An estimated 789 million people, 11% of the world’s population, are undernourished. If trends persist, the goal of ending hunger by 2030 will be missed. Data collected by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) — using the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) in the context of the Voices of the Hungry project for 141 countries in 2014 and 2015 — show that women are more likely to report food insecurity in nearly two thirds of the countries.
Food insecurity around the world
Across regions, the highest prevalence of food insecurity is in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than half of the population suffers at moderate or severe levels. However, it is also prevalent in the largest economies in the world. In the United Kingdom, for example, 10% of women and 9% of men reported it.
While women generally report greater food insecurity, the gender gaps vary significantly across countries. Gender differences are greater than 3 percentage points and biased against women in nearly a quarter of the 141 countries sampled and against men in seven countries.
In Albania, for instance, women were 4.4 percentage points less likely than men to say they struggled with regular access to food for themselves and their families. In Pakistani women, however, it was a staggering 11 percentage points higher than that among men.
How does it affect women?
Food insecurity results in poor health and decreased nutrient intake. This is a particular challenge for children as well as pregnant and lactating women, who often suffer from anaemia as a result. A leading cause of maternal mortality, anaemia was estimated to affect 29% of women aged 15–49 globally in 2011. The figure is higher for pregnant women (38%). Prevalence rates are also generally higher among rural women, women living in the poorest quintile and women with lower levels of education.
Measuring food insecurity for women and men separately requires surveys with samples that are nationally representative and where the unit of analysis is the individual and not the household.