Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Women and the Right to Food for All

Under human rights law, the States have an obligation to respect existing access to adequate food. States should be mindful that no policy or measure should create obstacles for farmers, especially to women farmers, to maintain their seed systems. This would deprive them of their means of livelihood.13 States have an obligation to protect the right to food and therefore need to regulate the activities of patent holders or plant breeders to prevent them from violating the rights of small farmers. States also have an obligation to fulfill the right to food and therefore should take steps to strengthen women’s access to resources. For the benefit of small and women farmers, States should promote agricultural research and development to ensure basic food production. This requires States to regulate commercial seed systems and further strengthen and enhance informal and traditional seed systems which in many countries are maintained by women. For full realisation of the right to food, it is also important not to separate seed production and improvements from actual farming. Article 15, para1(b) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) recognises that everyonehas the right to benefit from scientific progress and its application and hence can be argued to provide farmers their right to access to seeds. 

Around the world, women are leading movements to ensure the sustainable production of food.14 Women are integrally involved in efforts to protect seeds and biodiversity, advocate for rights to land and resources, promote collective and biodynamic farming, and encourage local production and consumption of food.15 Their leadership is necessary for ensuring the right to food for all. In conclusion, seed policies should recognise women’s role in seed systems and should balance the need for innovation for preservation and enhancement of crop diversity. As a result, improving the livelihoods of small-scale farmers will help ensure full realisation of the right to food for all.

13International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 11.

14Shiva, Vandana, Caliber of Destruction: Globalization, Food Security and Women’s Livelihoods (Manila: Isis International, 1996).

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