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Modified on 2013/05/23 16:00 by Haoyi Chen Paths: Read in Order Categorized as Chapter 2 - Food security
From gender issues to gender statistics on food access: illustrative examples
Policy-relevant questions Data needed Sources of data
Do female-headed households have similar levels of food consumption as male-headed households? Food quantities consumed /acquired per adult equivalent disaggregated by sex of the head of household and detailed type of household

Insufficient food supply and intake, and anxiety about food as reported by the household; disaggregated by sex of the head of household and detailed type of household
Household Income and Expenditure Surveys /Household Budget Surveys
Living standard surveys
Food and Nutrition Security Surveys
Thematic agricultural surveys
Do female-headed households have the same quality diet as male-headed households?

Type of food groups consumed during a specified period and their frequency/quantity disaggregated by sex of the head of household and detailed type of household Insufficient quality as reported by the household disaggregated by sex of the head of household and detailed type of household Household Income and Expenditure Surveys / Household Budget Surveys

Living standard surveys Food and Nutrition Security Surveys Thematic agricultural surveys
Do female-headed households invest more in food and nutrition of family members than male-headed households? Food expenditure and total expenditure by adult equivalent by sex of the head of household and detailed type of household Household Income and Expenditure Surveys / Household Budget Surveys Living standard surveys
Do female-headed households and male-headed households implement different types of coping strategies in order to maintain acceptable food consumption levels? Changes in eating patterns due to food shortage and steps to alleviate food shortage by sex of the head of household and detailed type of household Food and Nutrition Security Surveys Living standard surveys Thematic agricultural surveys
Are female-headed households exposed to changes in food access as often as male-headed households? Are female-headed households more affected by major shocks, including natural disasters, than male-headed households Insufficient food supply, intake, and quality; and anxiety about food as reported by the household over the months of a year; disaggregated by sex of the head of household, detailed type of household; and reasons for food shortage Food quantities consumed/acquired per adult equivalent; number of times specific food groups are consumed; disaggregated by sex of the head of household and detailed type of household; before and after major shocks Food and nutrition Security Surveys

Living standard surveys or other multi-purpose surveys

Thematic agricultural surveys Panel surveys, surveys conducted regularly at short interval, and surveys conducted before and after major shocks

  • + Gender issues
    • The world is producing enough food to feed its whole population, yet millions of people are undernourished (World Bank, 2007; World Bank and FAO, 2009; FAO, 2011b). Food availability remains a concern in some agriculture-based societies, due to declining domestic production per capita of food staples; large weather-induced fluctuations in agricultural yields obtained from rain-fed agricultural holdings; or high costs for food to reach remote areas (World Bank, 2007; World Bank and FAO, 2009). However, food availability in an area is only one constrain in ensuring food security. Most of the food insecure live in rural areas where food is produced. However, they are net food buyers rather than sellers, and their access to food is limited by their low and irregular income (World Bank, 2007; World Bank and FAO, 2009).

      Women tend to have less access than men to agricultural resources and inputs and less access to agricultural and non-agricultural income-producing activities (World Bank and FAO, 2009; United Nations, 2010; World Bank, 2012; FAO, 2011b). Thus, households headed by women may not be as food secure as similar households headed by men. However, a lower access to food for female headed households compared to male headed households cannot be generalized. Female-headed households and male-headed households comprise a wide range of types of households with different demographic, social, and economic composition, varying in terms of livelihood strategies and portfolio of economic activities that would ensure adequate access to food.

      Nevertheless, when women are in position to control income and resource allocation within the household, they tend to devote a significantly higher proportion of earnings to basic needs (e.g. good, health education) by comparison to men (IDRC, 2004; Ramachandran, 2011). As a result, female-headed households may eat more or have a higher quality diet than male-headed households with similar level of income.

      Stability of food access and vulnerability to potential shocks such as economic crisis, natural disasters or seasonal/cyclical weather events may also be gender differentiated. Resiliency to shocks may be different for female-headed households than male-headed household. Women and female-headed households have fewer assets and lower access to agricultural resources to cope with the change (FAO, 2011b; United Nations, 2010; World Bank, 2011). Individual women and men may also have different coping strategies. For example, few studies have shown that one of the first mechanisms adopted by households facing seasonal food shortage comprises reduced food consumption by women as first step, followed by skipping meals in order to ensure larger portions to males and children (Barme and Ramachandran, 2002; Rahaman, 2002; Ramachandran, 2011).

  • + Data needed
    • Data on food access are mainly collected at the household level and refer to food consumption in terms of dietary energy (calories), quality and diversity, and monetary value. Perception or experience-based measures of food deprivation and coping strategies (changes in food eating patterns and steps to alleviate food shortage), at household level or at the individual level, are also used.

      Quantities of food consumed/acquired over a certain period of time in the household by sex of the head of household. Based on this minimum set of data, a variety of measures can be constructed, such as the Dietary Energy Consumption/Acquisition (DEC), the share of calories from protein/carbohydrates/fats, the contribution of each acquisition source to the total calories (if sources are collected), dietary energy unit values (if household expenditures or prices are collected). The dietary energy consumption/acquisition should be adjusted for the sex and age composition of the household (i.e. use of adult equivalents).

      Frequency of consumption for specific food groups over a certain period of time by sex of the head of household. According to the type of data collected and recall period, information can be used to construct measures of food quality and diversity such as the Food Consumption Score (see WFP, 2009a), the Household Dietary Diversity Score (see FAO, 2011a) or both, as prescribed in the existing guidelines.

      Insufficient food supply and intake; insufficient food quality; and anxiety about food as reported by households, by sex of the head of household. These data can be used to construct perception or experience-based measures of food deprivation such as the Household Hunger Scale and the Escala Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Seguridad Alimentaria.

      Data on seasonality of food shortages (months in which food shortage occurred); reported changes in eating patterns (i.e. skipping meals, eating less expensive and less nutritious food; cutting the size of meals); and reported steps taken to alleviate food shortage (i.e. use of savings; taking loans; selling land; getting help from relatives etc.), by sex of the head of household. Such data should also be collected in relation to major shocks, including natural disasters.

      When possible, experience-based measures of food security at the individual level should also be considered and results should be provided disaggregated by sex, age and other individual and household characteristics. For example, the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES), based on a set of eight questions designed to reveal whether and how respondents have experienced food insecurity in the previous 12 months, is being piloted by FAO in collaboration with Gallup Inc. Data are to be collected at individual level, thus making possible to estimate the severity of food insecurity by sex, age and other individual characteristics. The use of an individual measure of the experience of food insecurity represents a novelty, since most often food security is measured at the household level, and an important step in measuring food insecurity from a gender perspective.



      The household-level measures above should be calculated separately for female- and male-headed households and further disaggregated by demographic and socio-economic characteristics of the head (including education and economic characteristics) and of the household (including household size; composition, dependency level, income level, livelihood strategies/portfolio of economic activities) to understand which types of male / female-headed households are disadvantaged in accessing food.

      Further breakdowns relevant for targeting aid and development programmes should be considered for all the data above. Commonly used are urban/rural areas and geographic regions. Measures of remoteness from market places, including information on transportation and infrastructure, should also be considered. Additional data for cross tabulation may refer to sex-differentiated access to property and productive resources in agriculture (see sub-section “Access to productive resources in agriculture” in the section “Work”, Chapter 2).

  • + Examples of indicators derived from gender statistics on food access:
    • Mean adult equivalent daily dietary energy consumption/acquisition (DEC) by sex of the head of household

      Dietary energy unit value ($/1,000 kcals) by sex of the head of household

      Share of calories from protein / carbohydrates / fats in total calories (%) by sex of the head of households

      Share of food expenditure in total household expenditure by sex of the head of household

      Mean Household Dietary Diversity Score or Food Consumption Score by sex of the head of household


  • + Sources of data
    • Large scale household surveys such as Household Income and Expenditure Surveys, Household Budget Surveys normally are not designed to carry out a food security assessment of the population. However, if collected properly, information from the food consumption module can be used to estimate the amount of dietary energy consumed/acquired. Living standard surveys such as LSMS (Living Standard Measurement Study) collect more comprehensive information on individual characteristics for all household members, allowing for more detailed analysis of food access by detailed types of female- and male-headed households. Recently, LSMS have started including modules on food group consumption frequency (for Food Consumption Score calculation). Many LSMS also collect information on shocks (including crop/livestock losses) which can be used in the context of a food security analysis. Living standard surveys or other multi-purpose surveys may also collect data on reported insufficient food supply, intake, and quality; anxiety about food; and coping strategies during food shortage.

      Panel surveys, surveys conducted regularly at relatively short interval that would capture seasonality in access to food (conducted in the harvest and in the lean season), and surveys conducted before and after major shocks in a country or large areas may be used to collect data on food access over time. Such data can be used to construct measures of households’ vulnerability and stability in access to food.

      The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Comprehensive Food Security Assessments (CFSVAs) collect data on food consumption frequency, among other topics. However, CFSVAs tend to have smaller samples compared with LSMS and do not collect data on food quantities. Some surveys also collect data on coping strategies, shocks and copping mechanisms, and monthly food deprivation.

      Agricultural censuses and surveys may collect some information on household food security. The topic is not recommended to be included in the censuses as a core module; however, it may be considered for integration, as supplementary items, in thematic agricultural surveys. These supplementary items may refer to (FAO, 2007): reported insufficient quantity and quality of food; food shortages in a twelve month reference period; reasons for food shortage; changes in household’s eating patterns; steps to alleviate food shortage; and extent of loss of agricultural output due to natural disasters.


  • + Conceptual and measurement issues
    • In spite of few attempts aimed at measuring individual consumption and intra-household allocation of food, objective measures of access to food are essentially available only at household-level. Therefore most of gender analysis of food access is based on the sex of the household head. As such, it is crucial to establish proper criteria for identifying the head, and ensure that these criteria are applied consistently for all the sampled households. Researchers should acknowledge that: i) in some contexts it is useful to use the concept of joint headship; ii) it is essential to consider the marital status of the female-head and distinguish between de- jure and de facto female-headed household; iii) it is important to take into account the economic role of spouses currently not living in the household (ie., does he/she send remittances?). All this information allows a better identification of categories of female- and male-headed households that are vulnerable to food insecurity. The analyst can use the household head as identified by the household during the data collection, or can use other socio-economic variables to identify the head during the analysis. Different identification rules may lead to different results.

      Household-level data on food consumption and deprivation cannot be used to draw conclusions on household members. When food access indicators are collected at the household level, the analysis has to rely on the (strong) assumption that all the household members have equal access to food, without considering inequalities in food distribution within the household. Therefore household level data give only a superficial measure of gender-related differences in accessing food.

      Attempts have been made to measure individual consumption of women and children. Much of the effort has been put on measuring women’s diet diversity as a proxy of micronutrient deficiencies, rather than capturing intra-household distribution (Arimond M. et al., 2010; 2011). Results suggest that the food group indicators are meaningful proxies of individual diet variety and micronutrient deficiencies in rural, urban and peri-urban settings. Yet, high quality dietary data are difficult, and require additional field-work and skilled enumerators. Alternatively, experience-based measures of food deprivation and coping strategies based on data collected at individual level for both women and men may be considered.

      No indicator can be used as unique stand alone measure of food access; instead, a set of indicators should be used to capture complementary aspects. While this is true in each food security analysis, it becomes particularly relevant in identifying disparities between groups (such as female and male headed households). For example, gender-based differences may be little in terms of dietary energy consumption/acquisition, but they may become more visible when looking at the quality and cost of the diet, or the sustainability of the sources. A comprehensive approach is therefore highly recommended in the context of a gender analysis.


Note: A first draft of this section was prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations FAO, Statistics Division.

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