Women are kind, resilient, brave, and compassionate, yet still face inequality throughout many aspects of their lives. Due to the historic imprint left by the lack of women's rights, deep-routed gender norms, and human-made conflict, women experience hunger at a disproportionate rate worldwide.
Globally, women are more likely to live below the poverty line compared to men. There are around 690 million people experiencing food insecurity globally, and 60% of those individuals are female. This issue plagues women living in America as well, as many women in the U.S. do not have access to sufficient food to feed themselves and their families.
Women living alone or that are single parents are at a higher risk than married women for food insecurity at 30.2% compared to 11%. Frequently, they are left vulnerable because of a lack of financial support and the urge to prioritize their children and others' needs before themselves.
Before the pandemic, around 13.7 million U.S. households had inadequate access to food. The households that suffered the worst were female single-parent homes as they experience hunger at a rate double that of their male counterparts. Households with children with a single mother had a food insecurity rate of 28.7% in 2019, while only 15.4% of single fathers dealt with food insecurity.
It's no secret that, globally, women have access to fewer resources and face more economic barriers than their male counterparts. Many people are unaware of why the gender-related hunger disparity exists in one of the world's wealthiest countries.
The gendered hunger gap in America results from the convergence of several economic and social issues, including gender discrimination in pay, racial inequality, motherhood challenges, and care responsibilities, lack of support during COVID-19, gender-based violence, and insufficient federal nutrition programs.
Racial Inequity and COVID-19
The pandemic has negatively impacted Americans mentally, physically, and financially, but it has also been worse for certain groups. Generally, women are affected more dramatically by COVID-19 economically because of the already existing gender inequalities present in the U.S. However, women of color bear the brunt of the economic devastation, with reports of loss of income, jobs, and food security.
This staggering injustice is highlighted by reports of food insecurity as a result of COVID-19. Since the start of the pandemic, 57.1% of Hispanic women and 53% of Black women reported a loss of income as recorded by the National Women's Law Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit. Comparatively, only 41% of white men and women reported lost earnings throughout the pandemic. According to the study, the financial impact has left more than 16% of Black and Hispanic women facing food insecurity in 2020, more than double the rate of white women.
Gender Discrimination in Pay and Benefits
The gender pay gap can be measured in two different ways. The first is by the ‘uncontrolled’ gender pay gap, which examines the median salary for all men and women regardless of job type or position. Additionally, the ‘controlled’ pay gap can also be calculated by comparing a man and woman working in the same job in the same position.
On average, men's median salary is 19% points higher than the median wage for women in the U.S. Although an improvement from the past, it is still far from being equal. When comparing men and women with the same professional skills and jobs, women still earn $0.98 for every dollar that a man makes. This 2% decrease in pay adds up to thousands lost over several years, with no attributable reason why the pay gap still exists.
American women are twice as likely to work in low-wage, part-time jobs with few to no benefits. Many women, particularly single mothers, lack adequate health insurance and primary medical care. The lack of medical support puts women at risk of losing basic income or potentially their jobs if sick leave is not afforded. To effectively fight hunger among women and their families, women need to have decent work opportunities with equal, livable wages and sufficient employment benefits.
“Part of the reason for the gender pay gap is that women are more likely to take a break during their careers to have children or to seek lower paid positions that offer more flexibility to make it easier to manage a family,” PayScale reported. “Some people mistakenly assume that this “explains” the gender wage gap and eases fears over sexism.”
These trends do not fully account for the pay gap, neither do the variance in education, experience, and profession, as shown by the controlled gender pay gap.
Women in the U.S. face two major public health issues; food insecurity and violence. Violence against women and girls is one of the most extensive human rights violations in the world. Gender-based violence is not restricted by race, religion, state, or country; it extends worldwide, plaguing women's lives everywhere.
One in three women will experience gender-based violence in their lifetime. The commonality of cases of this abuse is staggering. Worldwide, 35% of women have been exposed to either physical or sexual violence. Additionally, 7% of women have been sexually assaulted by someone other than their partner. A study from 2019 researched the correlation between gender-based violence and food insecurity and found that victims of sexual, physical, or psychological violence were more likely to report very low food security. These acts of violence cause devastation to the survivors, measured by the social and economic costs. These losses of wages and social networks leave women and girls at a greater risk of experiencing food insecurity.
Insufficient Federal Nutrition Programs
Federal nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) serve as crucial supports for food-insecure women and their families. Research shows that food-insecure mothers of young families who received SNAP were less likely to experience maternal depression and be in poor health than mothers who did not receive these benefits. Although SNAP has been instrumental in raising millions of Americans out of food insecurity, many people still experience a lack of consistent nutrition to support an active, healthy lifestyle. The budget provided by SNAP falls short of what is needed to purchase and prepare a healthy diet. Additional, benefits in the program would improve food insecurity and overall nutrition.
The WIC Program aids low-income pregnant women, infants, and children who are not receiving proper nutrition. Those who qualify for this program are pregnant women, women breastfeeding a baby under 1-year-old, women that had a baby or were pregnant in the past six months, a baby up to their first birthday and a child up to their fifth birthday. In order to receive aid from this program based on a low income, the gross income of the mother or family must be at or below 185% of the U.S. poverty income guidelines. The qualifications for this program are strict, but the WIC program is a cost-effective government initiative leading to more nutrient-rich diets. WIC helps millions of women face food insecurity, yet there are still women going hungry that do not qualify for this program.
What Can We Do to Fight Against Gender-Based Food Insecurity?
Stay educated on the topic of gender-based inequality and know how it affects women to this day. Additionally, get involved and support organizations that help with gender-based violence, racial disparities, and overall food insecurity. Many of these injustices against women are the effects of a historical system that was based on inequality. Although there have been many improvements, there is still a long way to go, but you can help!
Consider getting involved by donating to our cause or hosting your own food drive or fundraiser! Move For Hunger's mission is to fight food insecurity because access to nutritious food should be a fundamental human right for all, not just for some!
Also, learn more about the female leaders in our industry fighting food insecurity.