Editor’s Note: This month, that is June 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Feminism And Environment, where we invite various articles about the diverse range of experiences which we often confront while interacting with our natural as well as social surroundings. If you’d like to share your article, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Women have been politically involved with food, both as consumers and as producers, historically and even in contemporary times. The goals of feminist movements have often intersected with food politics. Just like how the feminist movement has various intersections of caste, class, race and ethnicity, protests around food have a lot to do with caste, religion, economics and politics.
Owing to gender roles and the dichotomy of the public and the private, women are naturally seen sharing a very domestic relationship with food, while men are supposed to share a very public relationship where male labour brings the produce inside the domestic or the private sphere. As a result, we have ignored how food and gender politics is often intertwined. In October 1789, thousands of French women marched and stormed the Palace of Versailles demanding that all the stocks of bread be released which the monarchy had been hoarding. This women’s march is thought to have been the starting point of the French Revolution.
Role of Women in Food Production
Since most of the farmers of the world are women, farming needs to be seen as a feminist issue. Women have always been at the forefront of food production. They have grown, cooked, processed and served food. Their systems of production are based on an ethic of care and are self sustaining systems. Since women majorly contribute to its production, therefore food security has a direct linkage with women’s food producing capacity. Feminist food systems have always focused on diversity of crops, indigenous knowledge about farming techniques and preservation as well as nourishment of the seed through unique means.
Unfortunately, the oppressive hegemonic systems of science, technology and economics, especially in neo-liberal India have subverted this diversity. Economically, we have invisibilised Indian women’s contribution as food providers. Our statisticians and survey methods fail to take into account the humongous work women agriculturists do, both inside and outside the house. Most women producers multi-task and a lot of their food production is seen as unpaid care work; hence, it is never measured in wages and our national GDP excludes most of it. Thus, women producers face twin challenges of invisibilisation—by commercial and industrial agriculturists who are tearing down women agriculturists’ indigenous knowledge and techniques one by one; and secondly, by economists who do not have the capacity or the inclination to recognise women’s labour in food production.
Also read: Hunger Will Kill Before The Virus Does: Why Food Distribution Is A Priority Now
Impact of Globalisation on Women as Food Producers
Capitalist patriarchy has completely destroyed feminist food production in a post-globalised world. Corporations have full control over the entire food chain. GMO and hybrid seeds are seen as a replacement for renewable, diverse varieties. The whole food production process has entirely been commercialised by globalisation, severely impacting women agriculturalists and their skills, productivity, labour and knowledge.
According to Vandana Shiva (eco-feminist and environmentalist), “The Green Revolution in India resulted in the death of the feminine principle in plant breeding…Green revolution varieties of seeds were clearly not the best alternative for increasing food production from the point of view of nature, women and poor peasants. They were useful for corporations that wanted to find new avenues in seeds and fertilizer sales, by displacing women peasants as custodians of seeds and builders of soil fertility, and they were useful for rich farmers wanting to make profits. The international agencies which financed research on the new seeds also provided the money for their distribution. The impossible task of selling a new variety to millions of small peasants who could not afford to buy the seeds was solved by the World Bank, the UNDP, the FAO, and a host of bilateral aid programs that began to accord high priority to the distribution of HYV seed in their aid programs.”
Impact of Food Shortages on Women
As a result of capitalist patriarchy, women and girls become the worst victims of hunger, malnutrition and under-nutrition. These microaggressions shouldn’t just be seen as women’s lack of access to food because of poverty but they also need to be seen as a result of the disappearance of diversity from our farming systems that have completely destroyed nutrition in our food.
According to National Family Health Survey (NFHS), 58.6% of children, 53.2% of non-pregnant women and 50.4% of pregnant women suffered from anaemia in 2016, despite having an anaemia control programme for 50 years. Anaemia is not only responsible for increasing maternal and infant mortality rates but it also leads to poor growth and decreased productivity in women and children. As Dr. Shiva rightly points out, both nutrition and malnutrition are linked to food production and what we grow in our farms. It’s not as if enough food isn’t being produced in the world; it’s just that industrialised agriculture, which has destroyed small farmers, is based on expensive capital and synthetic fertilisers which makes several farmers go into debt leading to the increasing number of farmer suicides.
While all of us need to introspect as to how to ethically consume food, we must not fall into the trap of mainstream capitalist veganism that calls for single crop production in certain areas which have historically been used to multiple crop productions.
Thus, food is very much a feminist issue. It needs to be seen at the intersections of caste and ethnicity in India. Feminist food movements should also address the ostracisation of certain caste communities for eating food that is “impure”. The whole myth of ‘saatvik’ food needs to be debunked which is rooted in the very Brahminical notion purity and pollution.
Also read: The Surplus Problem: Hunger, Food And Environment In India
Women and the Gendered Politics of Food
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