Developing strategies to end hunger
 

221 posts categorized "Inequality"

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

Vizathon Tackles Hidden Hunger from Both Coasts

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By Derek Schwabe

This past Saturday, Bread for the World Institute held our first-ever bi-coastal (and second annual) vizathon to expose hidden hunger. The event, held at Bread’s offices in Washington, DC, and the offices of Macys.com in downtown San Francisco, brought together a diverse group of volunteer data heroes (statisticians, web developers, coders, designers, and data geeks) who gave their time, skills, and creative energy to help us visualize a widespread and growing kind of hunger: hidden hunger. We teamed up with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), who shared a rich new dataset that helped our volunteers tackle the issue from all sides. We were grateful to have two fantastic data facilitators who led the charge -- Jon Schwabish of HelpMeViz on the East Coast and Leigh Fonseca of LivingData on the West Coast. Here’s a storify-style recap of our exciting day of data storytelling:  

Two Full Rooms Took on Two Forms of Hidden Hunger

Challenge 1, De-Mystifying Micronutrient Deficiency: Micronutrient deficiency harms one in two preschool-aged children worldwide, yet it’s impossible to detect by looking at a child. How can we make the damage caused by micronutrient deficiency visible?  

Challenge 2, The Coming Obesity Pandemic: Obesity is hunger for the right kinds of food. In the developing world, we’ve seen steady progress against traditional forms of hunger, but obesity is rising rapidly. With it comes a proliferation of deadly non-communicable diseases. All too often, these don’t have treatments that are 100 percent effective, even in developed countries (e.g., heart disease, stroke). Poorer countries certainly do not have the resources to treat large numbers of patients with these conditions. Help us tell this urgent story.

Getting Started: A Deluge of Data

IFPRI introduced a dataset with household-level information relevant to both data challenges. Sara Signorelli of HarvestChoice, a project led by IFPRI, oriented the Washington, DC and San Francisco teams to available indicators such as those on micronutrient deficiency, dietary diversity, obesity, and body mass. The dataset was specific to Africa South of the Sahara. Signorelli pointed participants to HarvestChoice’s Mappr tool—a nutrition and agriculture data mapping app that lets users isolate specific indicators, years, locations, or groups. HarvestChoice also supplied even more granular datasets on Ethiopia and Malawi. The “vizathoners” had no shortage of data to sift through, but the real challenge was pulling out a story.

The Coasts Connect

By the time the San Francisco team was ready to jump into the data, the Washington, DC, group had already been working with it long enough to begin to notice trends, gaps, and roadblocks. We took advantage of the three-hour time-zone difference to give the two teams a chance to connect and learn from each other. Using Google HangOut, participants in Washington, DC, communicated their most salient findings -- and in some cases, vented their frustrations -- to San Francisco. Twitter was also a cross-coastal communication channel of choice.  

Visualizing Answers...and more Questions

Once both teams had a few hours to explore the data, visualizations started to surface, highlighting fascinating trends and raising many new questions. Here’s a smattering of some of them:

What’s Next?

The discoveries made and questions raised by vizathon volunteers will not be left alone. In the coming weeks, the Institute, IFPRI, and a smaller group of volunteers will process the day’s findings and start digging deeper. We’re excited to create opportunities for the teams to continue their work, which will (we hope) lead to visualization tools that will make hidden hunger impossible to miss. Stay tuned.  

Further Reading

Check out HelpMeViz.com to see more work by vizathon participants, dig into visualizations in greater detail, or even play around with the data yourself. And be sure to read this post by my colleague, Robin Stephenson, in which she recaps the vizathon from her own first-time perspective and introduces us to some of the incredible participants!

Derek Schwabe

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Announces New Nutrition Strategy

Melinda Gates announced a new foundation pledge of $776 million over a six-year period to fight malnutrition. Gates made the announcement June 3 at the European Development Days forum on development and international cooperation. 

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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

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

 

Three Ways to Reach Gender Equality Sooner

Gender equality, india

Photo Credit: Stephan Bachenheimer/World Bank

The sooner the world achieves gender equality, the sooner it will end hunger. Throughout the month of March (Women’s History Month), we have dedicated this blog to showing why this is true. We’ve examined some of the ways that gender discrimination contributes to hunger, and explained the concept of women’s empowerment and why hunger will persist until the barriers to women’s empowerment are removed. But when will women’s empowerment become a reality? And what can we do to speed up progress?

A recently published study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that at current rates of progress, women in the United States will not receive equal pay for equal work until 2058. Few readers of our blog will still be working then— just one obvious sign that pay equity is much too far away. Although these findings are discouraging, the study also indicated that years or even decades can be shaved off the projection with dedicated leadership and the right action steps.

Returning to the 2015 Hunger Report’s main focus on women’s empowerment in developing countries, here are three high-impact actions that will help achieve both gender equality and the end of hunger more quickly.  

1. Elect More Women 

Women are half of the global population, but hold an average of just 22 percent of seats in national parliaments. Research has found that women in public office at all levels tend to place greater emphasis than men on social services such as education, clean water and sanitation, and nutrition. They are also, not surprisingly, better positioned to understand and advocate for laws and policies that improve the status of women. Gender quotas are one way of ensuring that women’s voices are represented in government, and more than 80 countries have adopted them. Rwanda offers a compelling example. Once women got a foot in the door in that country’s national parliament, they exceeded their “quota” and now hold more than 60 percent of seats.

2. Strengthen Collective Women’s Groups

When marginalized people are free to speak and act collectively, their causes are more likely to be taken seriously by those in power. Beyond government, women can raise their collective voices through labor unions and religious and civil society groups. This can bring change sooner. But in many countries, social norms or even laws bar women from participation in the most influential groups. In Bangladesh and Nepal, women’s efforts to organize labor unions have been suppressed, sometimes violently. This is true particularly in key sectors that pay poorly, such as the garment industry. Yet effective collective bargaining groups represent these women’s best opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty by commanding higher wages and better working conditions.

3. Include Men

As we said in last week’s post, when women flourish, so do men. Evidence repeatedly affirms that empowering women benefits everyone. It adds whole percentage points to economic growth, reduces poverty and hunger, and improves health and nutrition for men, women, and children. But people do not always act according to reason and evidence. Restrictions on a person’s work and productivity based on gender are irrational, but sexist stereotypes and traditions persist at everyone’s expense. The people with the most power to change them – men – appear to be particularly prone to such misconceptions. Gender equality requires that both men and women examine and challenge their perceptions of what is an equitable division of labor. Public policies should not, explicitly or implicitly, reinforce stereotypes that force men into breadwinning roles or women into caregiving roles. Progress requires that men be intentionally, if carefully, welcomed into the discussion. Shared understanding can produce enthusiastic male advocates, and their credibility with other men can speed up social change.

The recommendations in this post were drawn mainly from Chapter 3 of the 2015 Hunger Report. View and download the full Hunger Report and explore stories, infographics, and interactive tools online at hungerreport.org Derek Schwabe

When Women Flourish...So Do Men

Connex and Dyna

Connex and Dyna Malera, Malawian farmers. Photo: Todd Post

When I was researching and writing the 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish … We Can End Hunger, I was advised to make sure I looked at how men are involved in what are identified as “women’s empowerment” programs. This advice came mainly from women who are well acquainted with development programs.

It was good advice, and when I was in Malawi I saw why. My Bread for the World Institute colleague Faustine Wabwire and I contacted the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM), asking to see how their women’s empowerment program works. They told us that in a sense all of their programming is about women’s empowerment. You can’t help female farmers overcome the challenges they confront unless gender inequities are a focus of the program.

If you’ve been reading the Institute blog, or Institute publications such as the Hunger Report, you already know that most women in the developing world earn their livelihood by farming small holdings of land. The same is true of men. In rural areas, where hunger is most pervasive, there is really not much else to do to earn income.

Married couples may farm a single enterprise that contributes to the overall well-being of the household, but that doesn’t mean either is farming in the best interest of the whole household. It starts with the crops. The man takes the cash crops for himself, the woman gets the subsistence crops. The husband controls all the income and decides how much to share with his wife, regardless of what she needs to manage her part of the enterprise. None of the decisions about inputs or investing in assets are made jointly. This type of arrangement is virtually universal, making it hard to convince men that it should be -- or even could be -- any other way.

NASFAM provides farmers with training in running a farm enterprise. The training is also an opportunity to use specially designed tools to help both women and men think less rigidly about household gender dynamics. Connex Malera, for example, initially resisted his wife Dyna’s appeals to attend a meeting of the producer group she had joined as part of a NASFAM program in her village. But after he consented and attended one meeting, he could see that working within a group had its advantages. What happened next is something he didn’t expect.

The gender dynamics tool was straightforward: couples described and mapped the various areas of each person’s work, expenditures, property, and decision-making influence. This opened up space for discussion and reflection. Families can use the tool to identify and track changes they would like to make, and it can function as a household contract or plan.

By working together with his wife on a vision of what they wanted to accomplish together within the group, Connex was in a sense forced to listen to his wife’s thoughts on farming. It came as a surprise to him how smart she is — smarter than he is, he told Faustine and me. “I used to say this is a wife and her job is to cook and take care of the children. I am the head of the household and it is my job to make all the decisions. Now we discuss and make decisions together.”

The value of having men in the group extends beyond the changes among just the men in the group and their families. The men become ambassadors for change among other men in the community. They have more credibility with other men than women do, so they can more persuasively make the case for suspending their prejudices against women. Connex recruits other men now. But he does this in subtle ways. For instance, he talks to them at informal gatherings, often when the other men are playing a board game or drinking. At first they dismissed his advice that there was any benefit in working with women. Eventually they grew curious -- first after seeing that his income was rising, and then when a hungry season arrived and he had plenty of food while they were running out. One of the men Connex recruited was Sungani Selemani, who used to think, as Connex did, that it was useless to discuss business with women. Today, he has joined the group with his wife and they discuss all of their household matters and make decisions together. Todd Post

"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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