International Women’s Day: Empowering Women through Veganism

By Amanda Crow, Guest Contributor

For more than the last hundred years, women have been tirelessly organizing and fighting for equality in society and in labor all around the world.  March 8th is now the official International Women’s Day with the purpose to celebrate women, ALL women, in their achievements around the world while reflecting on the past and current struggles.  Most importantly, discussing the future of women globally should be the focus of today.

The plight of women seems overwhelming with the rampant abuse, exploitation, and domination of females on an international scale.  Fear not!  Our very food choices can have a strong impact on women globally.  It may not seem obvious, but veganism is part of the solution to making this a better world for all women.

Empowering Women Through Veganism

Global hunger has been at the forefront of human rights issues, but what is often not highlighted is that women are more affected than men by global hunger issues.  One third of the total human population goes hungry every single day, and according to The Hunger Project, 60% of those hungry are women.  Because women are the bearers of offspring, half of pregnant women in developing countries are deficient in essential nutrients and lacking proper maternal care leading to over 300,000 deaths annually from childbirth and to 1 in 6 children born with low birth weights.

Most Americans probably feel like the solution is out of their reach.  What exactly are the identified problems causing world hunger?  While food scarcity, the biggest factor, has somewhat reached society’s consciousness, population is the easiest target that allows us to point the blame at others without any reflection on our own habits.  It is an interesting concept to really think about whom we blame for the population problem.  We blame developing countries where women have a lot of babies that they cannot sustain.  Ok – again – whom do we blame? Poor Women.  They are the ones having the babies without a care, or so we think.  This seems to be a hidden case of severe victim-blaming where women are at fault for having babies while ignoring the fact that they lack access to birth control, family planning, sex education, etc.  Of course, most of us never actually think those specific things about poor women, but that IS what we do when we as a society obsess about population control as the source of global hunger while refusing to acknowledge our gigantic role of resource consumption.

Other primary targets of blame for global hunger are natural disasters and warlords.  Most certainly, climate change is inflating its global impact on food scarcity, and during times of conflict, food can be used as a weapon or a form of oppression.  However, these are only proximate causes of hunger, and they are much less important than meat consumption….more specifically the supply and demand for resource-intensive animal products.  “Supply and demand” in practice is intricately complicated globally, but the primary causes and its affects are not nor how we as consumers can make a difference.

Industrialized nations are consuming an enormous amount of meat per capita with global consumption projected to double by 2050.  With that sort of extreme demand, industrialized countries must ensure there is enough supply.

Animal agriculture uses an unsubstantial amount of resources given its small output of available calories.  This becomes a global issue of the distribution of resources leading to scarcity in poorer regions of the world.

Eating 1,000 calories of meat can easily use more than 7,000 calories in plant-based foods, plus the associated use of natural resources. – A Well Fed World

Resource requirements for animal farming encompasses crops for animal feed, water for the animals and crops, and fuel for operating production.  As demand has increased, poor regions of the world are now exporting crops for animal feed and importing concentrated animal feeding operations and slaughterhouses AKA “factory farms.”  The leaders of developing countries make these decisions for exports and imports, but why are they choosing not to sell to the local people leaving them hungry?  In order to get the things they want – military and luxury goods – they need something to sell, trade, make money with.  The agribusinesses pay more money for the crops especially as the meat demand increases, and they are certainly able to pay much more for the food than the local people could ever possibly afford.

Farming in these regions have their own impact on women and hunger.  Around the world women are overwhelming the food preparers, and they are also a strong presence in food production.  Unfortunately, societal oppression like inabilities to own land or take out a loan decreases women’s food production capabilities.  Providing women farmers with resources could decrease world hunger by 100-150 million people!

Women are also a large part of subsistence farming in many developing nations, and the influx of factory farms destroys this way of life of surviving off of the land.   Another consequence is that the men are more involved with the factory farms, and this takes away women’s control of the family income.  It is generally accepted that empowering women benefits the children nutritionally and educationally.  Unlike women, men often will not invest in the family but rather on luxuries for themselves.

Conclusion

As individuals, the problems and solutions of something so widespread as global hunger can feel much too big for us to make a difference on our own.  Increasing meat demand and high animal consumption are the primary reasons for such a skewed distribution of resources around the world.  As consumers with lots of choices, how we spend our money affects the demand of any product.  Think about how many times a day you sit down to eat.  Every single ones of those times, day in and day out, is an opportunity to not support a system that is increasing global hunger and disempowering women.  Veganism is a direct way every single person can actually make a difference to women all around the world.

For further reading on hunger issues here globally and nationally:

Photo credit: farmingmatters