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  • Gender, Nutrition and the Human Right to Adequate Food: Toward an Inclusive Framework ed. by Anne C. Bellows, Flavio L.S. Valente, Stefanie Lemke, and María Daniela Núñez Burbano de Lara
  • Priscilla Claeys (bio)
Gender, Nutrition and the Human Right to Adequate Food: Toward an Inclusive Framework (Anne C. Bellows, Flavio L.S. Valente, Stefanie Lemke, & María Daniela Núñez Burbano de Lara eds., Routledge 2016).

Why are women and girls overrepresented among victims of violations of the right to food and nutrition? And why have decades of gender mainstreaming efforts not succeeded in addressing this injustice? The answer, the authors argue, is to be found in our collective failure to tackle gender-based violence, and to promote and protect women's right to feed themselves and others through locally defined and self-determined strategies and food systems.

In Gender, Nutrition and the Human Right to Adequate Food. Toward an Inclusive Framework, a small group of leading academics—from Syracuse University, the University of Hohenheim, and Coventry University—and human rights practitioners—from the non-governmental organizations FIAN International and the Geneva Infant Feeding Association (GIFA)—reflect on how the human right to adequate food and nutrition (RTFN) has developed over the last decades, and how power relations have influenced its conceptual developments. They denounce and critically analyze a number of structural disconnects, and identify ways to overcome them. Together, they advocate for an inclusive framework grounding the RTFN in a holistic understanding of human rights.

The starting point for the book is that the human rights approach is not immune to social and political pressures. The ways in which human rights have been defined and applied by various sectors have resulted in failures in protection that are particularly serious in the field of food, nutrition, and women's rights. The authors of the book, however, are convinced that human rights remain the best and most potent tool for helping diagnose problems and overcome the root causes of inequities. Their objective, therefore, is to apply a human rights lens to gender, food, and nutrition, while pushing the boundaries of the RTFN framework itself, to make it a more powerful tool for social mobilizations and for holding states accountable for human rights violations.

The book is more than an edited volume, gathering chapters that vaguely connect with each other. It is the outcome of a collaborative writing project and sustained dialogue between the working group of editors and chapter co-authors, to the extent that the book reads almost like a monograph. The book contains six very dense and detailed chapters.

Chapter 1 provides a historical overview of how food, nutrition, and discrimination and violence against women are addressed in the UN human rights framework. It offers background information on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and discusses recent developments in human rights based approaches to food and nutrition, following the global [End Page 468] food crisis of 2007 to 2008 and its associated global governance reforms. The chapter makes the case for a dynamic approach to international law, which is described as evolutionary in character.

Chapter 2 discusses two structural disconnects that prevent women from realizing their right to food and nutrition. First, the isolation of women's rights from the human right to food (invisibility of women in the patronizing ICESCR which insists on a patriarchal head of household, and omission of the essential role of food in CEDAW). Second, the isolation of nutrition (addressed through supplements or over-medicalized interventions) from food (seen as a question of mass production to be globally traded). The chapter rejects a development approach that sees women as vulnerable, a term that implies weakness and obliterates social relations of power and structural violence. It also condemns an instrumental emphasis on pregnant and breastfeeding women's nutritional status that focuses on women in the context of reproduction only, and fails to explore their needs throughout their life cycle.

Chapter 3 is a powerful call for looking at violence against women as a central but under-explored factor impeding women from realizing their...


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pp. 468-483
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