Developing strategies to end hunger
 

Nutrition: A Round-Up of a Packed Week

 

Photo for April nutrition roundup

Jim Kim and David Chang discuss the Future of Food. Photo credit: Asma Lateef for Bread for the World.

By Asma Lateef

The world is much clearer now about the irreversible damage that undernutrition causes to children’s brain development and their lifelong health. Evidence is mounting that countries with high rates of undernutrition among their children also bear enormous economic costs. And there is consensus on the actions to take to scale up strategies that boost nutrition.

Last week as the world’s Finance Ministers came to Washington for the World Bank/IMF Spring Meetings, these issues were not up for debate. Decision makers are moving on – from asking whether undernutrition is an important problem, to finding ways to fund nutrition efforts.  

A few key moments focused the spotlight on underinvestment in nutrition, with some hopeful signs that this is changing:

Nutrition for Growth Scorecard: Are Previous Commitments Being Met?

ACTION released its first scorecard on the pledges made through Nutrition for Growth in 2013. The scorecard was discussed at a civil society forum event, Funding Nutrition for Growth, during the Spring Meetings. It assesses how ambitious the pledges of the major donor countries were and whether they are on track to meet their commitments. The scorecard gives a mixed review on donors’ levels of ambition in their pledges. It also notes that there are too many unknowns, particularly as to donors’ spending on nutrition sensitive actions (programs that improve nutrition but are not “nutrition programs” per se – for example, water and sanitation efforts). Accountability is key: the promised resources must make their way to the communities, mothers, and children who most need them. This scorecard helps us get one step closer.

The Power of Nutrition: Mobilizing Resources from Diverse Sources

At the Spring Meetings, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the UBS Optimus Foundation, and the U.K. aid agency, the Department for International Development, partnering with the World Bank and UNICEF, launched the Power of Nutrition. This new trust fund, to be housed at the World Bank, hopes to leverage private and public resources to raise up to $1 billion to support nutrition action in the African and Asian countries that bear the highest burdens of child undernutrition. Some of these resources will come through the World Bank’s concessional lending/grants arm, IDA.

The Power of Nutrition is the first dedicated fund for nutrition. It is an exciting step forward in filling the resource gap, especially in a year when the international community is setting an ambitious post-2015 development agenda. These plans will need action on nutrition to be successful in ending hunger and extreme poverty by 2030, the target date.

The Future of Food: What Needs to be Done

Also related to the post-2015 goals, World Bank President Jim Kim hosted a conversation with acclaimed chef David Chang at the release of the Bank’s new report, Ending Hunger and Extreme Poverty by 2030: An Agenda for the Global Food System. The report (and the conversation) focuses on improving agricultural productivity sustainably; improving the nutrition of women and children, especially during the “1,000 Days” window between pregnancy and age 2; and linking smallholder farmers to markets.

More on what needs to be done: across town, on the same day as some Spring Meeting events, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs launched a report on agriculture, nutrition, and health at its annual Symposium. “Healthy Food for a Healthy World: Leveraging Agriculture and Food to Improve Global Nutrition” focuses on recommendations for the United States:

  • Congress should commit to a long-term global food and nutrition strategy focused on agricultural development. It should also convene a bipartisan commission on how to tackle global nutrition challenges.
  • The U.S. government, in partnership with universities and research institutes, should increase funding for nutrition research focused on expanding access to nutrient-rich foods and reducing malnutrition.
  • The United States should draw on the strength of its research facilities and universities to train the next generation of agriculture, food, and nutrition leaders -- both here and in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
  • Government and industry should work together to support wider, more efficient delivery of healthy foods, especially through technologies that can reduce food waste and enhance food safety.

At the Symposium, Shawn Baker, Director of Nutrition at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, gave a preview of the foundation’s nutrition strategy that will be released in June. More to come on that!

   Asma-lateef byline photo     Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute.        

Gender-Based Violence: Anger and Hope

Rwanda photo for gender-based violence blog

Euphrasie is a member of "The Courage of Living" -- a mutual support group for women who survived Rwanda's genocide. Photo by Crystaline Randazzo for Bread for the World.

By Michele Learner

"Gender-based violence." The realities behind this phrase are often shocking, and they are always sad. In many societies, it is such a common experience that people don't discuss it much. In nearly all societies, "everyone knows someone" who survived domestic violence or child sexual abuse or rape -- or, even worse, someone who did not survive.

Child wives, commercial sex workers, and gender nonconforming women are particularly vulnerable, as are widows, prison inmates, and members of other groups whose lives are seen as less valuable. Most victims of gender-based violence are women and girls, but rape or other violence against men has been used as a weapon of war, and sexual abuse of boys is more common than experts once believed.

It's April and therefore "not women's month." But gender-based violence doesn't end when March does.

One of the numerous social ills associated with gender-based violence is the barriers it creates for women trying to earn a living and feed their children. Often the proposed "solution" to the risk of violence against women is to keep them at home. But a woman who is working her plot of land, walking to and from a work site, or selling her crops at a market or roadside stand is engaged in essential everyday activities. In the poorest communities, the family's very survival could be threatened if everyone who can work does not go out to earn money.

From another point of view, it is clear that staying home does not always offer protection. For women with violent husbands or in-laws, the danger already lives with them.

Gender-based violence takes many forms -- the list is long and depressing. And no country has reason to brag. It happens everywhere. Nevertheless, it is particularly alarming when common forms of gender-based violence are not yet considered crimes. For example, in most countries, from Nigeria to India to Germany, a wedding signifies consent to sexual relations -- from that day forward. In communities where the very idea that rape can occur within marriage is questioned, it is not surprising that marital rape is not a crime.

Of the three major themes identified in our 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish ... We Can End Hunger, two are critical to ending gender-based violence and enabling girls and women to participate fully in their societies, including earning a living. Building women's bargaining power within the family, extended family, and community is the local part of the solution. A stronger female presence in decision-making bodies has both local and national effects.

Against the seemingly unending litany of acts of gender-based violence, there are a variety of groups and individuals working to end it. They are women and men, survivors and volunteers who support them, powerful decision-makers and people whose lives count for little to their own families. Many of their stories are jaw-dropping.

The members of the  "Courage of Living" group are survivors of gender-based violence, often rape, during the genocide in Rwanda. Last year, Institute staff were able to visit them and learn how they support each other in living dignified lives. 

A group of women in India who survived attacks with acid -- which often causes blindness and almost always facial disfigurement -- have produced a calendar to raise money for the medical care of other victims. Their faces are not those of conventional centerfolds, but they too are determined to get on with meaningful lives despite their immense long-term physical and psychological suffering. 

Activists in Afghanistan operate domestic violence shelters for girls and young women despite opposition from government and rage from residents' families. Some of those being protected are, similar to shelter residents in the United States, women fleeing abusive husbands. But many others face a different problem: their own fathers or brothers have vowed to kill them for "dishonoring" their families. 

Ending the worldwide, longstanding epidemic of gender-based violence will take an enormous amount of energy and commitment. The changes needed are not usually simple and straightforward. But they are essential if every person is to live a life free from hunger and free from fear.

 Michele Learner 

 

U.S. Women Worked First 3 Months of 2015 for Free

Equal pay would reduce poverty by half for households with a working woman
Today, April 14, is Equal Pay Day. It illustrates the large wage gap between men and women in the United States. On average, women earn 78 cents for every dollar earned by men for the same work. In effect, women have been working without pay since January 1.

For example, suppose the “average” man earns $40,000 a year. The “average” woman, then, would earn $31,200. She has worked those 3 ½ months between January 1 and April 13, but she has not been paid for them. A man would have been.

The gender pay gap is the single greatest contributor to poverty among women in the United States and their families. It is the main reason that far more women than men do not earn enough to put them over the poverty line. In 2013, 31.5 percent of women were paid at the poverty level or less, compared to 23.7 percent of men.

Closing the gender pay gap is one of the most “doable” ways to dramatically reduce poverty among women and their families. A recent study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that achieving equal pay would, in and of itself, cut the poverty rate in half among all families with a working woman.

At current rates, the gender pay gap is not projected to close until 2055. Women don’t need another 40 years of, in effect, working for weeks or months without pay. That’s unacceptable since we already know what to do to close the gap much more quickly.

Here are some high-impact steps that Congress and the president can take now toward achieving equal pay for equal work – and in the process reduce poverty and hunger, especially among women and children in our country.  A more complete version of these policy recommendations can be found in Chapter 4 of the 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish … We Can End Hunger.

  • Set a goal and develop a plan to end hunger in the United States.
  • Commit to stronger enforcement of laws against discrimination based on sex and race.
  • Support women’s work by raising the federal minimum wage to a livable standard (we recommend $12/hour), protecting collective bargaining rights, mandating paid sick leave and family leave (United States is still the only high-income country that hasn't done this yet), and providing high-quality, affordable child care.
  • Ensure that affordable health care is available to all.
  • Support policies that give women a fair chance in elections as well as other policies that will increase women’s representation in public office and other decision-making bodies (right now, women hold just 19 percent of seats in Congress--an embarrassing all-time high). Derek Schwabe

As March Becomes April, Prioritize Gender - Climate Change Connections

  Pakistan scene for climate change blog

Climate change could mean dramatically different ecosystems in areas such as Pakistan's Hunza Valley. Photo credit: USAID Pakistan.

By Michele Learner

A key message of Bread for the World Institute's 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish ... We Can End Hunger, is that gender equality affects a wide range of development and other issues not traditionally thought of as "women's issues." The report focuses on how greater gender equality brings reductions in global hunger and malnutrition -- and, conversely, how lack of progress on gender spells lack of progress on hunger as well. As we know, hunger does not exist in a vacuum. 

Until fairly recently, climate change was largely confined to one "silo" -- that of relatively radical environmentalists and "futurists." The talk was of "global warming" and our responsibility to our great-grandchildren and their children. Now, of course, we know that climate change has been affecting people in some communities for years and has begun to reshape large parts of the planet.

As 2015 progresses from March (and International Women's Day) to April (and Earth Day), we underscore the need to keep the intersections of gender inequality and climate change at the forefront of plans to limit and adapt to climate change.

In Tharparkar, a district in Pakistan's Sindh Province (identified as the country's most food insecure region), drought for three consecutive years has meant a rising number of deaths among infants. Women and young children are bearing the brunt of the drought. In addition to their usual heavy workload, many women must also take over the duties of their husbands and male relatives, who increasingly are migrating in search of work.

"Women here are painfully aware that they need to learn how to store surplus food, identify drought-resilient crops, and wean themselves off agriculture as a sole means of survival, thinking that has been borne out in recent studies on the region," reports Zofeen Ebrahim for the Inter Press Service (IPS).

One solution has been to bring a small thorny tree, the mukul myrrh, back from the brink of extinction. Resham Wirdho, 35 and the mother of seven children, told IPS that she tends 500 trees on her one-acre plot of land. She earns about $49 a month from raising the trees. This is a significant addition to her husband's earnings of about $68 a month as a farm laborer. It has made a dramatic difference for her family, she reported: the children eat fresh vegetables and the eldest has been able to begin college.

The capacity to earn additional income -- even in a modest example such as this, with only 2,000 women raising the trees so far  -- is a badly needed sign of hope for women in South Asia, who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of natural disaster. As such disasters become more frequent with climate change, the situation will only grow worse.

The Economist Intelligence Unit's recent report, "The South Asia Women's Resilience Index," placed Pakistan last in the region on the index.  Managing editor David Line said: "South Asian countries need to realize the tremendous capacity for leadership women have in planning for and responding to disasters. They are at the 'front line' and have intimate knowledge of their communities. Wider recognition of this could greatly reduce disaster risk and improve the resilience of these communities."

The connections could not be clearer: progress on gender equality, adaptation to climate change, and ending hunger depend on each other. 

 Michele Learner

 

Three Ways to Reach Gender Equality Sooner

Gender equality, india

Photo Credit: Stephan Bachenheimer/World Bank

The sooner the world achieves gender equality, the sooner it will end hunger. Throughout the month of March (Women’s History Month), we have dedicated this blog to showing why this is true. We’ve examined some of the ways that gender discrimination contributes to hunger, and explained the concept of women’s empowerment and why hunger will persist until the barriers to women’s empowerment are removed. But when will women’s empowerment become a reality? And what can we do to speed up progress?

A recently published study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that at current rates of progress, women in the United States will not receive equal pay for equal work until 2058. Few readers of our blog will still be working then— just one obvious sign that pay equity is much too far away. Although these findings are discouraging, the study also indicated that years or even decades can be shaved off the projection with dedicated leadership and the right action steps.

Returning to the 2015 Hunger Report’s main focus on women’s empowerment in developing countries, here are three high-impact actions that will help achieve both gender equality and the end of hunger more quickly.  

1. Elect More Women 

Women are half of the global population, but hold an average of just 22 percent of seats in national parliaments. Research has found that women in public office at all levels tend to place greater emphasis than men on social services such as education, clean water and sanitation, and nutrition. They are also, not surprisingly, better positioned to understand and advocate for laws and policies that improve the status of women. Gender quotas are one way of ensuring that women’s voices are represented in government, and more than 80 countries have adopted them. Rwanda offers a compelling example. Once women got a foot in the door in that country’s national parliament, they exceeded their “quota” and now hold more than 60 percent of seats.

2. Strengthen Collective Women’s Groups

When marginalized people are free to speak and act collectively, their causes are more likely to be taken seriously by those in power. Beyond government, women can raise their collective voices through labor unions and religious and civil society groups. This can bring change sooner. But in many countries, social norms or even laws bar women from participation in the most influential groups. In Bangladesh and Nepal, women’s efforts to organize labor unions have been suppressed, sometimes violently. This is true particularly in key sectors that pay poorly, such as the garment industry. Yet effective collective bargaining groups represent these women’s best opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty by commanding higher wages and better working conditions.

3. Include Men

As we said in last week’s post, when women flourish, so do men. Evidence repeatedly affirms that empowering women benefits everyone. It adds whole percentage points to economic growth, reduces poverty and hunger, and improves health and nutrition for men, women, and children. But people do not always act according to reason and evidence. Restrictions on a person’s work and productivity based on gender are irrational, but sexist stereotypes and traditions persist at everyone’s expense. The people with the most power to change them – men – appear to be particularly prone to such misconceptions. Gender equality requires that both men and women examine and challenge their perceptions of what is an equitable division of labor. Public policies should not, explicitly or implicitly, reinforce stereotypes that force men into breadwinning roles or women into caregiving roles. Progress requires that men be intentionally, if carefully, welcomed into the discussion. Shared understanding can produce enthusiastic male advocates, and their credibility with other men can speed up social change.

The recommendations in this post were drawn mainly from Chapter 3 of the 2015 Hunger Report. View and download the full Hunger Report and explore stories, infographics, and interactive tools online at hungerreport.org Derek Schwabe

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