At Issue paper: Do discriminatory social institutions matter for food security?

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In view of the 2012 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women’s thematic focus on rural women’s empowerment, the gender team at the Development Centre has launched an issues paper, Do discriminatory social institutions matter for food security?.

The paper finds that discrimination against women in accessing resources bears a significant relationship with agricultural production and food security. Understanding how these discriminatory social institutions affect rural women and agricultural production is critical for enhancing aid effectiveness and the design of targeted policies to address rural women’s inequality, poverty and food insecurity. This ‘At Issue’ follows our 2010 paper “Gender Inequality and the MDGs: What are the Missing Dimensions?”.

The paper uses the Social and Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) to highlight the linages between discrimination against women in accessing resources and agricultural production and food sedcurity.

The SIGI helps to improve our understanding of what drives gender inequalities in education, employment, political participation, to make visible the invisible; it informs effective policies to tackle the power relations at the heart of gender inequality; enables comparisons across countries and regions; and tracks changes over time to assess what drives change. Learn more about the SIGI.


There is evidence from several country studies that there are links between rural women’s empowerment and food security:

  • In Ghana, greater ownership of property by women has been found to have positive impact on their ability to spend money:

1% increase in property owned by rural women results in 2.8% increase of monthly expenditure on food[1]

  • In Nepal, women’s land ownership has been linked with better outcomes for children:

8% of children are severely underweight in households where mother owns land in comparison to 14% of severely undernourished children living in landless or landed households.[2]

  • In India, 42% of children are underweight and only 13.7% of women have decision-making power within household.[3]

We wanted to see what the SIGI could tell us about the relationship between rural women’s access to resources and food security – in particular child malnutrition and agricultural production.

Main findings

  • For 2009, on average, countries where women have equal rights to land had yields of around 3250 kg/hectare, three times more than those countries where women had no or few rights to land.

  • From 1980 to 2009, cereal yields increased by 60% in countries where women have equal access to land, compared to only 6% where women have few or no rights to land.

SIGI agricultural production 2012 At Issue DEV paper.jpg

  • Countries where women lack any right to own land have on average 60% more malnourished children:

SIGI malnutrition 2010 At Issue DEV paper.jpg
For more information and background reading on this, please see our previous paper on “Gender Inequality and the MDGs: What are the Missing Dimensions?”.


  1. Doss, Cheryl. 2006. "The Effects of Intrahousehold Property Ownership on Expenditure Patterns in Ghana." Journal of African Economies 15(1):149–80.
  2. Allendorf, K. 2007. Do Women’s Land Rights Promote Empowerment and Child Health in Nepal? World Development, Volume 35, Issue 11, November 2007, pp. 1975–1988.
  3. HUNGaMa Survey Report, 2011. Fighting Hunger & Malnutrition, Naandi Foundation, India.

See Also

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