Developing strategies to end hunger
 

256 posts categorized "Economic Development"

Momentum Builds to Reduce Poverty and Violence in Central America

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A couple of years ago, the thousands of Central American children fleeing poverty and violence – and arriving at the U.S. southern border – was a phenomenon ignored by policymakers and scarcely mentioned in the U.S. media.

Fast forward to 2015 and we have a New York Times op-ed penned by Vice President Joe Biden calling for more U.S. investment in the region, backed up by a $1.1 billion Obama administration budget request “promoting prosperity, improving governance, and enhancing security” in Central America.

The President’s proposal would increase funding to the Northern Triangle nations of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador – the home countries of most of the children who migrate – to a level four times that of fiscal year 2014. As reported in Devex, the request would make Guatemala the single largest recipient of funding from USAID’s Development Assistance account.

Meanwhile, the State Department and USAID are developing a new strategy to reduce poverty and improve security in Central America. A new strategy was mandated in the congressional spending bill passed in December 2014. Unlike the president’s fiscal year 2016 budget request, which is an aspirational document, the new State Department/USAID Central America strategy includes $130 million allocated to implement it. It is a “done deal.”

Yet another proposed strategy in the mix is the proposal for the region advanced  by the Inter-American Development Bank, the “Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle.” This plan, as well, was created in response to the child migration issue and seeks to improve the economic and security situation in the region.

Within the past six months or so, Congress, the president, and an important multilateral organizations have all proposed major re-thinking and increases in funding to respond to the Central American child migration crisis.

But what does that mean for Central Americans? According to Vice President Biden’s op-ed, the Northern Triangle nations are already taking ownership of the problem by attacking corruption. But on the ground, we’ve seen little to no change.

The Northern Triangle’s problems of inequality, poverty, and violence are decades – if not centuries – in the making. There is no quick solution. But policy proposals from Washington will certainly need to have an impact in the countries themselves if they are to be taken seriously.

Analysts expect details of the State Department plan to be made public in the coming weeks. So far, there is little information publicly available about how Washington’s analysis of the causes and impacts of poverty and violence in migrant-sending regions will be reflected in the plan’s policies and programs. The administration’s previous strategy was called the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI).

A May 2014 Congressional Research Service report on the $800 million CARSI project states, “It is unclear what has been accomplished with the funding appropriated thus far since U.S. agencies have not released the metrics they are using to assess the initiative’s performance.” Subsequent evaluation has found some positive impact from CARSI but overall, the program has a mixed record in addressing the regions insecurity problems.

Analysts have stated that the State/USAID team drafting the new strategy has realized that CARSI was not working and are integrating those critiques into the new plan.  

Reducing poverty should be front and center in any new strategy seeking to create alternatives to undocumented immigration for Central American children and adults. While the motivations for migration from the region are mixed, poverty and a lack of economic opportunity are primary factors in driving migrants to the United States.

In the coming months Bread for the World Institute will be analyzing and sharing examples of programs and strategies that U.S. development agencies can adopt – and then work to bring to scale – to help ease the deep socioeconomic divisions and inequalities in the three Northern Triangle nations. 

Andrew Wainer

Celebrating the Tenure of USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah

Raj Shah

Dr. Rajiv Shah welcomes guests to the launch of Bread for the World Institute's 2011 Hunger Report in November, 2010. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)


Dr. Rajiv Shah will be departing USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development) this week. His appointment as USAID Administrator came in the wake of Haiti’s devastating earthquake in early 2010, just as famine was hitting South Sudan and at a time of continued powerful aftershocks from the global food price crisis. USAID sets and implements the U.S. government’s development and emergency food aid policies, and its employees staff U.S. Missions in countries around the world where hunger and poverty are endemic. In addition to managing a series of crises, Dr. Shah also set out to revitalize an agency that had long been criticized for being overly bureaucratic and dependent on large U.S. implementing partner organizations to carry out many of its programs.

We will remember Dr. Shah’s time at USAID for his passionate commitment to and impatience in the fight to end hunger and malnutrition. In five years, remarkable progress has been made against food insecurity and malnutrition, and U.S. leadership has played an important role. In 2010, Dr. Shah created the Bureau for Food Security at USAID to implement Feed the Future, the U.S. global food security initiative. Under his leadership, USAID also developed the first-ever Multisectoral Global Nutrition Strategy, which will improve coordination across the agency’s bureaus and programs and, most importantly, the effectiveness of U.S. investments in nutrition. 

In addition, President Obama and Administrator Shah have been relentless advocates at the global level for greater and smarter investments in agriculture, food security, and nutrition. They secured new commitments of resources from other countries, multilateral institutions, and the private sector. Dr. Shah served on the Lead Group of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, helping to provide strategic direction as SUN was getting off the ground. At the country level, USAID has been a key SUN partner. Today, SUN, whose members at last count are 54 countries with high rates of childhood stunting, has begun to change national policies and commit funding to fight malnutrition.

We also remember Dr. Shah’s time at USAID for increasing attention to strengthening local capacity and institutions, including recognizing the key role of local civil society. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, is a member of USAID’s Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid, designed to give policy guidance directly to the Administrator, and was honored to participate in an ACVFA working group that developed a paper on local capacity development. Beckmann later co-chaired the ACVFA task force on strengthening Feed the Future’s collaborations with civil society. Reflecting on Shah’s tenure, Beckmann said, “I thank God for Raj Shah’s outstanding leadership. USAID’s increased effectiveness is making a difference in the lives of millions of people, and it has set the stage for bipartisan collaboration in the U.S. Congress on international development issues. ”

We were honored by Dr. Shah’s presence at important moments for Bread for the World. At Bread’s 2011 Hunger Report launch, Dr. Shah called the report, Our Common Interest: Ending Hunger and Malnutrition,
“the best statement [he’s] read about the importance of Feed the Future to U.S. efforts to combat global hunger and malnutrition.”  He announced the establishment of the Bureau of Food Security at the launch. Dr. Shah was also the keynote speaker at Bread’s 2012 Gala to End Hunger.

He addressed Bread for the World members, representatives of international civil society, and global nutrition stakeholders at the 2013 Sustaining Political Commitments to Scaling Up Nutrition event in Washington, DC. It was here that he announced USAID’s plan for a Global Nutrition Strategy.

Dr. Shah’s individual accomplishments, and USAID’s accomplishments during his tenure, are too numerous to list. Under his leadership the agency prospered. Bread for the World developed closer working relationships with key management and program staff. He has set the bar very high for his successor and has put in place strategies and programs that assure continued U.S. government leadership in the global fight to end hunger and extreme poverty. We at Bread for the World wish Dr. Shah continued success in all his endeavors and look forward to working with the next USAID Administrator.

Scott Bleggi

The President's Budget a Mixed Bag on Food Security and Nutrition

President Obama released his final budget on Monday, February 2, 2015. As was reported by Bread for the World in a press release, the budget invests in people as a key to sustained economic recovery. It includes increased funding for maternal, newborn and child health, and it prioritizes early childhood care and education.

The budget can be lauded for these important domestic funding initiatives, but it is more of a mixed bag in addressing international food and nutrition security. It requests a $14 million reduction from Fiscal year 2015 enacted funding levels in nutrition spending, which is allocated to USAID’s Global Health Bureau.  This is disappointing given worldwide recognition of nutrition’s role across development sectors, and global momentum to improve nutrition policies and programs, especially those focused in the 1,000 days ‘window of opportunity’ from a women’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday.  Investments here are among the smartest that can be made, with long-term health, social and economic benefits accruing to both individuals and countries themselves.

The International Affairs (150) account in the budget, which funds overseas operations, counterterrorism efforts, humanitarian relief and development assistance is again less than 1% of the total.  At $54.8 billion it does enjoy a small (2.4%) increase over the previous year’s funding but is still many billions below what was spent as recently as the year 2010.

As was reported by the World Food Program, “…humanitarian aid programs were among those that got hit the hardest by budget cuts. Overall humanitarian accounts went down by 13%. International Disaster Assistance was cut by $154 million. Food Aid was cut by $66 million.”  All this during times of historic demand for global assistance. To say that USAID and its implementing partners are stretched thin is an understatement. In fact, according to the Famine Early Warning System web site, there are eight “areas of concern” – Central African Republic, Central America and the Caribbean, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and Yemen – that are being watched closely.  Any of these countries or regions can easily slip into food insecurity, requiring additional funding.  Save the Children reported it was “concerned with the funding levels for humanitarian assistance”.

The President’s budget builds on the Administration’s efforts to increase access to early childhood care and education for U.S. children from birth to age five. But at the same time it proposes cuts in disaster assistance, food aid and nutrition, cuts which paradoxically, could have a devastating effect on children from birth to age five overseas in countries where help is most needed.

The President’s budget has been presented to Congress, which will likely now develop a budget of its own.  If the final budget is approved with additional cuts to the 150 Account and any new global humanitarian conflicts arise, a very tight funding scenario could turn disastrous.

The advocacy community will surely be focused with Congress on restoring funding to this critical account.  And surely Congress can find ways to not have the most vulnerable population overseas – women and children - bear a disproportionate amount of cuts in a budget of $4,000,000,000,000.

Scott Bleggi

Obama's Stand on Paid Leave: One Step Closer to Ending Hunger

Obama with baby

Photo: Official White House photo by Pete Souza

President Obama announced a series of executive actions to extend paid leave to the American workforce—the only modern workforce in the world that still lacks it. The announcement marks another essential step recently taken by the federal government toward helping working families escape hunger and poverty. 

The president’s actions include:

  • Signing a memorandum to guarantee all executive branch federal employees six weeks of paid family leave to care for a new child or ill family member.
  • Calling Congress to pass legislation that grants millions of American workers up to seven days of paid sick time per year.
  • Committing money to help states develop their own family and medical leave programs—$2 billion in the president’s 2016 budget proposal and $1 million from the 2015 budget to fund state- and local-level feasibility studies. 

The memorandum will immediately improve the work quality and flexibility for  nearly 3 million executive branch employees, fully securing them a minimum six  weeks of paid family leave. It is now up to Congress to do the same for the rest of the federal workforce, and carry out the president’s other actions to extend paid sick and family leave to the 43 million private sector workers who still don’t have it.  

Fair Deal page photo, higher quality

The executive action reflects key recommendations in the Institute’s 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America. The report points out that changing dynamics in the U.S. family and economy have left working families more vulnerable to hunger. Between 1980 and 2010, mothers in the workforce with children under age 18 increased by 14 percent; mothers with children under age 6 by 19 percent, and mothers with infants by 25 percent. In survey after survey, parents, regardless of their income level, report that they are exhausted and under stress from juggling work and family commitments. This imbalance hinders a parent's ability to adequetly care for and nourish his or her children. Poor nutrition, particularly in the 1,000 Days between pregnancy and age 2, can hurt a child's phyiscal and cognitive growth and keep her from reaching full potential. 

Children in low-income families are more likely to have chronic health problems. One reason families become poor is that when a parent is forced to choose between keeping a job and caring for a sick child, she or he generally opts to take care of the child. Federal standards that require paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave will go a long way toward helping parents—and all workers—balance work and care responsibilities, leaving them less vulnerable to hunger and poverty.

The president’s announcement on paid leave is the latest in a series of recent executive actions which address key recommendations from the 2014 Hunger Report. Other recent actions include: free community college for most students, greater home affordability, access to high-speed broadband, and an executive order that relieves four million undocumented immigrants of the threat of deportation

To read more about the 2014 Hunger Report and the elements of its four part plan for ending hunger in America, download the report and view infographics on top issues at hungerreport.org.

Derek Schwabe

Countdown to 2015: A New Dawn for Global Development

For the last 15 years, the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have formed the bedrock of global development efforts -- goals on hunger, gender equality, and child and maternal mortality, among others. Bread for the World's recent analysis of the value of the MDGs refers to the goals as "an uprecedented global effort to achieve development goals that are identified collectively, achievable, and measurable."

Now, the MDG clock is ticking. When the goals were adopted in 2000, a 2015 deadline was set. They are to be replaced by a new set of goals-- Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) -- starting in September 2015. Unlike with the MDGs, the process of determining what might follow them, a "post-2015" development agenda, has featured an active international debate. The U.N. High Level Panel on Post-2015 (HLP) -- the official process through which the post-MDG global development agenda is being shaped -- met four times for consultations that aired the views reported by a wide range of other groups.These meetings were held in New York in September 2012; London in November 2012; Monrovia, Liberia, in January 2013; and Bali, Indonesia, in March 2013. In May 2013, panel members presented a report outlining their vision and priorities for post-2015 development to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, while in July, Ki-moon outlined his response to the HLP in his own report.

The process of negotiating the SDGs continued in 2014. In September, a special event on the MDGs and the post-2015 agenda was held during the 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. The theme was "Delivering On and Implementing a Transformative Post-2015 Development Agenda."

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Source: UN/DPI

Earlier this month, on December 4, the Secretary General released an advance version of his synthesis report on the post-2015 development agenda, The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet. The synthesis report aims to support U.N. member states’ post-2015 negotiations based on the world's experiences with the MDGs. The report proposes a set of six essential elements as well as a means of implementing the goals. The six elements are:

Dignity -- eradicating poverty as the agenda's overarching objective, and addressing challenges related to inequality and the rights of women, youth, and minorities;

People --  addressing education; health; violence against women and girls; and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH);

Prosperity-- calling for inclusive growth that ensures all people have employment, social protection, and access to financial services;

Planet-- equitably addressing climate change; halting biodiversity loss and addressing desertification and unsustainable land use; protecting forests, mountains, oceans, and wildlife; and reducing disaster risks;

Justice-- issues including governance, reconciliation, peacebuilding, and state-building; and 

Partnership-- elements of transformative partnerships that place people, planet, and mutual accountability at the center.

According to the Secretary General's report, implementation of the post-2015 agenda should focus on:

  • Committing to a universal approach with solutions that address all countries and groups;
  • Integrating sustainability in all activities;
  • Addressing inequalities in all areas;
  • Ensuring that all actions advance and respect human rights;
  • Addressing climate change drivers and consequences;
  • Basing analysis in credible data and evidence;
  • Expanding a global partnership for means of implementation; and
  • Anchoring the new compact in a renewed commitment to international solidarity.

Today — unlike in 2000 when the MDG era began — 72 percent of the world’s poor people live in middle-income countries. Others live in developed countries -- in the United States, for example, 15 percent of the population was living in poverty during the Great Recession, and nearly a quarter of all children lived in households that had trouble putting food on the table. Both of these factors mean that the next set of goals must apply to all countries if the SDGs are to end extreme poverty by their deadline of 2030. The post-2015 development agenda provides an opportunity to promote equity and equitable growth in a way that is truly universal.

Faustine Wabwire

Three Charts, Three Reasons Empowered Women and Progress on Malnutrition Go Hand in Hand

Improvements in the status of women drove about half of the dramatic reduction in child malnutrition that the developing world has achieved in recent decades. This and many more pieces of evidence brought together in the 2015 Hunger Report affirm that ending discrimination against women and girls–besides being the right thing to do–is crucial to ending hunger. Here are three compelling charts that show how this plays out across an array of important empowerment measures:

As More Girls Complete Secondary School, Stunting Rates Fall

As More Girls are Married before Age 18, Stunting Rates Rise

As Maternal Deaths Increase, Stunting Rates Rise

 

The three charts above compare rates of child stunting (a key measure of chronic malnutrition) in low- and middle-income countries against three sample empowerment indicators: rates of secondary school completion for females; rates of death from complications of pregnancy or childbirth; and rates of child marriage. Each dot represents one country. 

Measuring gender discrimination is complicated because it is pervasive. It cuts across all aspects of human life. This is why the United Nations named a minimum list of 52 gender indicators that are essential to gauging progress. (Yes – these 52 items are the minimum list). The indicators encompass five areas: health, education, human rights, public life, and economic participation.

We can see that stunting rates are lower in countries where women are more empowered – i.e., where they do better on these indicators. This is an issue that merits a more robust research agenda because it shows us an important way forward on hunger.

A note on stunting: stunting means that a child has suffered chronic malnutrition before her/his second birthday. We can “tell by looking” because stunted children are far too short for their age, but the most significant effects can’t be seen: damage to health and cognitive development. Stunting undermines how well a child does in school and even her lifetime earnings. At the national level, stunting can cost several percentage points in GDP growth. Globally, one in four children is stunted.

Visit an interactive tool on the 2015 Hunger Report website to compare global stunting rates with any of 15 important women’s empowerment indicators, view trends by region, and see where individual countries fall. Read this to learn the story of how the tool was created.   

This post is part of Institute Notes’ ongoing series on data to end hunger.

Derek Schwabe

A Global Nutrition Report: Passing Grades, But More Effort Needed

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These children will reach higher and go farther with proper nutrition. (Photo credit: accesstonutrition.org)

What is the extent of malnutrition and how effective are the measures being taken to fight it around the world? What’s being done by governments through policy mechanisms, development assistance, and donors with their program partners? Is civil society sufficiently prepared to be active partners and eventually take over efforts in their own countries? What measures of program and policy effectiveness have been developed?

The Global Nutrition Report (GNR) seeks answers to all these questions. First launched in London last month, its launch in Washington, DC, takes place today with events at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), which co-authored the report, and later at USAID, where Administrator Rajiv Shah will speak to his agency’s and U.S. government efforts to reduce malnutrition through its programs and policies. The GNR is a “call to action” to place malnutrition – both undernutrition and obesity – higher on the development agenda.

IRPRI notes in the GNR that "165 million children under the age of five are estimated to be stunted (i.e. low height for age). Two billion people are estimated to be deficient in one or more micronutrients. Nearly 1.5 billion people are estimated to be overweight and over 500 million to be obese. These conditions all have severe consequences for survival, for morbidity, and for the ability of individuals, the economy and society to thrive.... and yet, resources to specific nutrition programs amount to a small fraction of one per cent of domestic or aid budgets."

The GNR includes a “dashboard” of more than 80 indicators of nutrition outcomes, program coverage, funding, and political commitments for all 193 United Nations member countries, “…which they can use to hold policymakers to their commitments and urge them to make new ones.” The report was first announced at the Nutrition for Growth Summit in 2013, and its release was a main topic of discussion at the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) held in Rome last month.

The report was delivered by an Independent Expert Group and guided at a strategic level by a Stakeholder Group whose members also reviewed the report. IFPRI oversaw the production and dissemination of the report, with the support of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in London. The Lancet medical journal provided an external review of the report, which is funded by the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Government of Canada, the Children's Investment Fund Foundation, the European Commission, Irish Aid, 1,000 Days, and the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition & Health.

Recommendations in the report for governments, donors, NGOs, and nutrition community stakeholders include:

  • Building and sustaining global alliances to generate substantial improvements in nutritional status at the national level;
  • Larger investments in human infrastructure;
  • Scaling up nutrition interventions by scaling up local partner capacities; and
  • Expanding investments in “nutrition-sensitive” actions in agriculture, social protection, water, sanitation and hygiene, education, and women’s empowerment programs.

The GNR emphasizes that key challenges remain -- especially in the area of accountability, which must be strengthened in all areas. The report notes pointedly that relying on coordinated actions across development sectors, none of which have nutrition as the primary goal, allows policymakers to avoid responsibility.

Three suggestions were made for improving accountability and leadership. First, in the new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 that is currently being developed through a global process, the nutrition stakeholder community needs to ensure that more ambitious SDG targets are set, including a target for nutrition, and that additional nutrition indicators are included. Second, national legislation and policies must insist on accountability among nutrition stakeholders, including self-evaluation and monitoring processes for member countries of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement.

And finally, there is an urgent need to fill the huge gaps that remain in collecting nutrition data. As an example of this, the report says that only 60 percent of the 193 member states of the UN have sufficient data to assess whether or not they are on course to meet global targets.

Without better data and stronger accountability, we stand to lose much of the global momentum on fighting malnutrition that has been built in just a few years’ time. The next GNR could contain more failures than passing grades. But if we sustain the political will that has been created, build local capacities, and scale up successful nutrition interventions, a goal once thought to be merely aspirational gets ever closer: ending hunger and malnutrition in our lifetimes. Scott Bleggi

Second International Conference on Nutrition: Moving the Discussion Forward

In the 20 years since the first  International Conference on Nutrition (ICN), global awareness of the critical role of nutrition in human development has grown to record levels. Today, the dual problems of malnutrition -- undernutrition and obesity – are the focus of efforts by both governments and private companies. Undernutrition rates have dropped in the intervening years, but obesity has grown to the point where it now kills more than three times as many people as undernutrition. 

The first ICN was seen as an opportunity to bring leading nutrition scientists together with governments to address a growing problem. ICN2, being held this week in Rome, goes further by finalizing the wording of a Declaration on Nutrition, as well as details of its implementation, and seeking the signatures of the governments in attendance.

The proposed declaration is a pivotal document that, after reaffirming commitments made at the 1994 ICN and at World Food Summits, sets out specific plans of action and international targets that will lead to the eradication of all forms of malnutrition. Action items include reshaping food systems through public policy; improving nutrition by strengthening institutional capacity and encouraging collaboration among all stakeholders; promoting initiatives for healthy diets before pregnancy, through the 1,000 days period of early childhood, and in schools; and ensuring that a framework with actions and objectives is integrated into the 2030 global development agenda that will be finalized in the coming year.

Advocates are concerned about the very small role of nutrition thus far in this Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) process: there are more than a dozen goals and nearly 200 targets, but nutrition is mentioned only once. The declaration also asks the United Nations General Assembly for its endorsement and declares a “Decade of Action on Nutrition.”

Proposing such aspirational goals for ICN2 has led to wide-ranging discussions. Some have criticized the declaration’s lack of accountability and spending targets. Others have criticized its lack of emphasis on nutrition-sensitive issues such as water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and a lack of recognition that nutrition directly impacts health interventions.  Another point raised is that in order to make advances in nutrition, there must be economic solutions as well. Critics have also pointed out that in some countries, “donor interest in nutrition is waning.” It is in fact true that scaling up successful nutrition outcomes in a district, region, or country requires multiple-year planning and adequate funding.

One bright spot of ICN2 was Pope Francis adding his voice to the fight against hunger and malnutrition.  

Francis_ICN2
Pope Francis addresses political leaders at ICN2 Photo credit: FAO

In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel), Francis said, “We are scandalized” by not having enough food for everyone and the resulting hunger. In his remarks at ICN2 on November 20, Francis said that food, nutrition, and the environment must be viewed as global public issues at a time when nations are more tightly linked with each other than ever before. He admonished global leaders to make sure their pledges to assure food security for all citizens are put into concrete practice, saying that the right to a healthy diet is about dignity, not charitable handouts.

The U.S. government’s commitment to improved nutrition increased when it began to fund the Global Health Initiative (GHI), which is now complemented by nutrition components of the Feed the Future initiative. Recognizing nutrition as a concern that crosses traditional development sectors, USAID adopted and has begun to implement a Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy. Other government agencies and offices have begun working on a Global Nutrition Coordination Plan that will encourage collaboration and hopefully add value to the efforts of individual programs to improve nutrition. Finally, the House of Representatives has introduced H.R. 5656, the Global Food Security Act, which has a primary objective of reinforcing programs that “accelerat[e] inclusive agricultural-led economic growth that reduces global poverty, hunger and malnutrition, particularly among women and children….”

The objectives of ICN2, the policy goals of U.S. government nutrition strategies, and passage of H.R. 5656 are all reachable if we are, in the words of Roger Thurow, “outraged and inspired” to take action on global hunger, poverty, and malnutrition.

Scott Bleggi

The “Third Way” of Women’s Empowerment

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Policy discussions of U.S. development assistance that promote women’s empowerment tend to head in two directions: improving women’s ability to participate in the economy and increasing girls’ enrollment in school.

There’s no question that policymakers should indeed be talking about these dimensions of empowerment. But I wish they’d also talk about what I’ll describe as a “third way”: increasing the share of women leaders in government. Here we scarcely hear a word.

The eight Millennium Development Goals include a goal to promote gender equality and empower women. One of the targets is to increase the percentage of women in national parliaments to 33 percent. Globally, women currently hold about 25 percent of seats in national parliaments. Given that women are half the population, I think it’s fair to say that they are still grossly underrepresented in government leadership. In addition to the obvious injustice here, there are implications for efforts to end hunger and poverty. Experience worldwide shows that when women gain a larger share of political power, governments enact more policies that reduce gender inequalities and promote women’s empowerment.

Earlier this year I was in Rwanda, the only country in the world where women hold a majority of the seats in the national parliament. Sixty-three percent of Rwandan parliamentarians are women. One way countries have increased the share of women in parliament is by reserving a fixed percentage of seats for women. These countries include Rwanda, which reserves 30 percent of seats for women. But in the last three election cycles, women’s share of parliamentary seats has increased from 49 percent to 56 percent to 63 percent. Clearly, it’s more than the reservation policy that has brought a majority female parliament to Rwanda.

I went to Rwanda because I wanted to see the effects on policy development of having a majority of women in parliament, and I guess I wanted also to test my own assumptions about women’s leadership. I tend to think that the fastest way to reduce gender inequality and promote women’s empowerment is to elect more women to office. I’m all for improving women’s ability to participate in the economy and increasing enrollment rates of girls in school, but those are part of the longer-term strategy. A reservation policy allows a society to put gender equity on the fast track by giving a jolt to the status quo.

Having a female parliamentary majority has made Rwanda a more equitable society. For example, all proposed legislation is reviewed to determine whether it perpetuates or reduces gender bias. No piece of legislation that moves through parliament escapes this scrutiny. That’s the kind of jolt I’m talking about.

In the 2015 Bread for the World Institute Hunger Report, When Women Flourish…We Can End Hunger, we recommend that all U.S. development assistance include similar gender analysis – aimed at ensuring that policies and programs do not perpetuate gender inequalities or discriminate against women and girls. In practice, this would mean, for instance, that agricultural development assistance must serve female and male farmers equitably.

A major change like this might even produce a great enough seismic effect to affect how the U.S. government conducts domestic policy. Here in the United States, women hold less than 20 percent of seats in Congress. In the 1970s, when Congress was debating the Equal Rights Amendment, policymakers considered congressional reservations as a way of giving women more political voice. This was not the sole reason the ERA failed to gain ratification, but an association with the ERA may be one reason we scarcely ever hear members of Congress -- including women -- talk about political reservations as a strategy to increase the share of women in Congress.

It is difficult to imagine what the impact on legislation of a female majority in Congress would be. Perhaps there would be no difference at all, although I doubt it. There is too much room for improvement. Just one example: the United States remains the only developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave. I suspect that would change if there were a majority of women in Congress. Todd Post

“Shared Prosperity” as Women’s Empowerment

Vision Drawing9

This is the second in a series that previews Bread for the World Institute’s 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish … We Will End Hunger. The report will be released on November 24.

Last time, I talked about gender discrimination. While it’s critical to identify the many facets of discrimination and their implications, naming the problem is just the first step in solving it. We have much to say in When Women Flourish… about solutions. It starts, as so many things do, with economic power and influence.

Bargaining power is what’s needed: women’s bargaining power as workers in the larger economy, and, in the household, as people who have the power to make decisions about economic issues that affect them and their families.

The majority of women in developing countries rely on farming for their incomes, but gender discrimination often puts them at a significant disadvantage. They are less likely than men to own the land they farm. They have less access to inputs and credit. They get less help from extension agents. These and other inequities reduce their productivity and hence their ability to earn an adequate income.

Earlier this year, my Institute colleague Faustine Wabwire and I were in Malawi on field research for this report. Our contacts at the National Smallholder Farmers' Association of Malawi (NASFAM) offered to show us how they work with women farmers to reduce the gaps in their bargaining power as compared to men.

Smallholder farmers operating independently have very little bargaining power in agricultural markets. Farmers form associations—which may have anywhere from five or 10 farmers to several hundred—to take advantage of economies of scale. When smallholders pool their resources, suppliers of seeds or capital who might not be interested in marketing to just one of them now see an entity worth dealing with. Together, farmers can purchase seeds, fertilizer, and tools and other infrastructure that no one would be able to afford by herself.

For example, one of the most common and most serious problems for farmers in the developing world is losing large shares of their harvests to spoilage. Farmers’ associations, however, can afford to build secure storage facilities that will accommodate all their members. The warehouse constructed by the group of farmers we visited with NASFAM had cut their post-harvest losses from 40 percent down to 5 percent.

What makes this an effort that enables women in particular to overcome economic barriers? Economic principles, of course, apply to farmers regardless of gender. But the gendered dimension of NASFAM’s program becomes clearer when we see how it affects individual households. In Malawi, men and women in the same household both farm, sometimes on the same small plots of land, but generally produce different crops and do not combine their incomes. Typically, men control cash crops, crops raised for sale such as tobacco in the case of the farmers we visited, while women control food crops that are consumed by the family.

This bifurcation of the family farm enterprise is inefficient and, because “women’s crops” are considered less valuable since they do not bring in money, it also reduces women’s influence over household spending decisions such as those on children’s health and education. So NASFAM has begun to encourage mixed-gender farmers’ associations. The associations are begun by women, but men are welcome to participate as long as they are willing to share decision making power with their female colleagues. One reason men join NASFAM associations is for the training in marketing and business operations that is provided. If men want to receive training that will increase the profitability of their farming, they must suspend their prejudices against women.

Husbands and wives are expected to work together, making decisions mutually about their farm enterprises. Along the way, the husbands learn that their wives are quite capable decision makers. Ideally, once they see the gains in their livelihoods, husbands become more open to sharing incomes and sharing the household chores that traditionally fall mostly to their wives. We heard many testimonials and a lot of laughter as men described how they’d come around.

In the 2015 Hunger Report, we share more about NASFAM associations and other examples as we explore how to get from recognizing that “we must reduce barriers to women’s economic empowerment” to actually accomplishing this in real communities. Todd Post

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