You know the proverb about – give someone a fish and you’ll feed him or her for a day, but teach someone to fish and he or she can feed a whole family forever… well you could apply the same logic to hunger. Toss hungry people some food and they’ll be fine till it runs out and you give ‘em more; but help them fix inequities in their food system and they’ll find it easier to keep themselves well fed.
In this case, the burden of the inequities, like the burden of seeing that people are fed, falls disproportionately on women. By and large, women are at the heart of the world’s feeding system, which was, even before the novel coronavirus pandemic, failing tens of millions of people.
Now, with Covid-19 sweeping the world, killing hundreds of thousands of people outright, there are credible estimates the pandemic will starve to death millions more, and put hundreds of millions, 265 million people by one estimate, into “acute food insecurity,” which means beyond chronic hunger and malnutrition, frequent full days with no food at all.
Starving the hungry is just what you’d expect from Covid-19. Even though the disease’s threat to physical health seems slightly greater for men than for women, the novel coronavirus seems mostly to target the underdog. The pandemic exaggerates inequality, compounding the pre-existing vulnerabilities of disability, age, ill-health, poverty, race and gender to devastating effect.
Here are five ways in which women’s lives are less than equal: control over their lives, control over their money, control over their bodies and their reproduction, and respect and compensation for their labor. In each and every one of those categories, evidence suggests, the pandemic has made things worse for women.
Feeding the family is one of those jobs mostly done by women which is unpaid. It may produce compliments and sentiments, but neither dollars nor cents, nor independence.
“Hunger cannot be reduced or eliminated solely through the provision of adequate food,” says a recent report from the World Food Program, “Rather,” it suggests a better diet of “empowerment” and “equality” for women would make the world not just a better-fed, but a better place.
Dr. Jacqueline Paul is the Senior Gender Advisor for the World Food Program, based in Rome.