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Women and Food Security in South Asia

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N. Ramachandran
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Despite improvements in food security in South Asia over the last few decades, nutritional outcomes, especially those related to women and children, have failed to keep pace. Even most food-deficit countries of Sub-Saharan Africa score higher. Attempts so far have failed to resolve this 'Asian enigma' of food scarcity and malnutrition amidst plenty. This paper explores various aspects of the relationship between women and food security in the region and the underlying prevalence of gender discrimination. It highlights the issues requiring urgent focus and indicates emerging areas of concern. Despite women's key role in food production - forming 39 percent of the agricultural workforce in South Asia - they face major obstacles in terms of their entitlement to productive resources including land, livestock, agricultural implements and credit. In turn, gender wage disparities are most severe in least developed agricultural areas. Some evidence from South Asia and elsewhere, suggests that in households where women have access to their own income and can make decisions on expenditure more money is spent on food for the household. Unequal power relations within the household can in fact mean that the individual food and nutrition security of women and girls can suffer. In poor households, in particular, the incidence of severe malnutrition is greatest amongst girls and is the most common cause of death among girls below the age of five. Ultimately, the report concludes, gender inequities in food and nutrition security lie at the root of the cycle of hunger and malnutrition in South Asia. It is important that women are able to question their status as unequal members of the family and society - women's empowerment is key to resolving this challenge.

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