Developing strategies to end hunger
 

257 posts categorized "Economic Development"

President's Global Development Council's Report for a Post-2015 Era

This year, 2015, is a significant year in the history, as well as the future, of global development. For example, September this year, 2015, will mark the sunset of the Millennium Development Goals, and usher in the more ambitious post-2015 development agenda. The MDGswhich were adopted in the year 2000—have provided a unified agenda for addressing the world’s most pressing development challenges, including hunger and extreme poverty. As articulated in the Millennium Declaration,  the MDGs promised to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity, as well as work toward a world free from hunger and extreme poverty.

Over the last decade, the world has seen tremendous progress, and several MDG targets have been met. Most notably, the world has reduced extreme poverty by half. According to a report by the United Nations, in 1990, almost half of the population in developing regions lived on less than $1.25 a day. This rate dropped to 22 percent by 2010, reducing the number of people living in extreme poverty by 700 million. Although the hunger target has not been achieved, it is within reach. The proportion of people who suffer from chronic hunger continues to decline, but immediate additional efforts are needed to reach the MDG target. This is where the post-2015 agenda comes in.

 

Over the last two years, Member States of the United Nations have been working to define Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as part of the post-2015 development agenda. The SDGs will carry on with the “unfinished agenda” of the MDGs, including, to end hunger and extreme poverty by 2030. This agenda will be adopted by Member States at the Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015.

But the world has dramatically changed since the year 2000, when the MDGs were adopted, so that achieving the promise of the SDGs cannot adopt a  "business as usual" approach. For example, in 2000, the world’s poor people lived in low-income but mostly stable countries. Today, however, it is estimated that middle-income countries and fragile states are home to over 70 percent of the world’s poor people. This means that for the world to achieve the ambitious SDGs by 2030, national governments, the international community and citizens around the world must commit to work differently to address today’s complex realities. The United States, and its partners must ensure that commitments made through the SDGs focus on outcomes, and that efforts to achieve these goals “leave no one behind”, including those living the the Least Developed Countries (LCDs), and fragile states.

As the 2015 deadline to achieve the MDGs nears, and as the world prepares to adopt the SDGs in September this year, experts n global development are thinking ahead. Last week, the President’s Global Development Council (GDC) released its second annual report, highlighting 5 recommendations for the U.S. government’s engagement in a rapidly changing post-2015 development landscape:

  • Further galvanizing the private sector;
  • Promoting sustainable growth while building resilience to climate change;Driving innovation for development results;
  •  Increasing collaborative resource mobilization for development; and
  • Further catalyzing economic opportunities for women and youth, especially in megacities.

The 2015 full report of the GDC can be found here.

Faustine_Typepad

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

Hidden-Hunger-Visathon-Announcment-Image, SF Register button, SF Register button, Washington, DC Register button, online

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!

Progress on Extreme Poverty: When the Numbers Don't Match the Proportions

By Michele Learner Photo for numbers versus proportions

The world has made an impressive amount of progress against hunger and poverty in the past two generations. Most people in the United States don't realize this. It's not a discrete event, so it doesn't attract much media coverage. Besides, the violence, diseases, natural disasters, and other bad news so prominent in news outlets are enough to give anyone pause when the United Nations and organizations like Bread for the World announce that the world can end hunger by 2030. Do we know what we're talking about?

For those who follow the news in developing countries closely, as most Institute Notes readers do, there's another reason for pause. The world met the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of cutting extreme poverty in half -- ahead of schedule, even. We have reported, as have many others, on the impressive and sustained economic growth rates in a number of African countries. So far, so good. But the number of people in Africa who live on less than $1.25 a day is growing.

Why? Brookings Institution analyst Laurence Chandy tackles the question head on. Growth in sub-Saharan Africa has been gaining momentum for 20 years now, averaging 5.2 percent a year since 1995. "Meanwhile," Chandy says, "the number of people on the continent reportedly living under $1.25 a day has continued to creep upwards from 358 million in 1996 to 415 million in 2011—the most recent year for which official estimates exist."

Chandy points out that fortunately, the evidence does not show that this is because all the gains from economic growth are going to the very wealthiest people. And the proportion of Africans who live in extreme poverty has in fact decreased -- Africa is not an exception to the world's success in cutting extreme poverty in half.  Sub-Saharan Africa's extreme poverty rate is still far too high, and that's an understatement. In the most recent data, again from 2011, 47 percent of the population lived on less than $1.25 a day. But that's down from 60 percent in 1996.

Chandy's piece lists five contributing factors to the "rising numbers despite progress" conundrum:

  • Starting from a greater depth of poverty -- poor people in Africa are, on average, further than poor people in other developing regions from the $1.25 a day threshold. The 2011 figures were 74 cents for Africans, 98 cents for others, so actually crossing the poverty threshold will take a longer period of progress.
  • Starting from a high level of inequality -- if Africa were one country, its income inequality rate would be higher than Latin America's. Thus, only part of the economic growth is going toward reducing extreme poverty.
  • Rapid population growth -- at 2.6 percent a year, compared with the world average of 1.1 percent, the growing economic pie must be cut into more slices.
  • A degree of mismatch between the economies doing well and those where many poor people live. Some of the poorest countries have been growing rapidly (Ethiopia, Mozambique), while others (notably the very populous Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC) have not.
  • Problems with the quality of data. The data is from household surveys, whose results are affected by challenges in a variety of data collection and analysis tasks. Efforts are being made to improve its accuracy. For example, forthcoming new data from Nigeria is expected to show that the country's poverty rate is considerably lower, and falling faster, than previously believed. But for now, as Chandy puts it, "As a general rule, aggregate poverty numbers for Africa should be handled with care."

One thing I took away from Chandy's analysis is the importance of continuing to support progress while also exercising more patience. Progress on data is one area that we at the Institute often highlight, whether in an interactive visualization or a blog series such as Data to End Hunger

Population growth is another area that may simply take more time. Having fewer children is something that follows from but, understandably, lags progress on child mortality. Once parents are more confident that their children will survive, population growth often slows. When I was in Bangladesh for Bread in 2012, for example, several women raised the subject of family size and said that although their mothers had had five, six, or seven children, they themselves hoped to have two, perhaps three.

Another takeaway: people in fragile states need more support and solutions. What has happened in the DRC is not only a tragedy for millions of individuals and for a nation rich in natural resources, but an impediment to the progress of sub-Saharan Africa as a whole.

Chandy's conclusion is that while our intuition may tell us that Africa's economic growth is only benefiting the rich or that its size is exaggerated, the discrepancy between the numbers and proportions of people living in extreme poverty is better explained by looking more closely at Africa's poverty data.

Photo credit: Bread for the World

 Michele Learner

 

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

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

"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.

Blog3

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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