From a policy brief to a training kit: HealthyFoodAfrica tackling gender inequality in African food systems

Africa’s food systems face many challenges, including trade dynamics, resource scarcity, governance, and inequality. Among these challenges, the role of women in food systems stands out as a key issue. The HealthyFoodAfrica project is making progress in understanding gender issues in Africa’s food systems: a policy brief and a training kit were created to provide recommendations and solutions for addressing gender barriers in food systems.

The ability to establish both healthy and sustainable food systems is often held up by gender-related barriers that exist within micro and macroeconomies, such as households and local communities. Gender has historically served as a fundamental determinant of roles at all stages of the food system, marginalizing women from key economic activities and decision-making positions within their households and throughout the food system.

Tradition shapes women’s activities and their access to knowledge, skills and services. Thus, the information offered by HFA is crucial for raising awareness across local communities. Traditional gender roles within households and throughout the value chain influence the livelihood options available to women, influencing factors such as the types of crops grown, and the food consumed by household members. Therefore, addressing gender-related barriers and challenges within food systems can contribute not only to the transition towards healthier and more sustainable food systems, but also to achieving gender equality.

Studies show that women carry out about 43 percent of all agricultural activities in low- and middle-income countries. This percentage rises to more than 50 percent when focusing on sub-Saharan Africa. Despite this, women farmers face various constraints in accessing agricultural inputs, services and markets. Consequently, Sub-Saharan African women possess limited control over assets and resources.

From a policy brief to a training kit: HealthyFoodAfrica tackling gender inequality in African food systems – HFA gender uutinen kuva
Gender roles limit the time available to women and dictate how their work within the food value chain is valued by the community. Photo: Heedo Lee


Publications identify gender related issues and suggest solutions


HealthyFoodAfrica has taken a proactive approach to analyzing and presenting solutions and strategies for overcoming gender barriers in food systems through the Policy Brief and the provision of a Training manual. These publications provide an overview of the significant challenges affecting the daily lives of local women and how these challenges can be addressed.

Gender mainstreaming is a critical aspect of effective efforts to improve food systems. Within HealthyFoodAfrica (HFA), gender integration is embedded from the outset, from staff training to data collection, analysis and reporting. In addition, gender plays an important role in newly designed interventions, including pilot trials. Along with the publications, HFA has also disseminated a series of blogs across the continent on issues of gender inequality. A Practice abstract on integrating gender into food system project objectives has also been published.

HFA’s policy brief “Overcoming Gender Barriers to Food System Transformations” is a focused report on the challenges faced by women in African food systems and how addressing gender barriers can lead to a more sustainable and equitable food system. The report highlights the traditional gender roles that limit women’s participation in the food system, the impact of limited access to income and productive assets on women’s ability to contribute to the food system, and the steps that can be taken to promote gender equality in the food system. The report is aimed at policymakers, researchers and practitioners working on food systems in Africa.

The HFA training manual provides valuable insights and knowledge on how gender affects food systems and how it can be used to promote sustainable and equitable food systems. The manual covers key concepts, case studies and examples of how gender can be integrated into food systems planning and policymaking. It also provides guidance on how to conduct gender-sensitive research and analysis. The manual provides guidance on how to ensure that questionnaires and focus groups are gender-sensitive, including ensuring participation of both men and women, phrasing questions with sensitivity to gender and cultural considerations, and having a female moderator for a woman-only focus group and vice versa. The manual also suggests that desk reviews should consider how policies and laws affect men, women, and other disadvantaged groups differently, whether women and men receive different levels of benefits from the policies being reviewed, and whether the language used is gender-neutral or reinforces gender roles and stereotypes. The manual is aimed at anyone interested in understanding the importance of gender in food systems, including policymakers, researchers, practitioners and students.

Addressing gender barriers and challenges in food systems can not only contribute to the transition towards healthier and more sustainable food systems, but also to achieving gender equality. We hope to publish more research, news and blogs on HFA’s work to achieve gender equality. Read more about HFA’s work from Publications section.


Vertti Niskanen, Project assistant of HealthyFoodAfrica