Increased rural-urban migration has seen the world’s diet also becoming more ‘urbanised’, with meals cooked at home increasingly replaced by commercially prepared convenience and restaurant foods. In low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), this ‘nutrition transition’ has resulted in rising rates of obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases—especially among women— even as food insecurity and undernutrition remain problematic. In addition to the nutrition transition’s direct impact on diet and health, urban life in LMICs presents a new set of gender-related, food-security related opportunities and risks for women.
This paper responds to the need to better understand the interaction between gender norms and urban food systems in low- and middle-income countries. More people are living in cities than ever before. As a result, the role played by urban food systems is of growing importance at both the population level and for individuals, especially women, who are considered responsible for meal provision in most cultures.
Unfortunately, in many countries, discriminatory gender norms exclude women from many income-generating opportunities offered by cities, reducing food security for themselves and their families. As a result, many women resort to operating within informal livelihood channels, frequently as food vendors, relying on social networks to procure both food and money. In addition to providing livelihood opportunities for many women, informal food vending networks are the primary food source for low-income urban residents of both genders. Despite these important functions, informal markets are routinely overlooked and unsupported by urban food system actors.
As such, engagement with urban planners and regulators to increase support to informal food networks is a key consideration. This could be done, for example, lobbying municipal authorities to increase female representation on regulatory boards and other governance platforms.
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