Developing strategies to end hunger
 

230 posts categorized "Hunger Report"

Vizathon Tackles Hidden Hunger from Both Coasts

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By Derek Schwabe

This past Saturday, Bread for the World Institute held our first-ever bi-coastal (and second annual) vizathon to expose hidden hunger. The event, held at Bread’s offices in Washington, DC, and the offices of Macys.com in downtown San Francisco, brought together a diverse group of volunteer data heroes (statisticians, web developers, coders, designers, and data geeks) who gave their time, skills, and creative energy to help us visualize a widespread and growing kind of hunger: hidden hunger. We teamed up with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), who shared a rich new dataset that helped our volunteers tackle the issue from all sides. We were grateful to have two fantastic data facilitators who led the charge -- Jon Schwabish of HelpMeViz on the East Coast and Leigh Fonseca of LivingData on the West Coast. Here’s a storify-style recap of our exciting day of data storytelling:  

Two Full Rooms Took on Two Forms of Hidden Hunger

Challenge 1, De-Mystifying Micronutrient Deficiency: Micronutrient deficiency harms one in two preschool-aged children worldwide, yet it’s impossible to detect by looking at a child. How can we make the damage caused by micronutrient deficiency visible?  

Challenge 2, The Coming Obesity Pandemic: Obesity is hunger for the right kinds of food. In the developing world, we’ve seen steady progress against traditional forms of hunger, but obesity is rising rapidly. With it comes a proliferation of deadly non-communicable diseases. All too often, these don’t have treatments that are 100 percent effective, even in developed countries (e.g., heart disease, stroke). Poorer countries certainly do not have the resources to treat large numbers of patients with these conditions. Help us tell this urgent story.

Getting Started: A Deluge of Data

IFPRI introduced a dataset with household-level information relevant to both data challenges. Sara Signorelli of HarvestChoice, a project led by IFPRI, oriented the Washington, DC and San Francisco teams to available indicators such as those on micronutrient deficiency, dietary diversity, obesity, and body mass. The dataset was specific to Africa South of the Sahara. Signorelli pointed participants to HarvestChoice’s Mappr tool—a nutrition and agriculture data mapping app that lets users isolate specific indicators, years, locations, or groups. HarvestChoice also supplied even more granular datasets on Ethiopia and Malawi. The “vizathoners” had no shortage of data to sift through, but the real challenge was pulling out a story.

The Coasts Connect

By the time the San Francisco team was ready to jump into the data, the Washington, DC, group had already been working with it long enough to begin to notice trends, gaps, and roadblocks. We took advantage of the three-hour time-zone difference to give the two teams a chance to connect and learn from each other. Using Google HangOut, participants in Washington, DC, communicated their most salient findings -- and in some cases, vented their frustrations -- to San Francisco. Twitter was also a cross-coastal communication channel of choice.  

Visualizing Answers...and more Questions

Once both teams had a few hours to explore the data, visualizations started to surface, highlighting fascinating trends and raising many new questions. Here’s a smattering of some of them:

What’s Next?

The discoveries made and questions raised by vizathon volunteers will not be left alone. In the coming weeks, the Institute, IFPRI, and a smaller group of volunteers will process the day’s findings and start digging deeper. We’re excited to create opportunities for the teams to continue their work, which will (we hope) lead to visualization tools that will make hidden hunger impossible to miss. Stay tuned.  

Further Reading

Check out HelpMeViz.com to see more work by vizathon participants, dig into visualizations in greater detail, or even play around with the data yourself. And be sure to read this post by my colleague, Robin Stephenson, in which she recaps the vizathon from her own first-time perspective and introduces us to some of the incredible participants!

Derek Schwabe

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Announces New Nutrition Strategy

Melinda Gates announced a new foundation pledge of $776 million over a six-year period to fight malnutrition. Gates made the announcement June 3 at the European Development Days forum on development and international cooperation. 

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Photo Credit: 1000 Days "Investing in Nutrition: A Golden Opportunity"

Gates said that efforts to end malnutrition are underfunded, adding, “I know of no other problem in the world that does so much damage yet receives so little attention.”

Malnutrition is the underlying cause of almost half of all preventable deaths of children younger than 5. Many millions more who survive—one in four of the world’s children—are stunted, meaning that early childhood malnutrition has permanently damaged their physical and cognitive development.

The 2015-2020 Gates Nutrition Strategy centers around five initiatives: country impact; new solutions; food systems; data, analytics, and evidence; and advocacy, policy, and alignment. The efforts will include reaching more women, young children, adolescent girls, and others at risk with proven solutions such as breastfeeding and food fortification, improving food systems so that people have better access to nutritious and affordable food, and support a data revolution in nutrition to strengthen the evidence for nutrition actions and track progress.

The Gates Foundation will focus its efforts on five countries that have both high rates of child malnutrition and significant opportunities to make improvements: India, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso. 

Gates called on European donors to continue to support maternal/child nutrition efforts, particularly at the upcoming Financing for Development conference, to be held in Addis Ababa in July, and at the U.N. General Assembly in September, where global leaders will be finalizing targets and financial commitments for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs will set the global development agenda through 2030, including targets for reducing malnutrition and child mortality. The SDGs succeed the Millennium Development Goals (September 2000-December 2015).

Scott Bleggi
 

167 Million Fewer Hungry People in the World, But Sustained Funding Is Still Needed

The number of hungry people in the world has dropped below 800 million for the first time, according to this year’s State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) report, released today. The report, authored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the World Food Program, takes stock of the progress being made toward global hunger goals.

SOFI_2015The report identifies what still needs to be done as the world transitions to the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, which will follow the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when they sunset this year. In 1996, 182 countries at the World Food Summit committed “… to eradicate hunger in all countries, with an immediate view to reducing the number of undernourished people to half their present level no later than 2015.” The first of eight MDGs, all adopted in 2000, encapsulates this commitment, including the target “cutting in half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by the year 2015.”

So how is the world doing?

The report reviews progress for every country and region. The news is good overall -- improvements outweighed setbacks. But as can be expected with such a broad and ambitious worldwide goal, problem areas remain, and in some regions hunger is still a stubborn problem.

Twenty-five years ago there were a billion hungry people. According to the new SOFI report, this number has now dropped to 795 million. The countries that improved the most had two features in common: strong economic growth that included investments in poor people, agriculture, and food production; and relative political stability. These countries were largely in East Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. A solid majority of countries (72 of 129) have met the ambitious target of cutting hunger in half.

These are certainly impressive achievements. Consider that natural disasters, civil and regional conflict, and weak governments can damage to poor countries disproportionately. Also, the world population has grown rapidly: it is higher by 1.9 billion people than it was in 1990. Predictions of widespread famine have for the most part not come true, but certainly there have been famines, such as the 2011 one in Somalia that killed at least 100,000 children younger than 5.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s hunger rate is still more than 33 percent, and more African countries (24) are experiencing food insecurity now than in 1990. Hunger rates in countries with continuing crises are more than three times higher than elsewhere, according to SOFI. In Africa and South Asia, “progress has been slow overall, despite success stories at country and sub-regional levels … there is no one size fits all solution.”

This is why sustaining the development work being done in USAID’s flagship hunger and poverty reduction initiative, Feed the Future, is so important. Feed the Future’s focus areas were developed specifically to sustainably reduce global poverty and hunger. It has demonstrated progress in “significantly reduc[ing] both poverty and stunting (a measure of chronic food insecurity)” in countries where it operates, and adequate funding is essential so this progress can continue.    

Scott Bleggi

A Bi-Coastal Vizathon to Expose Hidden Hunger

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We're excited to announce our second annual HelpMeViz Data Vizathon event. On Saturday, May 30, we will partner with HelpMeViz.com and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to bring back our community of data heroes -- coders, data scientists, designers, and data visualizers -- to help shed light on the elusive problem of hidden hunger in the developing world. We’re especially happy to be expanding this year’s vizathon to two volunteer sites—one on the East Coast in Washington, DC, and the other on the West Coast in San Francisco.

IFPRI and Bread for the World Institute have drawn from several brand new hunger and nutrition data sets from Africa South of the Sahara to develop two data visualization challenges centered on two forms of  'hidden hunger':

Challenge 1: Exposing Hidden Hunger

“The ‘hidden hunger’ due to micronutrient deficiency does not produce hunger as we know it. You might not feel it in the belly, but it strikes at the core of your health and vitality.”  -Kul C. Gautam, former deputy executive director of UNICEF

Find a way to bring the problem of hidden hunger out of the shadows. Use the latest global data on micronutrient deficiencies to expose the story of hidden hunger and its massive human costs.

  • Demonstrate the mounting costs of hidden hunger (in lost potential, years, GDP, etc.).
  • Combine data with graphic art and photos to humanize the problem of hidden hunger, giving it a name and a face.

Challenge 2: Showing How Hunger Feeds Obesity:

Use new data on obesity and body mass index (BMI) to tell the story of obesity’s stunning rise across the developing world and the array of health problems that are beginning to mount as a result. This will mean finding ways to count the economic and health costs of obesity as well as showing the gaps in national healthcare systems being revealed by the rise in obesity. 

You can read more details on the data challenges at the event announcement on HelpMeViz.com.

Vizathon Details

HelpMeViz, IFPRI, and Bread for the World Institute are inviting up to 50 guests to each site on Saturday, May 30, from 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. to work on these two challenges. The Institute will provide the challenge data and space for participants to work. Breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snacks will be provided. Participants will also receive a printed copy of the 2016 Hunger Report, which focuses on hunger and health and will be released in November 2015.

The event will be blogged live on HelpMeViz. We hope that interested people all over the world will want to lend their voice and their skills to respond to these challenges. Data will be made available at the beginning of the event. Visualizations, conversations, and comments from both coasts and elsewhere will be posted to the vizathon’s website in real time.

If you would like to attend in Washington, DC, or San Francisco, click the links below to register.

Washington, DC: Register to attend the HelpMeViz 2015 Vizathon at the Washington, DC site.

San Francisco: Register to attend the HelpMeViz 2015 Vizathon at the San Francisco, CA site.

Participate Online: Register to participate in the HelpMeViz Vizathon online from anywhere!

Gender-Based Violence: Anger and Hope

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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 

 

As March Becomes April, Prioritize Gender - Climate Change Connections

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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

 

When Women Flourish...So Do Men

Connex and Dyna

Connex and Dyna Malera, Malawian farmers. Photo: Todd Post

When I was researching and writing the 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish … We Can End Hunger, I was advised to make sure I looked at how men are involved in what are identified as “women’s empowerment” programs. This advice came mainly from women who are well acquainted with development programs.

It was good advice, and when I was in Malawi I saw why. My Bread for the World Institute colleague Faustine Wabwire and I contacted the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM), asking to see how their women’s empowerment program works. They told us that in a sense all of their programming is about women’s empowerment. You can’t help female farmers overcome the challenges they confront unless gender inequities are a focus of the program.

If you’ve been reading the Institute blog, or Institute publications such as the Hunger Report, you already know that most women in the developing world earn their livelihood by farming small holdings of land. The same is true of men. In rural areas, where hunger is most pervasive, there is really not much else to do to earn income.

Married couples may farm a single enterprise that contributes to the overall well-being of the household, but that doesn’t mean either is farming in the best interest of the whole household. It starts with the crops. The man takes the cash crops for himself, the woman gets the subsistence crops. The husband controls all the income and decides how much to share with his wife, regardless of what she needs to manage her part of the enterprise. None of the decisions about inputs or investing in assets are made jointly. This type of arrangement is virtually universal, making it hard to convince men that it should be -- or even could be -- any other way.

NASFAM provides farmers with training in running a farm enterprise. The training is also an opportunity to use specially designed tools to help both women and men think less rigidly about household gender dynamics. Connex Malera, for example, initially resisted his wife Dyna’s appeals to attend a meeting of the producer group she had joined as part of a NASFAM program in her village. But after he consented and attended one meeting, he could see that working within a group had its advantages. What happened next is something he didn’t expect.

The gender dynamics tool was straightforward: couples described and mapped the various areas of each person’s work, expenditures, property, and decision-making influence. This opened up space for discussion and reflection. Families can use the tool to identify and track changes they would like to make, and it can function as a household contract or plan.

By working together with his wife on a vision of what they wanted to accomplish together within the group, Connex was in a sense forced to listen to his wife’s thoughts on farming. It came as a surprise to him how smart she is — smarter than he is, he told Faustine and me. “I used to say this is a wife and her job is to cook and take care of the children. I am the head of the household and it is my job to make all the decisions. Now we discuss and make decisions together.”

The value of having men in the group extends beyond the changes among just the men in the group and their families. The men become ambassadors for change among other men in the community. They have more credibility with other men than women do, so they can more persuasively make the case for suspending their prejudices against women. Connex recruits other men now. But he does this in subtle ways. For instance, he talks to them at informal gatherings, often when the other men are playing a board game or drinking. At first they dismissed his advice that there was any benefit in working with women. Eventually they grew curious -- first after seeing that his income was rising, and then when a hungry season arrived and he had plenty of food while they were running out. One of the men Connex recruited was Sungani Selemani, who used to think, as Connex did, that it was useless to discuss business with women. Today, he has joined the group with his wife and they discuss all of their household matters and make decisions together. Todd Post

"If she did not fight ... it would have been another story"

In sub-Saharan Africa, a girl with hopes for more than a primary education is unlikely to realize them. For rural girls, the odds are even worse. In a region where a minority of all school children—regardless of gender—even complete lower secondary school (ninth grade), parents must fight to give their daughters an equal chance. This was the experience of Fouzia Dahir, a Kenyan Somali woman whose mother personally shielded her from the social and physical forces that threatened to knock her off the path to a college degree. Fouzia’s story is featured in the 2015 Hunger Report video, just released this week and posted above.

Not only are women and girls the majority of the world’s hungry people, but they are the chief agents the world relies on to help end hunger. Evidence shows that gender discrimination causes hunger, but it also shows that removing gender discrimination leads to benefits that reach every level of society. When women are empowered, families, communities, and even economies are healthier and wealthier. Fouzia’s life and work illuminate this truth. She is the founder of the Northern Organization for Social Empowerment, a non-profit organization in Kenya that advocates for equal opportunities for rural women and girls and equips them to seize those opportunities.

Fouzia’s organization takes direct aim at the largest, most obstinate barriers that stand between rural girls and an education. The most threatening of these is deep poverty, which forces many parents to pull their children out of school to work—simply because the family’s survival depends on it. Scarce economic opportunity and the poverty that results from it exacerbate gender inequality by driving families to make difficult choices about which child gets to go to school. Fouzia’s organization trains rural women to be more productive farmers and connects them to markets so they can earn enough income to send all of their children to school and keep them there.

Social norms pose another pervasive, if invisible, threat to women’s empowerment. Fouzia’s community is no exception. Families who embrace modern education often still hesitate to educate their girls, convinced that their rightful place is in the kitchen. Early marriage is commonplace and virtually always means an end to the child bride’s education. Even girls who manage to evade an early marriage face the next challenge of balancing school and studying with an oppressive burden of domestic work that they alone are expected to shoulder. They must walk miles each way to fetch water, gather firewood, and also do the household cleaning, leaving little or no time for homework. Many eventually drop out of school. This is why Fouzia’s organization works to start conversations among families and between families and schools that encourage a more equitable sharing of household work within the family.

Fouzia is a catalyzing force in her community who is generating very real economic and social returns and making lasting improvements. This would not be possible but for the uncompromising insistence of her mother, herself illiterate, that Fouzia stay in school. Fouzia sees potential similar to her own lost in every young girl denied an education.

You can read Fouzia’s story in her own words and learn more about the importance of education to women’s empowerment by reading the 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish …We Can End Hunger

Derek Schwabe

Sad Statistics for the United States on Maternal Mortality

Infant feet

As a policy analyst, my life revolves around data related to hunger, poverty and nutrition of mothers and their children. Statistics are the tool of my trade. I use them to report, to convey information, and often to advocate on issues. A few stay with me: 805 million hungry people in the world (one person in nine); 165 million stunted children who will never reach their full potential in life.

In my research for the Institute’s series celebrating Women’s History Month, I came across another statistic that will stay with me for a long time. A study by the respected British medical journal The Lancet found that the United States is one of only eight countries where maternal mortality (death from complications of pregnancy or childbirth) is on the rise. The other countries are Afghanistan, Greece, and several countries in Africa and Central America.

In this country, 18.5 mothers died for every 100,000 births in 2013—almost 800 women died here that year alone. This is double the rate of Canada and triple the rate of the United Kingdom! What is going on here? How is it that women in the United States are dying at a faster rate from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth than in almost any other place in the developed world?

There seem to be several contributing factors. Some of the reported rise in mortality is likely due to more rigorous data collection; the United States is one country where data on almost anything is readily available. Another factor is the rise in the number of pregnant women here who have conditions—such as hypertension and diabetes—that contribute to making their pregnancies “high risk.” More girls with heart or neurological diseases are surviving to adulthood—good news, but they remain at higher risk during pregnancy and childbirth.

Perhaps the most shocking statistic is that American women of color – particularly African Americans -- are three times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy or giving birth than their white counterparts. Higher poverty rates, which carry numerous consequences such as more chronic health problems and less access to prenatal care, are a major reason that women of color in our country run much higher risks in becoming mothers. 

There is a parallel between efforts to end maternal mortality and efforts to end global hunger. We know that a lack of available food is not the problem. It is getting access to nutritious food — a particular problem for pregnant women and children – that is a major problem. Affording food and reaching a place where it is available pose the biggest challenges. Researchers have found the same to be true in efforts to end maternal mortality -- particularly during or shortly after childbirth. The major problems are affordability and access to skilled care. This is true in the United States as in many developing countries.

The situation is even worse in “fragile states,” developing countries suffering armed conflict or civil war while also confronting high rates of food insecurity. 

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Mothers and small children line up at a health clinic. Credit: UN

In its State of the World’s Mothers 2014 (SOWM) report, the international organization Save the Children says: “These countries and territories (more than 50 in number) lack resilience to emergencies and face chronic underlying challenges, including extreme poverty, weak infrastructure, and poor governance. In these settings, children and mothers face an everyday emergency, whether or not a humanitarian crisis is officially recognized by the international system.”

During this Women’s History Month, I encourage you to read Save’s SOWM report and take a look at the statistics on maternal mortality compiled by the World Bank and the United Nations World Health Organization. As a result of a concerted effort by governments, international donors, and civil society, we are making remarkable progress toward the goal of ending hunger.  Much less progress has been made toward the fifth Millennium Development Goal of reducing maternal mortality by three-fourths. An equally concerted and collaborative effort, accompanied by sustained funding for healthcare programs in the United States and overseas, particularly in fragile states, is needed to help women survive as they secure humanity’s future by bearing children.

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Women's History Month: Where We're Coming From

Global women's movement photo

Carrying firewood in Bangladesh. To help end gender discrimination, unpaid chores must be more equitably shared. Photo by Todd Post/Bread for the World.

Welcome back to Bread for the World Institute's March series celebrating Women's History Month by illustrating the many ways women's empowerment and gender equity are intertwined with our mission: ending hunger, malnutrition, and food insecurity. (For more on what we mean by "women's empowerment," see yesterday's series opener).

Our 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish ... We Can End Hunger, identifies three components of efforts to achieve gender equity and the progress against hunger that comes with it: more bargaining power, more equitable sharing of unpaid work such as household chores, and greater representation in government and civil society.

Progress in redressing the power differential between men and women has made it possible for women to take many steps forward. Ending gender discrimination is a necessity if women are to gain enough bargaining power to live their lives as equal and equally valued members of their society. In 1979, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). As of 2014, all but seven countries have ratified the convention: the United States, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Palau, and Tonga.

Women perform many more hours of unpaid labor than men -- often burdensome tasks such as fetching water from faraway wells and pounding grains so that they can be cooked. At the same time, most must also grow food or participate in the informal or formal paid economy.

A third area of "women's work" is, of course, to ensure humanity's future by bearing children. It was this area -- workplace rights for pregnant and nursing women -- that saw the first international effort to recognize and try to ease the difficult balancing act between work and family responsibilities required of most women. In 1919, the International Labor Organization adopted the Maternity Protection Convention, under which new mothers are entitled to 12 weeks of paid leave and, once they return to work, two breaks each day to nurse their babies. The most recent update, adopted in 2000, provides for 14 weeks of paid leave. There are just four countries that require no paid maternity leave at all: the United States, Papua New Guinea, Lesotho, and Swaziland.

Finally, equality for women requires that a fair share of their society’s leadership reflects and represents their experiences and perspectives. One of the most basic indicators of the ability to help lead is whether a person has the right to vote. In 1893, New Zealand became the first country to make women's suffrage the law of the land. By 1994, women had the right to vote in 96 percent of the world's countries. When women in Saudi Arabia are allowed to vote for the first time later this year, there will be only one remaining jurisdiction in the world where men can vote but women cannot -- Vatican City.

For more on the history of the global women's movement, see the timeline in the introduction, "Women's Empowerment: A Moral Imperative," of our 2015 Hunger Report.

 Michele Learner

 

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