General Assembly are unlikely to be effective enough to reach the nutrition targets in a timely and sufficiently thorough fashion.
The multisectoral nature of nutrition, its long-term impact on human rights and development, and the invisibility of some of its consequences together make accountability a complex and difficult challenge. Meeting such a challenge requires a clear understanding of data collection. This calls for an understanding what is needed to improve nutrition coverage, as well as developing a systematic tracking system for monitoring investment and accountability at country and global levels.
Although significant progress has occurred vis-à-vis the Millennium Development Goals, the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals still avoid directly articulating a human-rights-based approach.
We cannot find anywhere in the text of the SDGs a direct affirmation of the “right to adequate food,” or language imposing on states the duty to “respect, protect, and fulfill” human rights, despite the fact earlier noted that all 17 goals are directly or indirectly relevant to the fulfilling the 2030 Agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals.
Overcoming barriers in the “Decade of Nutrition”?
It is true that even if the human rights approach to nutrition were recognized, several barriers would still stand in the way of the adoption of effective nutrition policies and their implementation in pursuit of the various targets.
At the height of the global food price crises in 2008, The Lancet Series on Maternal and Child Undernutrition warned that the international nutrition system was fragmented, dysfunctional and desperately in need of reform. Since then, significant initiatives have taken place at the global level.
On April 1, 2016, following the recommendation of the ICN2, the UN general Assembly declared the Decade of Action on Nutrition that will run from 2016 to 2025. The Decade presents a unique opportunity to centralize globally agreed targets, align actors around implementation, and address the shortcomings identified in the current forms of nutrition governance.
While ambitious targets have been set to ensure the global governance of nutrition, much more is needed to meet the challenge of providing each person with enough nutritious food to live a healthy and productive life, while at the same time protecting the environment and natural resources, including with regard to climate change.
The ICN2 Rome Declaration on Nutrition acknowledged that “current food systems are being increasingly challenged to provide adequate, safe and diversified and nutrient-rich food for all that contribute to healthy diets due to, inter alia, constraints posed by resource scarcity and environmental degradation, as well as by unsustainable production and consumption patterns, food losses and waste, and unbalanced distribution.”
Starting from the observation of the ICN2, the first barrier is the industrial food systems, including production, processing, transport and consumption of food, that are currently dominant in many parts of the world. Food systems have a direct impact on overall diet and in determining what food is available in the market place.
Industrial food systems focus on increasing production and maximizing efficiency at the lowest possible economic (and consumer) cost. This type of system relies on industrialized agriculture, including mono-cropping and factory farming, industrial food processing, mass distribution, and marketing.
Due to considerations of affordability, availability and palatability, as well as marketing and promotion strategies, food produced from industrialized food systems constitutes a significant portion of global food sales. The adverse impact of industrial food systems on nutrition and public health is widely acknowledged.
It is now obvious that excessive food production neither eliminates hunger nor remedies malnutrition. Removing these barriers depends on the appropriate transformation of current food systems into “nutrition-sensitive” food systems.
Reflecting the various conditions of specific countries, nutrition sensitive food systems need to be diverse, but the general principles should be sensitive to global nutrition policies and the human rights approach that gives a high priority to nutritionally deprived groups and vulnerable peoples.
The second barrier is a set of factors relating to political, environmental and socioeconomic conditions that have direct and indirect impacts on nutrition in any given society.
These conditions include economic development without inclusive growth; population increase, poverty as well as vertical and horizontal inequality; rural urban migration and urbanization; trade and investment policies as well as economic globalization; equal access to natural resources, sustainable resource management, environmental degradation, and climate change.
These conditions are interrelated and give rise to negative or positive effects on nutrition depending on policy interventions. Therefore each country should create a “national master plan for good nutrition.”
Addressing global nutrition challenges and ensuring that every individual is guaranteed a right to nutrition requires significant reforms in several areas: agriculture, education, health, social protection, water, sanitation and hygiene, gender, trade relations, socioeconomic conditions, environmental degradation, and climate change.
To meet the Decade of Nutrition and 2030 Sustainable Development targets, political will is vital first and foremost. National governments should take these global targets seriously and dedicate substantive financial resources to reaching the targets.
Governments should also establish effective, transparent, and independent accountability mechanisms to follow up and review the progress and detect obstacles.
Without such monitoring mechanisms and financial resources, there will be little progress, and few nutrition targets will be reached. Needless to say, effective monitoring and accountability systems, as well as inclusive decision-making processes, would be realized if a human-rights-based approach were to be credibly applied to nutrition policies.
* These articles are adapted from Dr. Elver’s Foreword to Good Nutrition: Perspectives for the 21st Century (University of California, Santa Barbara).

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