To build successful food systems, gender dynamics within the system must be recognized and, where they lead to inequitable outcomes, addressed. A gender sensitive approach, or gender integration, is defined by USAID as strategies applied in activity assessment, design, implementation, and evaluation to take gender norms into account and to compensate for gender-based inequalities (USAID, 2017).
In many contexts, women and men have prominent but often different roles in traditional market systems and food supply chains more broadly (Alkire et al. 2013; Lambrecht et al., 2017). Understanding the gendered dynamics that interact with consumers’ and vendors’ perception of food safety risks is key to addressing and potentially mitigating food safety hazards in traditional markets. The WHO estimates that almost 1 in 10 people fall ill to foodborne disease globally each year, with much of the burden falling within low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). This is a critical time to understand consumer-driven demand for food safety in emerging economies, and an opportunity to identify and test possible strategies and tools to improve it.
Feed the Future’s EatSafe: Evidence and Action Towards Safe, Nutritious Food (EatSafe) program has been learning about food safety in traditional markets with gender in mind. In its formative research, findings related to gender highlighted:
Women vendors are not as common as male vendors for most foods, but they play an integral role in traditional markets and the vendor community. The livelihoods of female vendors often supported their families or personal career goals. Even if women were not selling food, their role as consumers was central to making key decisions for households and/or businesses (EatSafe 2021).
Gender-related differences are a fundamental aspect of shopping and vending in traditional markets. For example, women were noted as taking more time when shopping than men. Additionally, women were said to be more discerning when it came to food quality and price negotiation. Many women were dependent on their husband for shopping money. As a result, having extra change after shopping at the market was also satisfying for women because it gave them extra money to spend on something else or the praise of being able to return money to their spouse. (EatSafe 2021)
Certain groups have a higher risk of adverse nutrition outcomes associated with foodborne hazards. This includes pregnant women, the elderly, children, and groups at higher risk of occupational exposure (WHO, 2015; EatSafe 2020).
In traditional markets, the expectations women vendors face are different from those faced by men. For example, expectations of women consist of more stringent food handling practices and judgement around food quality (EatSafe 2022, *publication pending).
These learnings helped shape the design of EatSafe’s food safety interventions to implement and test in traditional markets in Nigeria. For example, women consumers expect a high standard of hygiene practices from vendors, spend more time in the market when shopping, and are often more receptive to receiving new information. This knowledge informed the development of the Safe Food Market Stand, an intervention prototype serving as a hub for consumers and vendors to learn about food safety-related topics important to market shoppers. For more information on the learnings that informed the design of several food safety interventions in Nigeria, click here.
Bridging the Gap
Given the well-documented gendered aspects of food safety and informal value chains (Grace et al., 2015), women’s empowerment and gender equity are central to reducing the burden of foodborne illness and integral research, learning, and evaluation of food safety interventions. Food safety programs and the policies that influence them require gender-sensitive approaches (e.g., that aim to capture the views and experiences of both men and women). Research outputs must take explicit account of gender issues and note key findings that are differently relevant to men or women. To maximize success, global research, multi-level policy action, and the development of food safety interventions must be gender sensitive.