Gender-based violence is pervasive in food systems

WRITING in Nature Food, Lora Forsythe from the University of Greenwich, says that “Gender-based violence is an important and pervasive global health and human rights issue whereby prevalence rates have remained unchanged for a decade.

The relationship between gender-based violence and food systems — the complex networks of people and activities involved in food, from production to consumption — lacks recognition in food systems research and policy.”

She says that for both moral and practical reasons, gender-based violence needs to become part of food system conversations, research and policy, so that the food sector can respond to global calls for action to address violence against women.

Forsythe continues “One in three women globally have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, a number that has remained relatively unchanged for a decade.”

She says that while a recent FAO report goes some way to recognising the issue, the space given to the topic is limited. “For both moral and practical reasons, gender-based violence needs to be part of food system conversations, research and policy. The food systems sector must respond to calls for action in a global, multi-sectoral response to gender-based violence.”

Forsythe writes that “Food systems involve all aspects and relations around feeding and nourishing people (or lack thereof), including food production, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing and consumption. Food systems also involve many complex relationships between people, and other actors such as private sector companies, governments, technology and nature. Ontologies of power and critical feminist theory have a long history of ‘unpacking’ these relationships, but this has yet to reach more dominant food systems narratives.

“However, the implications are clear. Expressions of power and control are part of how food is produced, processed, sold, distributed and consumed, from household to global levels. This is illustrated by the use of and dependency in food systems on precarious and exploitative labour practices, for example, which increase gender-based violence risk.

“In the Global North, there is evidence of gender-based violence prevalence among migrant farm workers, in some cases linked to large-scale supermarkets. By contrast, there is a large body of applied gender research situated in contexts of the Global South that is relevant to food systems. This rich body of research has some, albeit limited, focus on gender-based violence; however, it is often disconnected from broader forms of structural violence in food systems.”

Forsythe says that there is an urgent need for “a new collaborative agenda to address gender-based violence in food systems, involving policymakers, researchers, civil society and activists, across the public health, food system, humanitarian and development sectors in the Global North and South.”

This agenda should focus on five points. All progress to address gender-based violence in food systems must be informed by practice – Research evidence is required – Improved data collection on gender-based violence in food systems is needed in the health, humanitarian and development sectors, based on best practice in collecting gender-based violence-related data – Meaningful reductions will require a fundamental change in the way food systems operate – And, change is required at the policy level within a global framework.

Forsythe concludes that “The food systems sector must start by recognizing its role in addressing gender-based violence. At present, the High-Level Panel of Experts on World Food Security, has not yet adequately addressed issues of gender-based violence or broader violence in its flagship reports.”

Forsythe hopes that a new report Reducing Inequalities for Food Security and Nutrition will help to spark future efforts to extend a critical lens to gender-based violence within food systems and deeper, historic power inequalities.

Read the letter on Nature Food


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