Developing strategies to end hunger
 

134 posts categorized "Good Governance"

G7 Leaders: Think Ahead, Act Now, to End Hunger by 2030

This weekend, June 7-8, 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted the 41st G7 (Group of 7) summit in Schloss Elmau, Munich. The G7 members are nations with major industrialized economies—Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, Canada, and Japan.

The theme of the summit—Think Ahead. Act Together.—encompassed food security and nutrition, the post-2015 development agenda, women’s economic empowerment, and three key global events in 2015, among other topics. The rapidly-approaching meetings are the Third Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa in July; the U.N. General Assembly in September, where the nations of the world are expected to adopt a post-2015 development agenda and goals; and a critical summit on responding to climate change, to be held in Paris in December.

2015 G7 picPhoto credit: Newswire

Bread for the World welcomes the G7’s continued focus on food security and nutrition, and calls for sustained political will to both financial and non-financial commitments to end global hunger by 2030. According to the newly released G7 Communique, world leaders have committed “to lift 500 million people in developing countries out of hunger and malnutrition by 2030.” The Communique states that the G7 will strengthen “efforts to support dynamic rural transformations, promote responsible investment and sustainable agriculture and foster multisectoral approaches to nutrition… [and] safeguard food security and nutrition in conflicts and crisis.”

2015 offers tremendous opportunities for global development. It is the culmination of a 15-year effort to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Negotiations to set a post-2015 development agenda are at an advanced stage. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently released its flagship report on world hunger, which finds that global hunger is continuing to decline. An estimated 795 million people are chronically hungry in the period 2014-16. This is 216 million fewer than in the baseline period for the MDGs, 1990-1992. For the developing world as a whole, both the prevalence of undernutrition and the proportion of underweight children younger than 5—targets included in the “hunger goal,” MDG 1– have declined. The FAO report and other indications of recent progress on hunger affirm once again that it is feasible to end hunger by 2030.

But reaching the goal will require sustained bold commitment and action by the G7 governments as well as a multitude of other actors. The 2007-2008 global food price crisis was a wake-up call for world leaders on the significant damage caused by neglecting the agriculture sector. At the 2009 G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy, President Obama and other G8 leaders pledged $22 billion in Official Development Assistance for the L'Aquila Food Security Initiative. Annual accountability reports track disbursements in fulfillment of these pledges; the latest data on donor pledges and disbursements show that nearly all G7 donor financial commitments have now been fulfilled. The U.S. government’s global food security initiative, Feed the Future, is its contribution to the l’Aquila initiative.

The G7 also released its annual progress report just before the summit. The 2015 Elmau Progress Report— Biodiversity: A Vital Foundation for Sustainable Development, underscores the urgency of confronting climate change in order to end hunger by 2030 and achieve other development goals. Bold steps to address the current and potential damage from climate change must be taken “today, not tomorrow.” The report gives updates on what G7 members have done to address some of the major challenges. Among its key messages on biodiversity:

  • The G7 acknowledges the importance of biodiversity for human well-being, sustainable development, and poverty alleviation.
  • The G7 has acted on its commitment through policies, finance, and other means to protect species and their habitats while also addressing the multiple causes of biodiversity loss.
  • The G7 is aware that significant challenges still need to be tackled in order to improve the status of biodiversity and ecosystems worldwide.

Faustine Wabwire

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
 

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, such as 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. Recent evidence shows that the proportion of people who suffer from chronic hunger continues to decline, but immediate additional efforts are needed to reach the MDG hunger 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 universal development agenda. The SDGs will carry on with the “unfinished agenda” of the MDGs, and will apply to all countries, including the United States. This agenda will be adopted by Member States at the Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015.

This is a tremendous opportunity for world leaders as well as citizens of every country, to ensure that the next 15 years will be transformative, and that attention will focus on ending poverty  everywhere. Yet, we also know that the world has dramatically changed since the year 2000, when the MDGs  were adopted. For example, in 2000, the world’s poor people lived in low-income but mostly stable countries. Today, 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 in order to achieve the post-2015 "transformative" agenda by 2030, the means of implementation cannot be "business as usual."National governments, the international community and citizens around the world must commit to hold each other accountable toward delivering for the world's poorest populations. The United States and its partners must ensure that commitments made through the SDGs focus on delivering outcomes, and that they “leave no one behind,” particularly those living in Least Developed Countries (LCDs), and fragile states.

As the 2015 MDG deadline nears, and as the world prepares to adopt the SDGs this September, experts in 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

Nutrition in the Post-2015 Development Agenda: Seizing the Opportunity

 

Photo for SCNBy Asma Lateef

On May 20,, the United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition released its annual publication, SCN News 41. This year’s edition focuses attention on the opportunities to end malnutrition in all its forms in the post-2015 development agenda. As the international community negotiates this agenda, which will be adopted in September to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there are high hopes that the next set of goals, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), will be bold and visionary. For the first time in history, global goals would aim to end extreme poverty and hunger. They would set a deadline of 2030 to accomplish this.

This issue of SCN News features voices from governments, civil society, academia, expert groups, U.N. agencies, the private sector, and the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement—representing very broad consensus that good nutrition is key to ending extreme poverty and preventable child deaths. It is also critical to improving education and health outcomes.

Three agreements reached this year—in September on the SDGs, at the Financing for Development conference in July, and at the climate change conference in December—will set global priorities and guide actions for the next 15 years. The articles in this issue make the case that how nutrition is positioned and resourced is important. The international community has recognized the urgency of reducing maternal and child undernutrition and of responding to the growing crisis of overweight and obesity.  The Scaling Up Nutrition Movement, now with 55 member countries, promotes nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive actions across sectors, especially agriculture, health, education, gender, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). The World Health Assembly (WHA) has endorsed six targets on maternal and child nutrition and a global action plan on non-communicable diseases. The Second International Conference on Nutrition reaffirmed support for these and called for a decade of action on nutrition.

Given the importance of nutrition to sustainable development, it is significant that the SDG negotiators support a goal to improve food security and improved nutrition for all, with targets on stunting and wasting. Over the next few months it will be important that advocates make the case that along with these goals and targets, the post-2015 development agenda should include nutrition indicators across goals -- to reinforce the fact that it will take a multi-sectoral approach to end malnutrition in all its forms. This issue includes a proposal to adopt all six WHA targets, plus dietary diversity among women and budget allocation for nutrition, as indicators. These indicators serve multiple goals and would drive progress towards ending malnutrition in all its forms. As guest editor of this issue of SCN News, it is my hope that its impressive contributions and perspectives on nutrition will inspire many more people to get involved in making the case for nutrition in the SDGs. Now is the time to educate and advocate. 

Asma Lateef

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

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 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

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