Women are absorbing the costs of food inflation worldwide

Women are absorbing the costs of food inflation worldwide
5 min read

Adele Walton

05 October, 2022
As the cost of living soars around the world, it is women who are bearing the burden and disproportionately making sacrifices to feed their families as the global food crisis exacerbates gender inequality, writes Adele Walton.
Achol Ayut holds her malnourished child Nyibol Lual, 2.5 years old, and a pot with the only stock of sorghum for her five children on May 31, 2017, at her house in Panthau, Northern Bahr al Ghazal, South Sudan. [Getty]

“He gives me 200 lira a week for Cuma Pazar (Friday market), but this doesn’t get me what I need anymore.”

Vildan is a 40 year old housewife from Edincik, a small village in the North West of Turkey. I overheard this conversation between her and my grandmother recently, when talking about how the weekly food market in their village is no longer as affordable as it used to be. Both of them, like many other women globally, are feeling the pains of food inflation.

In August, global food inflation was at its peak since 2008. This month in the UK food inflation hit its highest rate on record, at 10.6%. Wheat prices have surged by 59% since the start of 2022, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine exacerbating the rising cost of food due to their role in global wheat production.

Food prices have been one of the primary drivers of inflation globally, with the cost of living crisis squeezing people’s pockets even more. But the impacts of this food crisis are not being felt the same by everyone.

Gender inequality is exacerbated by economic crises; charities have said the global cost of living crisis is hitting women harder, due to them being more likely to earn less and spend more time doing unpaid labour within the home. But in a cost of living crisis where food is one of the primary commodities that have increased in price, women are finding it more and more difficult to feed themselves, and their families.

In Turkey, inflation has hit a 24 year high of 80%, with rates similarly high in Lebanon, where inflation has hit an eye-watering 168%. What this means is that the purchasing power of women, who spend more of their income on food for their household, is drastically weakened.

Women are more vulnerable to food price spikes. They are more likely to earn less, more likely to be primary caregivers and more likely to be responsible for buying food for their household. As a result, food price inflation is an immense source of strain and worry for women across the globe.

Due to the intersectional nature of gender inequality, women are more likely to be in poverty and in debt. Food inflation is causing food poverty to become institutionalised, with almost 2 in 10 people using food banks to feed themselves in the UK.

In countries where food banks don’t exist, food insecurity and chronic hunger is becoming even more widespread. Across the Horn of Africa, 22 million people are at risk of starvation, with rural women being the worst affected by food insecurity.

With food inflation weakening households spending capacity, women are being forced to neglect their own needs and go without. Research shows that women are more likely to be responsible for household budgeting, with 77% of women in the UK saying that they have the main responsibility for buying food. Not only this, but women also adopt strategies to absorb the shocks of food instability, such as collecting wild food, selling assets, migrating or taking on extra and more precarious work.

The mental stresses that come with economic hardship are profound, and cause immense mental strain, particularly when you are more at risk of falling into poverty. During the pandemic, women accounted for 54% of job losses despite making up 39% of global employment. Now, in a cost of living crisis, the effects of the pandemic are making it even harder for women to get by.

Because of women’s disproportionate role in household budgeting, women are not just responsible for making spending decisions, but are also the primary ones responsible for keeping their household healthy.

For those families who cannot afford to buy enough food, women are more likely to go hungry, so that the rest of their household can eat. A survey in June found that 30% of young mothers were sometimes going hungry so that their children could eat, with the rate being 58% of single mothers.

It is clear that food inflation is not simply an economic concern, but also a pressing health issue, which is reproducing gender inequalities. Two thirds of those affected by hunger last year were women.

The mental toll of shouldering the burden of food inflation cannot be underestimated. In a capitalist global economy which renders women responsible for the unpaid labour involved in caring and looking after the other people within the home, feeding the family becomes women’s responsibility. In a global cost of living crisis where food is becoming ever more expensive, women are under increasing pressure to make ends meet.

At a time when huge corporations continue to profit from a cost of living crisis and normal people are absorbing the impacts of food inflation, the UN Sustainable Development Goal to end hunger in all its forms now seems more like a pipe dream than a tangible reality. 

Adele Walton is an International Development graduate and freelance journalist, who has written for Jacobin, Tribune, openDemocracy, Vice, Dazed and more. She studied at the University of Sussex and wrote a dissertation critiquing the racialised logics of underdevelopment and good governance narratives. She is half Turkish and half British.

Follow her on Twitter: @adelewalton121

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.