Debunking the myth of women’s economic empowerment and food security

Authors: Jennifer Zavaleta Cheek*, University of Illinois
Topics: Food Systems, Gender, Asia
Keywords: Women's economic empowerment, food security, food expenditure, income diversification, rainfed India
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 31
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Women are often lauded as the “key to food security” because they provide a “multiplier effect” and invest more in their families’ food security compared to male counterparts. Targeting women as beneficiaries is often characterized as “win-win” since investment in women has the potential to reduce gender inequalities, increase food security, and challenge patriarchal power dynamics. One mechanism that development agencies promote food security and economic empowerment is to encourage women to join the workforce. This paper challenges the dominant narrative of women’s economic empowerment programs: that higher incomes lead to higher investments in food expenditure and increased decision-making in the household. This paper uses mediation analyses on a dataset that follows 1,200 households in 80 villages each month for a year, for a total of 14,400 surveys in rainfed regions of India. I found that women’s control over income—and not their level of income—was most associated with food security, while higher incomes actually decreased decision-making on household expenditure. These results suggests that initiatives that seek to empower women and increase their food sovereignty by encouraging them to join the workforce are not a sufficient solution to food insecurity and gender inequity.

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