Photo: WFP/Theresa Piorr

These Are the Top 6 Reasons Women Are Hungrier Than Men Today

World Food Program USA
February 14, 2021

We are making our way through a new decade, and that means we have less than 10 years left to reach the #5 global goal of gender equality. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. Even for something as basic as food, in nearly two thirds of the world’s countries, women are more likely than men to suffer from hunger and food insecurity. Each cause of unequal treatment reinforces the others, trapping women in a cycle of disadvantage, poverty and hunger.

Here are the six ways women are hungrier. For food. For equality. For change.

1. In every corner of the world, women are more likely than men to live in extreme poverty.

Mainly, this happens because women’s work is underpaid or not paid at all. Women do 2.6 times more unpaid care and domestic work than men do and earn 23 percent less for paid work.

This deficit is magnified at home, because when women work they invest 90 percent of their income back into their families, compared with just 35 percent for men.

In places like Bangladesh, women are more likely than men to live in extreme poverty
Photo: WFP/Saikat Mojumder

Fatema, a mother of four children, lost her husband in Myanmar and is now living in Bangladesh. She works in a chicken shop making $1.18 per a day.

2. In many parts of the world, women aren’t allowed to own property.

In some, they are property. Even though women occupy such valuable positions as farmers, business owners and entrepreneurs, they are often barred from the rights and resources that men receive. A prime example comes from agriculture: Nearly half of all small-scale farmers are women, yet only 13% of them own the land they work on. Closing this gender gap could increase output on women-run farms by 20-30%.

In short, giving women farmers more access to improved seeds, fertilizers and equipment could feed 100 to 150 million more people every year.

In places like South Sudan, women farmers can't own land
Photo: WFP/Gabriela Vivacqua

Adut Hol irrigates her vegetable garden in South Sudan, employing skills she learned from WFP. “I work hard because this is my way to survive,” she says.

3. Discriminatory laws perpetuate unequal treatment.

For example, on average, women have only three-quarters of the legal protections given to men during their working life, ranging from employment bans to laws against workplace sexual harassment. It’s worse in the Middle East and North Africa, where the typical economy gives women less than half (47 percent) the legal rights of men. In 18 countries, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working.

There are no laws protecting women from domestic violence in 49 countries.

WFP helps provide food assistance to displaced women in Nigeria fleeing violence
Photo: WFP/Simon Pierre Diouf

This mother in Nigeria is among thousands of displaced women who rely on WFP’s monthly cash assistance of roughly $12 to feed their children.

4. Cultures and traditions uphold sexist norms.

These norms include extreme practices such as childhood marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). Traditions like these can have severe implications for their health, cut short their education, curb their potential and make them almost entirely dependent on men. In crises, women are more likely than men to be affected by hunger, and their access to aid can be undermined by gender-based discrimination. In some countries, tradition dictates that women eat last, after all the male members and children have been fed.

Surveys in a wide range of countries have shown that 85 – 90 percent of the time spent on household food preparation is women’s time.

Women are often the sole provider for their families
Photo: Gabriella Vivacqua

Deborah’s husband was killed the day after she gave birth to their youngest child. She’s now the sole provider for their family.

5. Menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth make women more vulnerable to ostracism, violence and malnutrition.

In women of reproductive age, one-third have anemia – a diet-related iron deficiency that can cause organ damage if left untreated. Malnourished mothers are more likely to give birth to underweight babies who are 20 percent more likely to die before the age of five. The recent viral story of 22-year-old Gauri Bayak who died in Nepal after being banished to a “menstruation hut” is a heartbreaking reminder of the price women pay for having a period.

In 2015, more than 300,000 women died in childbirth or because of complications from pregnancy. That’s roughly one woman every two minutes.

In places like South Sudan, women don't have access to healthcare
Photo: WFP/George Fominyen

In South Sudan, mothers like Nyalel Mayang don’t have access to modern healthcare. She and her husband have three children, and they survived on water lilies and palm nuts for three months after their village was attacked.

6. Boys often receive more resources than girls, especially in education.

In societies that favor sons, girl children may be neglected, denied health care, and receive less or lower-quality food. Boys also tend to go to school more often than girls. This disparity between men’s and women’s access to resources and education keeps women economically and socially disadvantaged. One study showed that women’s education contributed to a 43 percent reduction in child malnutrition over time, while food availability accounted for just 26 percent.

In 2017, two-thirds of illiterate adults were women.

Boys often receive more education than girls. WFP programs help girls stay in school through school meals
Photo: WFP/Kiyori Ueno

Sekina Hassen (right) and her fellow first-graders at Udassa Repi Elementary school eat porridge every morning. Thanks to WFP, they can focus on their studies instead of their empty stomachs.

Through its programs, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) makes sure women and girls have equal access to resources, opportunities and food:

  • The First 1,000 Days program targets pregnant and breastfeeding moms, from pregnancy through their child’s second birthday, to help them get the full range of nutrients they and their children need to stay healthy.
  • WFP provides school meals to 25 million children across 63 countries, often in the hardest-to-reach areas, helping to keep girls in school. Girls who stay in school are more likely to find a job, be financially stable, have better health, and marry and have children later in life.
  • Purchase for Progress provides small-scale farmers – nearly half of whom are women – with training and tools to boost production and grow their businesses. This training helps women improve the lives of their families, become financially independent and participate in local markets.

But there is so much more we could be doing.

Isn’t it time women and girls had equal opportunities?

YOU can be the difference. Take action today.

Learn more about how gender inequality cause hunger.