Women and Food
Empower women to be leaders in agriculture and in their households, communities, and governments as an essential strategy for building regenerative food systems.
Conventional male-dominated industrial agriculture and corporate food systems are a major contributor to global carbon emissions and environmental degradation, while leaving many hungry. Though women and gender-diverse people are disproportionately impacted by climate and food crises, when given authority within food systems, they often redefine and regenerate them. Thus a key climate-action pathway is revealed where two major solutions overlap: the transformation of global food systems and the empowerment of girls, women, and gender-diverse people. Gender equity at local and leadership levels increases resilience in nations and communities, in disaster readiness, food and water security, and health. Climate-smart agriculture must redress structural and economic inequities by shifting the oversize burden women carry, removing barriers for women and gender-diverse farmers, securing their land rights, and strengthening their capacity to contribute and lead. If women had the same access to resources as men worldwide, they could grow 20 to 30 percent more food on the same amount of land, lifting 150 million people out of poverty and avoiding 2 billion tons of emissions between now and 2050.
Learn about the structural barriers that women face in agriculture, including lack of access to land, credit, and education. Reaching parity in terms of training, education, credit, and property rights is critical: women own a disproportionately small percentage of land worldwide, while they do a majority of the labor related to food production. Nine out of ten nations have at least one law impeding women’s economic opportunities, including access to credit and the ability to own land or property, and those with the most gender disparity are also the most food insecure. Here are some key points to learn:
- Land: Equal access to arable land, fisheries, and forests goes beyond titles and registration, but involves tackling the structural, educational, and cultural restrictions that women face when exercising their land rights. As often demonstrated, secure land tenure for women brings environmental, economic, social, and health benefits to a nation and reduces domestic violence. This issue brief on women’s secure rights to land discusses the benefits, barriers, and some best practices for implementing change.
- Finance: Women require capital for agricultural initiatives, through grants and credit, but often face challenges in this area and have significantly less access to financial services than their male counterparts.
- Education: Women in many countries continue to lack access to primary and secondary education, clearly linked to one’s ability to have secure land rights. Beyond general education, there is a need for increased access to gender-specific and culturally appropriate extension services, technologies, and training for agriculture and food-system design.
Support organizations that amplify the agency of rural women farmers and marginalized groups involved in food systems. This can include financial or practical support of initiatives that value women’s traditional knowledge of land, farming, and culinary practices. Reach out to groups such as those listed below to find out how to volunteer, donate, or get involved.
- The Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights
- Association of Indigenous Women of Talamanca (Costa Rica)
- The Global Campaign for the Empowerment of Indigenous Women for Zero Hunger
- CIASPE (Mexico)
- The Common Good Project (New England, BIPOC)
- Tule Vyema (Kenya)
- Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (U.S.)
- Korea Women Farmers Association (South Korea)
- Heart of the Farm network (U.S.)
Buy food from woman-owned, regenerative companies, farms, and restaurants. Women have been leaders and innovators in the organic, local food, and regenerative farming movements, such as the sustainable seaweed industry. Check regional guides and search engines to find farms, companies, restaurants, wineries, farmstands, and groceries that are owned or led by women.
- This Food Network article recommends women-owned food companies to look for; another can be found here.
- Grubhub has a directory of women-owned restaurants in the United States called RestaurantHer, and Google allows restaurants to identify as women-owned so that search results can be filtered.
- Here are ten women-owned food companies bringing international cuisine to your kitchen.
- Fifteen women-owned snack companies are recommended here.
Support organizations that strengthen connections among women farmers and provide opportunities for training and resource sharing. Networking has been shown to be key to the success of women in agriculture. Such initiatives can include improving access to conferences and trainings, developing platforms for building partnerships, and documenting and sharing their stories. Here is a list of a few such organizations:
- Women, Food and Agriculture Network (Global)
- Women in Ag Learning Network (U.S.)
- In Her Boots program (U.S.)
- Women’s Agricultural Network (U.S.)
- WOMAG (Asia)
- The Black Feminist Project (Global)
- FarmHer (Global)
- From Farms to Incubators (Global)
Support groups working to combat gender-based violence in agricultural settings. The Fair Food organization is an example of a worker-led group for reducing violence against female and nonbinary agricultural workers. Men and boys have an essential role in ending gender-based violence through actions such as understanding and practicing consent, addressing “toxic masculinity,” supporting women’s organizations, and working with youth.
Speak up. Submit an opinion piece to a newspaper or social media site advocating female leadership in food systems, parity for women on economic and political levels, and regenerative agriculture. Or write a longer piece for online sites such as Medium, like this one.
Join a social media group for women in the agriculture movement such as this one or follow one of the organizations listed below, working on promoting women’s leadership in food systems.
Women and Gender-Diverse Farmers
Save seeds and get involved in a local seed exchange. Doing so is taking direct part in grassroots, collective stewardship of genetic resources of agricultural seed, and supporting biodiversity. Many seed-saving alliances and seed libraries are run specifically for and by women or have women leaders. These groups often have a focus on indigenous knowledge, connecting people with indigenous food systems. Some examples:
- Qachuu Aloom is a predominantly female Maya Achi organization in Guatemala focused on saving heirloom seeds and promoting regenerative practices and traditional foods.
- Vanastree is a women-run seed-saving collective in the Western Ghats of India, endorsing biodiversity of forest home gardens and conservation education.
- The Palestinian Heirloom Seed Library was started by Vivien Sansour to preserve traditional seeds and culture in occupied Palestine.
- Women Seed Saving Kenya educates, encourages, and supports women on how to save their own seed, especially local seeds adapted to the climate.
- Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa made a short film about women seed savers in Uganda
- This article describes seed-saving projects run by women in Madagascar.
Connect and network with women involved in various aspects of the food supply chain. Links to value chains, from production through to processing and marketing, make agriculture more productive and commercially viable. When women forge connections with women-led food wholesalers, distributors, and restaurants, they strengthen the movement as a whole.
- Women in the Food Industry is a networking organization connecting women across the food sector to improve communication and collaboration.
- The Women’s Alliance Network within the Food Processing Suppliers Association provides support and connection for women in the food packaging and processing industry.
- Women have innovated the grocery supply chain through software such as Pod Foods, helping small food companies connect with retailers.
Offer mentorship and support to new women farmers. Through leadership courses and events, experienced women can support others to succeed and thrive for the benefit of all. Some organizations and resources:
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture created a mentorship network in 2017 and developed this Women in Ag Roundtable Toolkit, a guide to hosting a mentorship networking event.
- American Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Program
- Women In Agribusiness Summit
- African Women in Agriculture Research and Development (AWARD) is a career development program for women agricultural scientists in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (international)
Take advantage of grant programs for women farmers and ranchers. Some of them are aimed at minority groups or those starting agricultural activities, while others are suitable for female farmers at any stage and from any background. Here is a list of grants for women farmers in several categories.
Learn about how to apply regenerative practices at your farm or ranch. See the Regenerative Agriculture Nexus to learn more about approaches to farming that improve soil health and sequester carbon.
Invest in companies, projects, and funds that empower women in agriculture and food system design. This publication of the International Finance Corporation discusses the business benefits of closing gender gaps across agricultural value chains. Consider investing in organizations listed under Key Players. Some leaders in the field are:
- Project DAWN (Dairy, Agriculture, Women, Nutrition) is a program of MoooFarm India that aims to engage 10 million women farmers in India to make smallholder dairy farming inclusive, sustainable, and efficient by connecting women to technology, finance, and markets.
- The Women’s Global Empowerment Fund invests in women farmers in developing countries via microfinance and educational programs.
- CARE promotes food security and climate resilience worldwide through working with local partners to promote women’s rights and economic empowerment.
- Africa Exchange Holdings seeks to create better access to agricultural and financial markets for smallholder farmers by establishing commodity and equity markets in sub-Saharan Africa.
Organizations and Agencies
Use gender-specific data to design programs that recognize women’s contributions to food systems and the specific barriers they face. This requires identifying research gaps, supporting collaborative studies on gender issues, and incorporating gender analysis through the lifetime of climate-resilience and food-security initiatives. Women’s roles as producers, processors, and consumers often lack formal recognition by policy makers and program designers, leading to exclusion from important planning, financing, decision- making, and leadership roles. Across food system domains, it is critical that all actors recognize the specific limitations faced by women, as well as queer and nonbinary people.
Learn best practices for integrating and reinforcing women’s access and agency within food systems. Primary among them is cultural and gender sensitivity integrated throughout the life of a collaborative action or project partnership. This summary of lessons learned by international agencies involved in the work of closing the gender gap in agriculture discusses ways to cultivate systemic change, while respecting local conditions and cultures. Some best practices:
- Help women to reform discriminatory property laws, considering cultural context and how it affects adoption. That understanding can help address barriers to women’s land security and help with the development of incentives for positive change.
- Build capacity in governments and communities through training on gender and land rights. Separate training for men and women have yielded more women’s involvement in addressing opposition to equal land rights.
- Community-level collaboration and partnerships are crucial. Local women must be central to identifying needs, and designing and leading programs for change.
- Solidarity is essential to achieving gender-parity objectives. Include men in interventions, recognizing them as important change agents in an intersectional movement and including their knowledge and concerns. In Zimbabwe, young men are trained as community leaders and advocates in the Men to Men Campaign against Gender-Based Violence and have reached thousands of youth with their message.
Prioritize women’s voices in determining policy and making decisions. Though women are a growing demographic in agriculture, they are underrepresented as leaders across the industry. Women’s leadership is needed in agricultural policy and in designing for food and water security worldwide. The Global Food 50/50 report was inaugurated in 2021 as a new mechanism for accountability around the gender gap in agricultural leadership, reviewing equity-related practices of fifty-two food system organizations in various sectors and from around the world.
- Organize and support collectives. Collectives of rural women farmers have been successful in increasing their decision-making and negotiating power. Through shared resources, collectives strengthen women’s ability to successfully create livelihoods in agriculture and address inequalities.
- Train women to lead. Plate to Politics is an example of a program providing leadership training to women in agriculture.
Food and Agriculture Companies
Promote diversity, equity, and inclusion for women in agribusiness through company policies and programs.
- Encourage participation by women in your company in support groups such as Females in Food, an organization that aims to close the gender gap in women’s leadership in food companies by connecting women to mentorship and employment in the industry and helping them gain promotion.
- Develop programs that uplift and educate women working in your industry, supporting them to hold positions of leadership.
- Join the international Women in Food and Agriculture industry initiative and summit to learn how to gain support in developing strategies.
Protect women and gender-diverse people from violence in agricultural and work settings. Some steps to take are described here and summarized below:
- Become informed about sexual violence and harassment among commercial agricultural workers, especially those in temporary or informal work settings.
- Establish codes of conduct, policies, and reporting systems to address gender-based violence and harassment in your company’s own operations, as well as in supply chains. Here is a model policy that was applied to the flower sector in Africa.
- Create a mandatory antiharassment training program for workers in your company and its supply chain, such as this one created by the Ethiopian Horticulture Producer Exporters Association.
- Involve workers’ organizations and unions in the design, implementation, and monitoring of policies and procedures.
- Join industry-wide agreements, such as the Joint Understanding on Sexual Harassment adopted by a number of large companies in the banana industry.
Create or connect with initiatives that support women’s leadership in food systems and strengthen women in agricultural supply chains. Examples of such measures include:
- COODAD, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is one of a number of locally based projects aimed at improving the livelihoods of women cacao farmers, supported by Original Beans, a vegan, climate-positive chocolate company. Other chocolate companies with initiatives to support women farmers include Divine Chocolate and Tony’s Chocolonely.
- Café Femenino supports social justice and empowerment for women coffee producers worldwide. A number of coffee companies, such as Peet’s, spotlight and promote women farmers through the launch of special collections of women-grown beans from diverse parts of the world.
- Coconut Bliss is a women-led, dairy-free ice cream company that empowers women and girls in the Philippines through supporting their small businesses.
Develop culinary programs that benefit women, especially those from marginalized groups, such as refugees and minorities. Restaurateurs and culinary business owners have developed employment practices and training that cultivate sustainable livelihoods for women. This article highlights the traveling Refugee Food Festival and a number of U.S.-based restaurants run by refugees. A few inspiring examples of women leadership in this realm:
- Asma Khan is a restaurateur and cookbook author who focuses on training and employing women, especially refugees, and empowering women in Iraq. Her organization, Emma’s Torch, based in New York City, provides English language, culinary, and job skills education.
- Iman Alshehab is a founding member of Mera Kitchen Collective, a worker-owned, food-based cooperative in Baltimore focused on empowerment of refugee and immigrant women by tapping into their passion for cooking, self-expression, and creating community.
- Shaza Saker is a Syrian-Italian working for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization who created Hummustown, a catering company that trains and hires recent immigrants and refugees.
Reform legislation that restricts women’s ownership of property and resources and develop policies that promote equal land tenure. Not only is gender equality a fundamental right, it boosts economic and climate resilience. Beyond legal frameworks, special attention is needed to implement parity in property ownership due to existing patriarchal structures and cultural practices. Some examples include:
- The postgenocide government in Rwanda prioritized land reform and is the only country in the region offering women equal rights to own property.
- In India, several states reformed the Hindu Succession Act in the 1980s and ’90s, allowing women and men equal ability to inherit family property. Eventually, similar changes were enacted across India, though reform is still in process.
- The African Union, an intergovernmental organization consisting of fifty-five member states on the continent, has launched a campaign to increase women’s ownership of land in Africa to 30 percent by 2025, in order to facilitate economic development.
- South African women won a major legal victory in early 2020 when a landmark court ruling overturned a discriminatory law that prevented some married women from equal land and property ownership.
- After being deeply impacted by the massive 2004 tsunami disaster, Aceh, Indonesia, built new legal frameworks for women that protect their right to land ownership.
- This article presents a number of case studies in countries worldwide that highlight the benefits of securing land tenure for rural women.
Expand technical and financial assistance and credit to women farmers. Gender equity at household and community levels correlates to higher agricultural productivity and improvements in family nutrition. Governments and other financial-service providers with a presence in rural areas can play a key role in supporting women farmers.
- Programs such as Zero Budget Natural Farming, promoted by the government in India, were taken up by women’s cooperatives and have been successful in reducing the use of toxic pesticides and improving women’s livelihoods.
- Digital financial services are particularly helpful for women farmers, who tend to face more time constraints than their male counterparts due to juggling multiple responsibilities in their households.
- End subsidies for corporate agribusiness; they nearly all cause harm to people and the planet.
Invest in the training and education of girls. Equal inclusion in food systems begins with equal education for girls. Digital literacy is also crucial for women’s ability to adopt new technologies in regenerative agriculture and climate adaptation.
- Training: InnovATE is a program of USAID that offers free online training geared toward young women, encouraging them to consider careers in agriculture.
- In Madagascar, the Centre Universitaire Régional de la SAVA has a department focused on agroecology that offers training. to local women.
- Willing Workers on Organic Farms is an international network of farms allowing visitors to stay, work, and learn sustainable agriculture practices.
- This University of Maryland Extension program offers international agriculture training geared toward women in Afghanistan and Ethiopia.
- See the Education of Girls Nexus for more information.
Promote better representation of women in agriculture, politics, and society. Prioritize women’s voices in decision-making, especially in designing for resilient food and water systems, at multiple levels from the national to the village scale.
- The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) is a survey-based index developed by the U.S. government to measure the agency and inclusion of women in the agricultural sector, which can help administrations assess gender parity, identify key areas for change, design a plan for better inclusion, and track progress over time.
Gather gender-differentiated data related to agriculture and food security. Information regarding access to land, finance, credit, and training is crucial to ensuring that agricultural extension services (educational opportunities outside of formalized settings) can be calibrated to women’s needs.
- The CGIAR Generating Evidence and New Directions for Equitable Results (GENDER) Platform supports leaders and decision-makers in developing evidence and taking collective action toward eliminating gender inequalities in food systems. The platform builds collaborative relationships with national agricultural research and extension systems, university partners, nongovernmental organizations, multilateral and private sector institutions, as well as governments to achieve this mission.
Women’s Earth Alliance (International)
The Green Belt Movement (Africa)
Soul Fire Farm (U.S.-based, Afro-Indigenous focused)
Via Campesina (International)
MAKAAM, Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch/Forum for Women Farmers’ Rights (India)
Food Tank (International)
The Center for Rural Affairs (U.S.)
Annie’s Project (U.S.)
Líderes Campesinas (Americas)
Jamaica Network of Rural Women Producers and the Jamaican Pig Farmer Association (Jamaica)
World Farmers’ Organization Women’s Committee (International)
Women for Women International (conflict regions worldwide)
Rural Women New Zealand, “Women in Farming” (New Zealand)
Vandana Shiva, Indian feminist, food sovereignty activist, and scientist
Elaine Ingham, soil scientist and consultant
Leah Penniman, activist and farmer dedicated to uprooting racism in the food system
Jill Clapperton, soil scientist and consultant
Elizabeth Mpofu, organic farmer and activist
Here is a list of sixteen inspiring women farmers in Calfiornia.
The Key to the Future of Food (Audra Mulkern TEDxSeattle talk on female farmers)
Women in the Agricultural Workplace (AgCareers documentary)
Rise, Root, Revolution (feature-length documentary to be released)
Women Redefining the Experience of Food Insecurity: Life Off the Edge of the Table edited by Janet Page-Reeves
“Female Farmers are Coming into Their Own—and Networking is Key to Their Success” by Marianne Messina, Civil Eats
Gender and Food: A Critical Look at the Food System by Shelley L. Koch
Five New Food and Farming Books by Women 2021 (Modern Farmer)
HERd Podcast: Women in Agriculture is a series featuring women farmers using regenerative practices that are changing the way food is grown.
Women in Food and Agriculture is a podcast featuring interviews of women leaders in diverse sectors of the food industry.
The Female Farmer Project includes a weekly podcast.
Celebrating Black Women in Food and Agriculture (The Edible Activist podcast).
Dr. Vandana Shiva on the Emancipation of Seed, Water and Women (For the Wild podcast)
Women Farmers and Regenerative Agriculture (In Her Boots podcast)
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