Women advance food sovereignty by feeding their families
Katherine L. Turner, C. Julián Idrobo, Annette Aurélie Desmarais & Ana Maria Peredo (2022) Food sovereignty, gender and everyday practice: the role of Afro-Colombian women in sustaining localised food systems, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 49:2, 402-428, DOI: 10.1080/03066150.2020.1786812
Food sovereignty describes people’s rights to determine their own food systems. This concept emerged from the Global South as small farmers resisted foreign policies that demanded they adopt unsustainable agriculture practices. The movement for food sovereignty has grown into a strong international effort striving for transformational change in global food systems. Advocates for food sovereignty argue for the need to recognize everyday acts of resistance against the extractive and unequal economic structures that shape world markets. Recognizing such practices requires careful attention to women and their work. If food sovereignty leaders fail to acknowledge the important role women have in securing food for their households, then participants of the movement risk perpetuating inequality within global food systems.
A study led by Turner et al. (2022), published in The Journal of Peasant Studies, describes the various food sourcing practices of Afro-Colombian women in the coastal village of Sivirú. Their research serves as a case study highlighting the essential role of women in supporting local food systems. Almost all Sivirú households are of Afro-Colombian descent. Sivirú exhibits immense biological diversity, and local livelihoods are largely reliant on these natural resources. Local villagers engage in a range of activities, including agriculture, fishing, and shellfish collection. In the region in which Sivirú is located, the state is planning a new marine protected area. Turner and colleagues surveyed women and men in the village to understand the gendered dimensions of food provisioning practices and subsequent implications for conservation planning in the village.
In Sivirú, women dominate in securing household food, namely through managing home gardens (sometimes including small livestock), collecting shellfish, and cooking meals. In the home gardens, women draw from knowledge passed through their female ancestors to build raised garden beds known as azoteas. Vegetables and herbs for traditional recipes are grown in the beds using organic techniques. Women collect cockle (a shellfish) in mangroves. Risk of injury and running into armed groups make this activity difficult and dangerous. Women often harvest in groups not only for safety reasons, but also for companionship, knowledge-sharing, to train younger women, and to pool resources such as gas money.
The study concludes that women’s work in fostering local food systems enable households to secure food for themselves. By reducing the need to rely on formal markets, these women practice everyday forms of resistance against dominant economic forces. Their activities reflect values in social and cultural preservation over market participation. They maintain autonomy in decision-making, and thus contribute to food sovereignty. Moreover, they carry knowledge about biodiversity and natural resources that was passed on through women.
Recognizing the role of women in feeding their households is not only important for advancing the food sovereignty movement, but it is also critical for informing conservation planning. Conservation efforts should be careful not to restrict women’s access to resources and, in turn, their capacity to provide for their households. Advocates for food sovereignty cannot achieve their goals without appreciating and understanding the importance of women’s work.