With the price of basic food items on the rise, global policymakers are again faced with the need to protect the world’s most vulnerable populations. Women and young children tend to be most negatively impacted by sharp increases in the price of food. However, while extensive research has been conducted on the causes and consequences of the 2007-08 food price crisis, little of that research has focused specifically on the impact of the crisis on women, and whether the impact differs for women compared to men. Although conventional wisdom claims that women are more severely affected by the food price crisis, such claims are often unsupported by empirical evidence. If lessons are to be learned from 2007-08 to prevent a recurrence of widespread food insecurity, it is essential to understand how particularly vulnerable populations, such as women, are impacted by and how they can be protected from rising food prices.

Ongoing IFPRI research is working to fill this gap by looking into how men and women are affected differently by shocks such as sharply rising food prices and unexpected weather events. Senior IFPRI Research Fellow Agnes Quisumbing and IFPRI Postdoctoral Fellow Neha Kumar have examined the gendered effects of such shocks in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Uganda. Using panel data collected from the three study countries, their findings suggest that while women do tend to be more vulnerable to shocks such as rising food prices, the extent of that vulnerability and the ways in which men, women, and their households cope with such shocks can vary across countries and cultures.

In Ethiopia, it was found that female-headed households are more vulnerable to changes in food prices and are more likely to cope with such changes by reducing the number of meals and amount of preferred food eaten; these results could be partially mitigated by strengthening the land rights of poor women, as it was shown that land has a protective effect against food price shocks.

The studies in Bangladesh and Uganda focused on how household and individual (both men’s and women’s) assets are affected by various shocks, including rising food prices, weather events, and illness. How assets are protected or used differs widely by both country and context, with weather-related events having a larger impact on men’s assets in Bangladesh and on women’s assets in Uganda, and illness having a larger impact on women’s assets in Bangladesh. Households in Bangladesh were able to protect land and assets in general against the 2007-2008 food price shocks, but husbands sold agricultural durables and livestock, while households disposed of jewelry. In Uganda, husbands’ assets were protected; in response to the food price increases, households reduced holdings of jointly owned and wife-owned durable goods. Understanding not only the likelihood and extent of shocks, but also how such shocks affect assets on both a household and an individual basis, can help policymakers institute social protection policies (such as weather or health insurance) that are appropriate for the conditions in their own specific country.

Download Do shocks affect men’s and women’s assets differently?, a discussion paper detailing research in Uganda and Bangladesh.
Download *Gendered impacts of the 2007–08 food price crisis *, a discussion paper detailing research in Ethiopia.

Watch Senior IFPRI Research Fellow Agnes Quisumbing discuss the results and implications of this research.

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