Even in the world’s richest country food security and food access aren’t blind. It disproportionately affects non-white Americans and females. Given all of the other struggles that these demographics face – lower wages, discrimination, higher poverty rates, and so on – it doesn’t seem fair.
But considering all of those inequalities, low food security makes sense. Often, injustices go hand-in-hand, perpetuated by long-standing biases and outdated laws.
So, how do we even go about changing these deep-rooted problems? It does, and it will take a lot of effort at all levels, but it is possible.
Even if you think you can’t end hunger for everyone, there are so many things that you can do. Grassroots solutions are effective at increasing food access for everyone in your community. And that holds true when it comes to the issue of gender and food security.
We don’t have to see our mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends go hungry. Empowering women in your community is a great place to start.
In this article, we highlight four practical ways that you can support women so that gender and low food security aren’t just sad statistics.
We’ll explore women-owned businesses, farms, urban farms/community gardens, and using mobile markets. But first, a little bit of context.
Walk a Mile in Her Shoes – Gender Bias and Food Security
Single women households that have children are far more likely to be food insecure than other types of households in the US.1 And no mother wants to see her child go hungry. So usually the first thing she’ll do is go hungry herself so that she can feed her kids first.
Gender and food security have many root causes as well as outcomes. But this also means that there are a lot of ways – and reasons – for you to help women in your community and reach out to them.
And because women are more likely to be a caregiver to someone else, like a child or an older adult, uplifting them means helping those they care for too. Just as the effects of hunger are far-reaching, so too are the effects of mitigating it.
The Importance of Supporting Women-Owned Businesses
Even though women can go into space and run for president, they still make less than men in the workforce.2 This is one of the main ways that gender affects food security in the US.
A good way to empower women and make sure that they’re not going hungry is to give them the financial ability and independence to buy healthy foods.
No doubt you’ve seen or heard of “Buy American” or “Made in the USA”. But what about supporting women-owned businesses? We should think about applying the same enthusiasm to supporting them too.
Even though females make up 50.8% of the American population,3 only 40% of its businesses are women-owned.4 Wouldn’t it make sense to support these women-owned businesses so that they can open up more doors for themselves and other women?
Women ask for less business financing, and they also receive less financing too. Gender biases run deep in society and in the economy.5 And so, supporting women in any way you can helps close the gender gap that exists in food security.
In light of these facts, are you or your organization able to actively support women-owned businesses in your community? Here are some more ways that you can do just that.
Women-Owned Farms: Small Operations With Big Impacts
Let’s not forget about farms operated by women. Women-owned farms tend to be smaller and so they make less money. But women farmers tend to use more sustainable and organic farming practices6 which has a more positive impact on the local environment.
Women farmers think more outside the box in terms of how their practices affect their communities, and in finding creative ways to remain financially viable.
In addition to selling fresh produce or meat, they’re usually the ones who will also sell items made from the food produced on their farms. Things like jams and cheeses are “value-added products” and can be a critical source of income for these women.7
So the next time you enjoy toast and jam for breakfast, think about where the jam came from. Is it from a giant food conglomerate, or is it from the female-operated farm down the road? Supporting locally-made foods is good for you, your community, and the female farmers who made them.
How Urban Farms & Community Gardens Can Reduce the Gender Gap in Food Security
For many communities across the country, there’s no such thing as a traditional farm nearby. You’d be hard-pressed to find a herd of cows roaming around downtown Chicago.
But urban farms and community gardens are gaining traction in a lot of big cities across the US. They’re an incredible way to increase food access in urban communities and are beneficial to local residents in so many ways.
These newer types of approaches to agriculture are usually female-operated.6 And they focus on the well-being and the future of the community as a whole as opposed to just focusing purely on profits.
Urban farms and gardens are an awesome way to strengthen your local food system. COVID-19 made us realize how fragile the global food system really is. So we need local solutions now more than ever.
Empowering women to run urban farms and gardens can make a huge difference in the lives of these women and their communities. The West Sacramento Urban Farm Program is one such place.8 They train new farmers at their urban farm lots in the middle of the city.
Imagine empowering inner-city women and girls by teaching them how to grow their own food at a local community garden. They’ll learn valuable skills and gain more independence. And they’ll be less likely to worry about where their next meal is coming from.
Plus it means that they won’t have to go far to get healthy food for themselves and their families. This reduces some of the main barriers to food security for urban residents which are transportation and distance.
So let’s update that famous proverb to: “Give a woman some food and she can eat for a day. But teach a woman how to garden and you feed her for a lifetime.”
Empowering females to have control over their own food supply is a practical way to reduce gender’s influence on food security.
Using Mobile Farmers’ Markets to Support Women
Mobile farmers’ markets offer other creative ways to reduce the gender gap when it comes to food security in your community. They’re not just a great tool for food banks, they’re also great for all kinds of other community organizations.
Any organization that is passionate about increasing community food access can benefit from operating a mobile farmers’ market. They often share the same mission and vision as urban farms and community gardens. And even with organizations that support and train local farmers.
Mobile markets offer residents fresh produce and locally-made products (think women-owned businesses and farms!) in places where other food retailers don’t.
Food security organizations can use their mobile markets to host farmers’ markets in places where disadvantaged women might frequent.
Think of the ties between hunger, the gender pay gap, single motherhood, and gender-based violence. These issues are closely related. And so it makes sense for mobile market operators to try and help these women where they live and work.
Some non-profits host markets at schools, Head Start centers, and hospitals. You can even host markets closer to women’s shelters or religious centers. Thinking about where you host markets to help disadvantaged women can make a huge difference in their health and that of their children.
In 2018, about 63% of SNAP participants under age 60 were women. And one-third of all adult SNAP participants were women of color.9
Some mobile markets offer discounts to SNAP & WIC participants and Health Bucks vouchers.10 Initiatives like these make it a lot easier for women in need to increase their food security.
Getting Creative With a Mobile Farmers’ Market
Since mobile farmers’ markets are like small businesses, you can use them to employ women in roles that will help them learn how to run a business. By helping to run the mobile market, women will gain real-world experience in running a small business.
This is invaluable training and will help to empower the future generation of women entrepreneurs in your community. And by giving women the freedom to support themselves and their families, you’re also reducing their barriers to food security.
Consider selling local, women-made products at your market too!
Your mobile farmers’ market can help women in other ways. It can be used to support local charities by holding market events to raise funds and awareness of gender-based issues. And you can use them to hold food drives and fundraisers too.
Events like these also help to raise funds and awareness for your cause. More people around the community will see the incredible work that you’re doing and your impact will grow.
Bright and colorful mobile markets are such a fun, inclusive environment to shop at. They inherently help to reduce the stigma around food assistance.
People are more likely to take advantage of the healthy food that’s available at your market because you’ve made it convenient and enjoyable for them to shop.
Mitigating Gender’s Influence on Food Security in Your Community
Changing how society views women and girls, and their roles in society and the economy doesn’t happen overnight. Even changing discriminatory laws and policies takes time and effort.
But that doesn’t mean we should stop fighting for equality. We are slowly headed in the right direction but there’s still a long way to go.
As you can see, there are tangible ways to reduce gender’s influence on food security in your community. Supporting women-owned businesses, urban farm initiatives, and using a mobile market in all the ways we’ve mentioned.
Community efforts strengthen and benefit all community residents. And considering that females make up half of our population it only makes sense to support their well-being too. Wouldn’t that make your mom proud?
Interested in discovering more about how mobile farmers’ markets benefit communities like yours? Check out our blog section today.