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The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12, sustainable consumption and production, entails “promoting resource and energy efficiency, sustainable infrastructure, and providing access to basic services, green and decent jobs and a better quality of life for all. Its implementation helps to achieve overall development plans, reduce future economic, environmental and social costs, strengthen economic competitiveness and reduce poverty.”

To me, this goal is another way of chipping away at the systemic poverty and inequality that disproportionately impacts women and girls.

When we lack sustainable consumption and production, often we are both harming the environment and misusing existing resources. The world produces enough food to feed nearly double our global population. Yet according to the United Nations each year approximately 1/3 of all food produced spoils or rots due to poor transportation and harvesting. An estimated 3 billion tons of food is wasted while nearly 1 billion people go undernourished and another 1 billion hungry.

This goal recognizes that hunger is not caused by scarcity.

In the United States, where forty-one percent of women face some degree of poverty and food insecurity, hunger is a product of inequality. While we can’t ignore the underpinnings of gender and poverty, for instance wage inequality and lack of affordable childcare, the inaccessibility of nutritious food contributes to hunger. In areas of poverty, nutritious food is scarce because food retailers cannot make the same profit as in wealthier communities. As a result, they don’t sell their products to the poor. The US SNAP program, which offers food assistance to families living in poverty, is notorious for providing access to processed food that is linked to poor health outcomes. Further, the popular push toward organic, local food production and consumption seems like a solution, except that it is an elitist privilege because the majority of those living the United States cannot afford to shop at markets that sell healthier options.

This goal recognizes that hunger can be solved by justice.

Justice looks different in different places. In parts of Ethiopia, justice be can changing the gender roles that demand that women and girls eat the leftovers from the table of men and boys. In the DR Congo, justice can be changing the laws that state a woman must get her husband’s permission to accept a job or obtain a commercial license. In the United States, justice can be ensuring that all residents have access to nutritious food.

Justice is a pathway toward sustainable production and consumption.

Sustainable production and consumption entails ensuring that those who lack access to their basic needs, including food, can get access. It’s about using resources effectively and efficiently so that future generations can benefit from their use. And it’s about changing the power dynamics that promote poverty and inequality among women and girls.

Illustrations for the SDG campaign have been made for Girls’ Globe by artist Elina Tuomi.

The Conversation

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