For many people in the world, the link between women and food security is about the role women play in producing food, cooking for others, and caring for household members. A narrative that omits the status of women as human beings who also have rights. The unsurprising and often times ignored reality is that women are the most affected by food insecurity because according to norms they are the last to eat in the family. They have less access to natural resources and services, they bear the bulk of household chores, and they face discrimination and multiple forms of violence – all of which leave them economically vulnerable and food insecure. According to estimates women and children account for 70% of the world’s poor, and consequently make up for 60% of the worlds’ chronically hungry. To add more to this struggle there are we; if you look closely, you might have seen that as a society we tend to treat hunger as a moral failing, a sign that someone is lacking in a fundamental way. Mikki Kendall rightly said, ‘Hunger, real hunger, provokes desperation and leads to choices that might otherwise seem unfathomable. Survival instincts drive us all, but perhaps none so strongly as that gnawing emptiness of hunger.’ And it is this desperation that compels one to do things. Poverty can mean turning to everything from begging at streets, selling drugs, to sex work in order to be able to fill your stomach, because you don’t have the option to ‘hang in there’ when you can’t earn a legal living and feed not only yourself but those who depend upon you. And what do we generally do, we treat poverty itself like a crime, assuming that the women experiencing it are making bad choices for themselves, without even acknowledging what choices do they have, or perhaps if they have any. We tend to overlook a simple understanding that a choice between starvation and crime, can’t really be called a choice. If I specifically talk about India, we can see income inequality increasing and as the wealth gap widens across class, caste, and religious lines, there’s absolutely no doubt that for women from the marginalized and socially & economically backward communities, hunger will soon catch pace and move from bad nutrition to complete malnutrition. Then why don’t we talk about hunger in mainstream feminism, well because since a long time many people dictating the parameters in these feminist circles, had no idea what it is to be food insecure. Feminism can’t simply be about equal respect of the sexes. There are much crucial things that come before it. When we say feminism is about women fighting for their rights etc., we automatically assume that they might be capable enough to fight. If you ask me to choose between food and respect, I think you know what my first choice would be. There might be many feminist concerns, but none that affect women and their families like this one. Food is a human right. Access to it, allows women and enables them to fight for all their rights. Food security allows for marginalized women’s participation in political and organizational spaces, enabling them to fight against structural oppression. True equity starts with ensuring that everyone has access to the most basic of needs. So when we talk about respecting the rights of females and members of the LGBTQ community this means that they will be food secure, along with their families, because they will be free from violence, discrimination, economic injustice and disempowerment. We also have to move towards a new global food system where women can control what they produce and what they sell in the local markets, where unpaid care work like cooking and cleaning is recognized, and where public services are safe and accessible. So when we say that feminism is a movement that cares for all kinds of women, it has to be one that not only listens to all women but advocates for their basic needs to be met. We need to fight hunger as hard as we fight for abortion rights or even equal pay. You can’t be a feminist who ignores hunger. Feminism today needs to be aware enough and flexible enough.
By Kuhu Srivastava