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Gender inequality, reproductive rights and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa – a panel data study

Deeksha Tayal (Institute for Human Development, Delhi, India)

International Journal of Development Issues

ISSN: 1446-8956

Article publication date: 7 June 2019

Issue publication date: 24 June 2019

455

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to suggest that gender inequality plays a significant role in explaining the prevailing magnitudes of food insecurity in the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. It provides empirical evidence for the underlying hypothesis that removing discrimination against women, particularly, with respect to their reproductive health and rights, depicted in high adolescent fertility rates and maternal deaths, will be an important pre-condition for addressing the hunger and undernourishment challenge in the region. A theoretical linkage has been conceptualised and supported through findings from panel data analysis of a set of 20 countries in the region, over a period of 16 years (from 1999 to 2015). The key result is that the relative impact of health inequality on food insecurity is higher and significant, in comparison to disparities in education and economic participation of women. A unit increase in adolescent fertility rate leads to an increase in undernourishment by 19.4 per cent, depth of food deficit by 1.15 per cent and a decline in average dietary energy adequacy by 0.21 per cent.

Design/methodology/approach

In the paper, time series data set for 20 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa is generated by using world development indicators (World Bank) of gender inequality and food security statistics of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Data set involves trends in variables over a period of 16 years (1999 to 2015). A panel regression analysis with fixed effects is undertaken for testing the underlying hypothesis. To capture the linkage in a detailed manner, the author has fitted four models for each of the three measures of food security. First model captures the specific impact of gender differences in secondary school enrolment on food security in the region. Second model assesses the impact of gender inequality in labour force participation, and the third model explores the impact of health inequality in terms of adolescent fertility and maternal mortality on food security indicators. In the final model, the relative impact of all the four gender inequality indicators on magnitude of food insecurity in the study region is assessed.

Findings

The findings from panel data analysis provide empirical support to our hypothesis that gender disparities prevailing in Sub-Saharan Africa have an adverse impact on the level of food security in the region. Individually, increase in both, gender parity in secondary education and ratio of female to male labour force participation rate, has a negative influence on prevalence of undernourishment and depth of food deficit in the region. But, when the relative impact of gender inequality in education, economic participation and health are considered together in a single model, adolescent fertility rate, followed by maternal mortality ratio became the two most important indicators negatively influencing the magnitude of food security in SSA. A unit increase in adolescent fertility rate, leads to an increase in undernourishment by 19.4 per cent, depth of food deficit by 1.15 per cent and a decline in average dietary energy adequacy by 0.21 per cent.

Research limitations/implications

Scarcity of continuous time series data for the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa limits the scope of analysis.

Social implications

Government policies and programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa must focus on successful implementation of sexual and reproductive health and rights of women, as underlined in Goal 3 of sustainable development goals (SDGs). This would require deeper levels of interventions aimed at transforming gender roles and relations through involvement of men and boys as partners. Elimination of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls, and ensuring easy and affordable access to sexual and reproductive health services, particularly in fragile and conflict affected areas, are some of the important measures which may facilitate movement of the countries in the region, towards the target set by SDG 3.

Originality/value

Indisputably, women play a key role in a nation’s food economy, not only as food producers and income earners but also as food distributors and consumers. Nevertheless, they face discrimination in every dimension and phase of life, which hampers their ability to successfully fulfill this responsibility. The paper provides a theoretical linkage and empirical evidence on the underlying hypothesis that targeting various forms of gender disparities in the African sub-continent, particularly those relating to reproductive health and rights of women will pave the way for reducing the magnitude of hunger and food insecurity in the region of Sub-Saharan Africa. Few papers in my knowledge have explored the linkage between gender inequality and food insecurity, but none have empirically emphasised the reproductive health dimension of this association.

Keywords

Citation

Tayal, D. (2019), "Gender inequality, reproductive rights and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa – a panel data study", International Journal of Development Issues, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 191-208. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJDI-10-2018-0165

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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