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Food security and food distribution

Last edited: July 03, 2013

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  • Food insecurity during emergencies is an issue that affects entire communities, but affects women and girls in particular ways.  Women tend to have limited control over and access to resources and finances during an emergency, and their resulting dependency can put them at increased risk of sexual assault and exploitation. For example:
    • Women and girls often carry the responsibility of providing and preparing food for the family. When women and girls must go to unprotected areas to collect water, firewood, and other non-food items for cooking, they can be vulnerable to assault.
    • While both men and women face disruption of livelihoods during emergencies, women in general face a greater challenge earning a living. Because of this, women may resort to sex work and other exploitative situations in order to provide for their families.
    • Women and girls often have unequal access to food distribution, especially if only male heads of households are registered in refugee or IDP camps (IASC, 2006).

Key Considerations in Food Security and Food Distribution

  • The IASC GBV Guidelines (p. 49-52) and GBV AoR tip sheet on Food Distribution provide guidelines and recommendations to prevent VAWG through proper implementation of food distribution programmes.  The GBV AoR’s tip sheet on Agriculture also provides useful guidelines for addressing long-term solutions to food insecurity, such as livelihoods programming, in ways that help prevent VAWG. (Also see the Livelihoods Section.) In addition, food relief programmes should take into account the following:
  1. Consider the type of emergency (sudden, chronic, complex, slow-onset, etc.) and the resulting food insecurities that are particular to each community. Solutions to food-related needs will be different in sudden-onset crises than in protracted crises or prolonged situations of displacement, which tend to lead to more serious erosion of livelihoods and continuous levels of food insecurity even after a crisis has ended (IASC, 2006).
  2. Focus on long-term sustainability using a livelihoods-based framework in coordination with any short-term emergency handouts. Consult with affected community members who may already be adapting to protracted crises, and coordinate with livelihoods programming to address long-term solutions to food insecurity (Alinovi, Hemrich & Russo, 2008).
  3. Inform and educate all involved communities – including hosts, refugees, and IDPs – about food distribution policies and procedures, including who qualifies for food aid, arrangements for distribution, and amount and regularity of rations.  Confusion about who is entitled to rations can heighten tension in communities and lead to increased risk of violence. In addition, women who are unaware of and/or not empowered to access food entitlements may be at increased risk of exploitation and abuse (IASC, 2006).
  4. Assess the needs of lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women/individuals who live in non-traditional family arrangements. For example, lesbian couples living together may not be recognized as a family – especially if they have no children – and may be denied necessary food and services given to other registered families. Encourage aid organizations to expand their definition of “family unit” to include non-traditional and non-heterosexual groups of people living together (see Knight & Sollom, 2012).

Additional Tools:

See the food security, agriculture and logistics cluster websites.

For checklists on ensuring gender-equal programming in the areas of food insecurity, food distribution, and nutrition, see the Gender Handbook in Humanitarian Action, Inter-Agency Standing Committee, 2006. (p. 57-75).

For guidelines on food distribution, see the Emergency Field Operations Pocketbook, World Food Programme, 2002.