A recipe for gender empowerment: A feminist narrative study of ‘fair food’ and gender empowerment

Madeleine Borger

Although Australia is known as the ‘lucky country’, food insecurity is a reality for a growing number of Australians. Researchers are also gradually acknowledging that gender is a crucial component of food insecurity: therefore, addressing gender inequalities can assist with improving food insecurity.

The concept of food justice calls attention to the way that structural inequalities manifest in the food system, and calls for a transformation of the existing food system according to principles of equity and sustainability. However, although Australia is home to many food justice initiatives, there is minimal research on how these initiatives are addressing gender issues. My Honours project contributes to filling this research gap, connecting the themes of food justice and gender empowerment through a unique case study of a ‘fair food’ initiative in Brisbane. The findings also have implications for addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG2 Zero Hunger and SDG5 Gender Equality.

Gender, food justice, and empowerment

In many households and communities, women play an essential role as producers of food, income earners, managers of natural resources, and caretakers of household nutrition and food security. However, despite their role as primary food providers, women generally bear the brunt of food insecurity, as they have less access to knowledge, tools, and income. Significant gender gaps around access to productive resources and asset ownership also impact household food security. The 2019 Foodbank Hunger report states that one in four Australian women (27%) have experienced food insecurity in the last 12 months, compared to 18% of men. Furthermore, single mothers are more likely to sacrifice their own food to ensure their children do not go hungry.

How are these issues addressed in food justice organisations? To answer this question, I interviewed three women participants in the Good Food Project, a crowdfunded social enterprise in Brisbane. The Good Food Project is focused on sourcing and producing sustainable local food, and providing employment for vulnerable people (especially women). Exploring women’s experiences at the Good Food Project can help us to understand the intersection between gender issues and food justice initiatives.

The interviews revealed three key findings:

Firstly, economic empowerment was found to be an important driver for participation; that is, the women indicated that economic empowerment was their main motivation to participate in a ‘fair food’ initiative.

Secondly, not only did the Good Food Project promote women’s economic empowerment (e.g. by providing access to resources such as certificate training courses) but also provided participants with the opportunity to build social capital (e.g. through meeting new people, making contacts, becoming part of new networks, etc.).

Finally, the women’s experiences at Good Food Project expanded their relationship with food. As well as expanding their resources, agency, social empowerment, decision-making power, confidence and skills, the women also began to expand their conception of the food system and their ideas for more equitable ‘food futures’ (e.g. through learning about women’s agricultural collectives). Specifically, the findings suggest that the women’s participation in the Good Food Project has deepened their connection with food networks, expanding their understanding of food at the local, community, and global level.

Implications for food futures

The findings from this study have potential to create dialogue around food futures, including achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In particular, the study highlights the relationship between SDG2 Zero Hunger and SDG5 Gender Equality, with implications for rethinking food futures on a global scale.

Importantly, the research suggests that ‘fair food’ initiatives have the potential to provide women with a ‘feminist food space’ where they can develop their food knowledge. Furthermore, it suggests that women’s empowerment is crucial for achieving SDG2, based on the key role of many women in food preparation, food production, and childcare, as well as the overall nutritional outcome in families. In the case of Good Food Project, by providing greater access to resources and productive assets, whilst also educating women on sustainable food procedures, the women were able to better educate and provide sustainable food to their families and communities. As such, this research suggests many possible intersections between SDG5 and SDG2: addressing nutrition and food security for women, their families and communities together with targeted gender equality initiatives such as equitable investment and increased access to resources.

%d bloggers like this: