Developing strategies to end hunger
 

123 posts categorized "Asia"

Vizathon Tackles Hidden Hunger from Both Coasts

IMG_9095

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. 

Melinda_for 0603 blog
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

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 

 

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

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

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 men and women in 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—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 men 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

Stay Connected

Bread for the World