Developing strategies to end hunger
 

247 posts categorized "Africa"

The Return of an Important Acronym: A New QDDR

  Global women's movement photo
Two sources of energy for development in Bangladesh. Photo by Todd Post for Bread for the World.

By Michele Learner

When I first heard the term "QDDR," it was 2010 and Hillary Rodham Clinton was Secretary of State. Was it just another acronym on the list of official Washington's contributions to the English language?

QDDR is the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, produced by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). As you can guess from my mention of it now, it wasn't just another acronym.

Even in 2010, advocates had been arguing for some time that diplomacy and development are necessary tools for U.S. national security. As Bread and other organizations explained, development assistance to reduce hunger and poverty was "not just the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do."

Now, it seemed, the State Department and USAID agreed. The first-ever QDDR was a comprehensive assessment of how best to use diplomacy and development as tools to reach objectives such as the Millennium Development Goal of cutting hunger in half. The Department of Defense is required by law to prepare a periodic comprehensive assessment, but, of course, its Quadrennial Defense Review focuses on defense as a tool. The 2010 QDDR was a companion document that helped to elevate diplomacy and development as equal partners with defense in U.S. foreign policy.

This week, the second QDDR was released by Secretary of State John Kerry. As the State Department explains, the review identifies major trends "that constitute threats or opportunities," sets priorities, and recommends reforms "to ensure our civilian institutions are in the strongest position to shape and respond to a rapidly changing world."

The new QDDR is more narrowly focused than the first. Secretary Kerry said that he was given some good advice early in his career: If everything is important, nothing is important. Accordingly, the State Department and USAID will concentrate on four global policy priorities:

  • preventing and mitigating conflict and violent extremism
  • promoting open, resilient, and democratic societies
  • advancing inclusive economic growth
  • mitigating and adapting to climate change

"Each of these priorities is related to the need for better governance across the globe," said Kerry. "They're all linked."

Of course, developing an effective strategy for a nearly limitless topic such as "global affairs" requires a close look at that globe through more than one lens. From a different viewpoint than the policy priorities, for example, the QDDR focuses on four "cross-cutting areas." These flow from analysis of major long-term trends. They are:

  • increasing partnerships and engaging beyond the nation-state (for example, partnering with mayors since almost 60 percent of the global population will be urban by 2030)
  • improving governance (partnering with nations and individuals committed to what the review describes as "the difficult work of building strong, democratic governance")
  • managing and mitigating physical risk (Kerry's remark that "diplomats cannot avoid risks in their work" headlined some media coverage of the QDDR's release)
  • enhancing the use of data, diagnostics, and technology ("better application of data for crisis prevention," "greater accountability for strategic planning")

 Michele Learner

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

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 

 

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

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

What a Hero Looks Like

  Photo for IWOC blog

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom, far left, and U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Cathy Russell, far right, with this year's International Women of Courage awardees. Photo credit: U.S. State Department.

Humanity has a lot of stories about heroes. Even if we only count written ones, stories about heroes date back nearly 5,000 years to the epic saga of Gilgamesh, first "published" in cuneiform script on 12 clay tablets. 

"Heroine," though, doesn't necessarily convey the same meanings. Depending on the story, the heroine may be someone whose main role is to be rescued or whose hand in marriage is the goal of a hero's quest. A few heroines have stories akin to those of heroes -- for example, Atalanta, who survived being abandoned outside at birth to become a famous athlete and warrior in ancient Greece.

Since there are several ways to interpret "heroine," I've chosen to stay with "hero" for this blog post. The people pictured above are heroes: the recipients of the 2015 International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award. The award is given to women "who have exemplified exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for human rights, women’s equality, and social progress, often at great personal risk."   

One day in April 2013, an angry man asked Nadia Sharmeen, a journalist covering a political rally in Bangladesh, why she was there as a woman. She told him she wasn't there as a woman -- she was there as a journalist. "He did not accept this," she said -- a significant understatement, since moments later, a group of 50 or 60 men began attacking her. "They wanted to kill me," she said. Before colleagues managed to get her to safety, she sustained injuries that kept her in the hospital for five months. Her employer refused to pay for her medical treatment although it was clear that she was injured in the line of duty. Her family stood by her, however, which is why she later said that she felt lucky compared to some other victims of gender-based violence.

Another IWOC awardee, Tabassum Adnan of Pakistan, was married at the age of 13 to a much older man. She was a mother of three before she was out of her teens. She endured many years of domestic violence -- but went on to found and lead Da Khwendo Jirga (the Sister's Council), the country's first women's council. It is dedicated to seeking justice for victims of such crimes as acid attacks and honor killings.

A third Woman of Courage, Burmese activist May Sabe Phyu, has for several years spoken up for the rights of thousands of vulnerable women and children displaced by conflict into makeshift camps. Threats and legal harassment have not deterred her from her work as co-founder of the Kachin Peace Network and head of Gender Equality Now, an umbrella group of more than 90 women's rights organizations.

I wish I could tell the stories of all 10 of this year's IWOC heroes. But the picture above helps sum it up. Left to right (beginning immediately to Deputy Secretary Higginbottom's left) are:

  • Nadia Sharmeen, journalist, women’s rights activist (Bangladesh)
  • Majd Chourbaji, External Relations Director, Women Now for Development Centers (Syria)
  • May Sabe Phyu, Director, Gender Equality Network (Burma)
  • Captain Niloofar Rahmani, Afghan Air Force (Afghanistan)
  • Arbana Xharra, Editor-in-Chief, Zeri (Kosovo)
  • Tabassum Adnan, Founder, Khwendo Jirga (Pakistan)
  • Rosa Julieta Montaño Salvatierra, Founder and Director, Oficina Jurídica para la Mujer (Bolivia)
  • Marie Claire Tchecola, nurse, Ebola survivor and activist (Guinea)
  • Sayaka Osakabe, Founder and Representative, Matahara Net (Japan) 

The International Women of Courage Award is the only State Department award for emerging leaders who are female, and the first year it was awarded was 2007, so the total number of IWOCs is modest as yet. But each year's award winners add to the world's comparatively small supply of stories about heroes who are female. 

Michele Learner

"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

Tales from My Father: Education Matters for Personal and Global Development

Long before the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were agreed upon in 2000 by world leaders, my father had a vision—to provide me with the best quality of education he could. Besides values, I don’t recall many things about personal development that he emphasized more than the value of education in my life.

My father’s vision of what education had to offer was twofold: the opportunity to advance personal growth by learning the life skills needed for self-confidence and self-sufficiency, and the opportunity to contribute to society and to future generations. In other words, he believed that education empowers individuals and communities to achieve a broader set of development goals—for example, to fight hunger, poverty, and malnutrition, and to build stronger, more stable societies.

My father’s ideals ring as true to me today as they did then. I also know now that without his vision and support, I could easily have been among the hundreds of millions of women around the world whose fate in life is determined simply by the circumstances they were born into. Education carries costs—necessities such as textbooks and supplies as well as the loss of help with household chores—and in some cases, a girl's education is further limited by cultural practices that dictate how far a girl or woman can or should go.

MDG 2 includes a target of ensuring that, by 2015, all children, boys and girls alike, are able to complete a full course of primary schooling. There have been impressive strides forward, particularly at the start of the decade. By 2012, all developing regions had achieved, or were close to achieving, gender parity in primary education. Moreover, some of the nations that have most advanced their children’s access to primary education are among the most impoverished. 

Image1The president and first lady issue a call to action at the Let Girls Learn launch earlier this week. (Photo credit: Faustine Wabwire, Bread for the World Institute)

However, evidence suggests that more recently, progress in reducing the number of children out of school has slowed considerably. According to the World Bank, primary and secondary school enrollment gaps remain in the poorest and most difficult circumstances. Of the remaining 58 million out-of-school children of primary school age, half live in conflict-affected areas. Others who are more likely not to attend school are girls from poor rural households and children with disabilities. The problem is found in many sub-Saharan Africa countries and in some parts of Asia. The same barriers that prevent children from starting school often prevent those who do start from finishing: the primary school dropout rate in developing regions is more than 25 percent. Yet, low-income countries have witnessed a 9 per cent decrease in aid to basic education between 2010 and 2011, from $2.1 billion to $1.9 billion. In sub-Saharan Africa, home to over half of the world’s out-of-school population, aid to basic education declined by 7 per cent over the same period.

Bread for the World Institute’s 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish…We Can End Hunger, shows that empowering girls and women is critical to economic development gains, including ending hunger and malnutrition. The legacy of the past, high dropout rates, and continued significant numbers of out-of-school children mean that illiteracy remains a barrier to development today: 81 million adults and 126 million youth worldwide lack basic literacy skills, of whom more than 60 percent are female.

Last Tuesday, March 3, 2015, was a very special day for me. I had the honor of re-living my father’s tales of education. I was not listening to my father this time, but to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in the East Room of the White House. The President and First Lady had invited guests to witness the launch of a new initiative, Let Girls Learn. According to a newly released factsheet, Let Girls Learn will galvanize public and private sector resources to make a final push toward strengthening access and quality primary school education for girls around the world. It will “expand and strengthen existing programs to help adolescent girls complete their education and pursue their broader aspirations.”

The President and First Lady’s call to action through Let Girls Learn is especially timely as the global community forges the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals to carry on the unfinished agenda of the MDGs. My father would agree—it is past time to Let Girls Learn.

  Faustine Wabwire

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. 

Womwn in healthclinic_UN
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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