Between February and May 2008, 'hunger riots' erupted in the South - particularly in African countries such as Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Egypt, Algeria, the Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Madagascar and Cameroon. The riots have provided a clear warning that populations can no longer face the increasing prices of basic food products - such as rice, groundnut oil, potatoes and corn. Women have been involved in these riots, even leading some, as they have been heavily impacted by such price rises as mothers struggling to meet the needs to their families, as informal traders in the food market, and as the primary actors in African agriculture, representing nearly 70 percent of the labour force. The article analyses the structural barriers that impede women's empowerment, including: weak property rights, poor access to credit, difficulties in getting agricultural inputs (such as pesticides and manure), denial of access to education, marginalisation in decision-making at all levels, and undervaluation of their skills and expertise. It argues that food security and economic policies at international levels do not take these issues into account and fail to consider their different impact on men and women, and so reinforce existing gender inequalities and create new ones. The article recommends that food security policies must take a gender-sensitive approach, which: increases the resources of both men and women, augments women's capacity to earn their own income, and protects women's health and nutritional status. Finally, it notes that the recent food riots may present an opportunity for women to enter political debates and to have their voices heard more effectively.
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