Developing strategies to end hunger
 

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

World AIDS Day Sequel: Gender-Based Violence

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 HIV/AIDS is one of the many consequences of gender-based violence. Photo: USAID Thailand.

Earlier this week, on December 1, the world marked yet another World AIDS Day. Since HIV was first identified in 1981, efforts to combat, contain, and cure HIV/AIDS have mobilized the global community as few other issues have. For many years, HIV was unstoppable; in some countries, such as Botswana, up to 40 percent of the adult population was HIV-positive at one point.

Thankfully, there have been signs of hope in the intervening years -- most notably, the development of antiretroviral (ARV) medicines, which can allow people with HIV to live a near-normal life, and the scaling up of ARV treatment efforts to include millions of people in poor countries. As we saw in Rebecca Vander Meulen's guest post for World AIDS Day, people like Esperanza in Mozambique, once on the very brink of death, are working, parenting, and living their lives today thanks to ARVs.

With all that has been done, there are still blind spots in the global struggle to prevent and treat HIV. Since these are areas that are not always recognized, they have not been fully examined and effective responses developed and prioritized. Case in point: one of the most significant forces that make people vulnerable to HIV -- gender-based violence.

Bread for the World Institute has focused on gender-based violence -- most often directed against women and girls, sometimes against transgender people and gender nonconforming men -- as a shockingly common human rights violation and as a barrier to reducing and ending hunger and extreme poverty.   

The implications of gender-based violence  and discriminatory policies for the HIV/AIDS pandemic are also far-reaching. Just two examples: In most countries, marital rape is not a crime, and many women have become HIV-positive through forced sex. And the fear of rape and HIV infection by men not known to the victim can stifle women's efforts to travel in order to work and participate in community life.

Although the connections are widely recognized among people working in communities and among scientists, research and policy responses have lagged behind. One of the first efforts to remedy this situation was a conference organized by UNESCO in the summer of 2013, held in Tanzania and focusing on five countries of Africa's Great Lakes region. Among the recommendations were mainstreaming a focus on gender-based violence into all HIV intervention programs, including policies, plans, programming, monitoring, and evaluation; and allocating government resources for issues specific to gender-based violence.

PEPFAR, the U.S. government global HIV/AIDS initiative that has significantly expanded access to ARV medications, prevention efforts, and care for patients and orphans, has begun working to incorporate responses to gender-based violence into its programs.

Efforts to contain the HIV/AIDS pandemic and reach the hoped-for "AIDS-free generation" envisioned by policymakers, much like efforts to end hunger and extreme poverty, will be frustrated until policy responses to gender-based violence are developed and scaled up -- and, ultimately, until people are far less frequently made targets of violence based on their gender or gender identity.

  Michele Learner

Incarceration Is a Hunger Issue

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Andrea James discusses the rise in incarceration of women at the 2015 Hunger Report launch. Photo: Joe Molieri/Bread for the World.

About 1 in every 35 residents of the United States is either incarcerated, on parole, or on probation. The U.S. rate of incarceration is more than five times the average of other developed nations in the OECD -- and more than five times the global average as well. Incarceration rates in this country began to rise several decades ago, more than tripling between 1980 and 2000. This is the first of three posts about incarceration as a hunger issue.

Much of the rising rate of incarceration stems from harsher prosecution and long mandatory sentences for drug-related offenses. According to the latest data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, for more than half of all federal prison inmates, a nonviolent drug-related offense is their most serious crime.

Aggressive prosecution of nonviolent crimes such as possession of a small quantity of marijuana contributes directly to hunger and poverty in our country. This is because incarceration removes people from their families, jobs, and communities — often spelling poverty for both inmates and their families, particularly their children.

The damage is worse in low-income neighborhoods and areas where more people of color live, since these communities are already at higher risk. Yet at every stage of law enforcement and the criminal justice system -- from where police patrol and who they arrest, to who is convicted and the length of their sentence – people of color and people from poorer neighborhoods are treated more harshly. Further, lower-income people who are arrested may be hard-pressed to pay for legal counsel or to enroll in treatment programs that are sometimes allowed as an alternative to prison.

It may surprise many people that decisions about where to concentrate law enforcement efforts are often not based on where the highest crime rates are. For example, richer teenagers are actually more likely to use and sell drugs, but drug enforcement focuses on low-income communities.

Deterrence is often cited as an important reason for incarceration. A major weakness of this strategy is that people in prison have startlingly high rates of substance addictions and/or psychiatric disorders. Prisons provide limited health care or substance abuse treatment. People who are released with active addictions or mental illnesses are far less likely to be deterred from re-offending.

Incarceration is very tough on families. Children are separated from their parents and raised by relatives or the state. In 2009, more than 14,000 children entered foster care because of parental incarceration. At the very least, families often must travel long distances and pay high phone bills to stay in contact with incarcerated relatives. 

Women are a minority of prison inmates in the United States, but their rate of incarceration is rising faster than that of men. Bread for the World Institute’s 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish…We Can End Hunger, takes a closer look at the impact of the rising number of female inmates on children and communities. Andrea James, head of Families for Justice as Healing, spoke at the Hunger Report launch last week of her organization’s efforts to bring attention to these issues.

When people are released and return to their communities, they face a host of difficulties in getting a job and supporting their families. We will look at these as this blog series continues.
Stacy Cloyd

World AIDS Day 2014: Thoughts from Mozambique

By Rebecca Vander Meulen

Editor's Note: Rebecca Vander Meulen has lived and worked in the province of Niassa in northern Mozambique since 2003. Bread for the World Institute thanks Rebecca for allowing us to repost her World AIDS Day 2014 reflection and photos from her website, Views from Mozambique.

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   Photo by Rebecca J. Vander Meulen

 AIDS in Africa is no longer the cover story that it was when magazines like Newsweek and Time drew my attention to it back in 2000. We have responded deeply—both those of us in places where HIV touches every family, and those of us in places where HIV hides in pockets, away from the view of many.

Globally, the number of new HIV infections each day has gone down steadily since 2000. More than 13 million people around the world are now taking life-giving HIV medications. How miraculous are these antiretrovirals!

Mona’s daughter, Fernanda, who didn’t believe in antiretrovirals (ARVs) and was convinced they would make her sicker, now vigorously runs her household and serves as an informal neighborhood ARV officer, hounding her positive neighbors when they are late in going to the health post to replenish their ARV stock.

And Esperança, whose story I shared two years ago, continues strong.

In 2004, there were fewer than a dozen sites in the whole diocese (the northern half of Mozambique) where HIV testing was available, and even fewer offering HIV treatment. I didn’t actively encourage people to get HIV tests, because if they found out they were positive, it was hard to know what to do. I remember thinking that the global “3 by 5” goals (getting 3 million people on treatment by 2005) were excessively ambitious—but those goals have been met, and now we’re talking about 20 x 20 (20 million people on treatment by 2020). Science has made great strides, and we are at a point where medical understanding and pharmaceuticals mean that a person living with HIV can live as long and as well as a person not living with HIV. What progress we’ve made in the past decade!

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Photo by Rebecca J. Vander Meulen

But this is not the reality for many people living with HIV in Mozambique. Perhaps we have claimed victory too soon. There is still much more work ahead of us—oh, so much more. At least three friends died of AIDS-related causes this year. One had told me of his HIV positive status and proclaimed how eager he was to live openly with HIV, but when he told his wife, she beat him and refused to acknowledge his status. He then decided that telling people he’d gotten a false positive result—and not pursuing treatment—was easier than bearing the stigma associated with HIV. Another friend developed cerebral TB, but her family took her to traditional healers for several weeks before seeking hospital treatment. She was too unwell to argue. And another had been a keen student of HIV, asking just the right questions and understanding the key role of the church in responding to HIV. I never knew he was living with HIV until he died a few months later. We live in the already-but-not-yet of advent—so much good has already happened, and so much is left to be done.

Global figures hide specific pockets, and Mozambique is one of those pockets in which the fight against HIV and its effects is lagging behind. As a country, we are making much slower progress than our neighboring countries. I am particularly concerned about young girls—kids who I might have carried on my back when I first started working in Mozambique—and who now are at risk of acquiring HIV sexually. 6% of Mozambican women aged 15-24 are living with HIV (more than double the level of men in the same age group), and a quarter of all girls have had their first sexual relations before age 15, many with older boys or men, and often in exchange for a simple gift, like a new skirt. Just yesterday in a conversation about HIV, a church leader decided that the root of the problem was that we see women as objects, not as equal human beings. In Mozambique, the community of people living with HIV grows by one every five minutes, on average, and every seven minutes a family loses someone to AIDS-related causes. The science may be there, but we still have so much work to do in terms of improving access to testing and treatment, in providing safe environments in which talking about HIV is as non-interesting and matter-of-fact as talking about malaria, in helping everyone understand how HIV can be prevented, and in creating contexts in which people who choose to prevent HIV are able to do so. “Até quando?,” we lament! “How much longer?”

Last year, in the week before Christmas, a close friend came to me with the worry that his diarrhea was becoming a little bit too frequent and a little bit too intense, and suspected IMG-20141201-WA0005

Photo by Rebecca J. Vander Meulen

that HIV might be behind it. He was spot-on, and his HIV result was positive. We went to the hospital together for a follow-up CD4 count, and when the nurse gave a result of 29, I asked for clarification—certainly I wasn’t hearing him correctly. I’d never before met someone with a CD4 count so low who was still managing to walk and get on with life. But Paulo’s CD4 count is now in the 300’s, and he’s back at work (doing a lot of manual labor), and just got a promotion. His wife and baby daughter are still negative, and they shamelessly accompany him to his appointments. Paulo is alive thanks to antiretroviral medications.

And as I was writing this, Rafael came into my office to talk about his robust business. If he hadn’t sent me a text message first, I might not have recognized him. Not so long ago, he looked like someone who might be blown away by a strong Lichinga wind—but now, taking antiretrovirals, he is now strong and healthy. HIV is no longer the focus of Rafael’s life. HIV didn’t come up in the conversation until I asked about his CD4 count, which last registered at 1050—a level well within the range of someone not living with HIV. Yes, he’ll need to  2012-11-cobue 227

Esperanza, whose name means "hope." Photo by Rebecca J. Vander Meulen

take medication for the rest of his life, but he’s not alone in that: his eight-year-old daughter affectionately pesters him not to forget his medication, ever.

As I post this, we are wrapping up the first 22 of 52 World AIDS Day celebrations to be held this week in the Diocese of Niassa. The 3,000 activists taking part are together celebrating the progress made and re-kindling the energy that will drive the continued work ahead. May we each let those around us know they have our love—regardless of whether or not there is a specific virus circulating in their veins. We must continue, united. Onward.
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Footnote: HIV is not just a Mozambican issue. More than 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV, and almost 1 in 7 are unaware of their infection. If Washington, DC, were a country in Africa, it would rank 23rd out of 54 countries in percentage of people living with HIV. For those in the United States, AIDSvu can show you local prevalence levels, and perhaps one of the organizations listed on Avert’s website of services available in the United States could help you get an HIV test or put you in touch with someone who would be willing to trust you with his or her story. If you are not someone living with HIV, try to get to know someone living with HIV in your own community—and learn how HIV can so quickly affect more than just physical health. We enrich each other.

Engaging Discussion Launches the New Hunger Report on Gender

  Photo for Hunger Report 2015

There was a lot of energy in the room -- particularly for a Monday morning -- as Bread for the World Institute released our 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish...We Can End Hunger, yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

Our understanding of several issues raised in the report, some older and some newer, was enhanced by the experiences and perspectives of our speakers: 

        Fouzia Dahir, executive director of the Northern Organization for Social Empowerment in Kenya, which works to help women from pastoralist backgrounds transition to agriculture and bring an end to gender discrimination;

        Victoria Stanley, senior rural development and land specialist at the World Bank, whose focus is on efforts to make development programs more fair and effective by ensuring that they have been seen through a "gender lens" (here's an example of the Bank's development work in rural Bangladesh);

 

        Gary Barker, international director of Promundo-US, which engages men and boys in several parts of the developing world in the effort to end gender discrimination, particularly violence against women;

        Andrea James, executive director of Families for Justice as Healing, which raises awareness of the toll that rising female incarceration rates in the United States takes on children and communities, and advocates for alternatives based on community wellness.

        Asma Lateef, director of Bread for the World Institute, just returned from ICN2, the second International Conference on Nutrition.

Many of the current barriers to women's empowerment have already been the subject of decades of struggle. For example, although the U.S. Equal Pay Act was enacted in 1963, women in 2014 continue to be paid less than men for the same work. The wage gap is a major cause of poverty: in fact, if it were closed, poverty would be cut in half among single mothers and their families.

Gender-based violence is another "old" problem that remains at epidemic levels. In many countries, a woman cannot  leave the house on errands, earn a living by working on her farm or traveling to a job in a nearby city, or sometimes even sleep at night without fear of violence. A fairly new and promising approach to the problem -- taken by male and female advocates alike -- is to engage with men, helping them to see how greater respect for women can help not only their wives and daughters, but themselves and their families as a whole. Adolescent boys and young men are often open to these messages.

Other barriers have become visible more recently, sometimes as a side effect of progress in other areas and the swift pace of change in women's roles in many societies. As Fouzia Dahir explained, in some Kenyan cultures, girls simply didn't go to school, let alone secondary school. When this changed fairly recently, bullying and lack of proper sanitation facilities emerged as obstacles that still stand between many girls and their hopes of an education. 

A significant amount of the energy at the launch was among the audience -- more than 100 professionals committed to gender equality, access to nutritious food for all,  and respect for human rights. Moderator Sandra Joireman, chair of Bread for the World's board of directors, and Bread President David Beckmann emphasized the opportunities now before us to move toward the goal of ending hunger by 2030. If we are to end hunger -- and secure women's rights as human beings -- global communities must work in collaborative ways to ensure that gender is no longer a barrier to developing and contributing to one's full potential, whether as a worker, a parent, a citizen, or any of a myriad of other roles.

Learn more about this year's Hunger Report and see interactive features at the 2015 Hunger Report website.

 Michele Learner

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.  

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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

Missing Data, Missing Women

Gender equality may be one of those things that we will all recognize when we finally see it. Until then, though, we need to have data that show whether or not there’s been progress. In fact, gender equality is a perfect illustration of why it’s so important to collect data on development outcomes in general. But what indicators are most relevant to measuring progress on gender equality? Inequality manifests in so many forms that a group of indicators, not just one or two, is most likely to show what’s really happening.

UN Women has identified 52 separate indicators as essential to telling the story of women’s empowerment. They range from the most obvious -- such as reductions in gender-based violence -- to some that might not be as obvious on first glance. For example, the number of female police officers or judges in a country says a great deal about whether women feel they have the support of law enforcement or the courts when bringing charges against perpetrators of gender-based violence.

For the 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish…We Can End Hunger, we decided on an unorthodox approach to using the 52 indicators. Instead of looking at the data presented, we looked for the data that is missing. Why? Because most developing countries, in virtually every part of the globe, have not collected much data at all on topics that are vital to gender equality. The amount of missing data is simply staggering: low-income countries are missing 78.5 percent of the data since 1990 on these 52 indicators.

Data can be used to tell a powerful story about almost anything, provided the storyteller has enough to work with. The lack of data is itself an outrageous story: we can have little or no understanding of how hundreds of millions of women in the developing world are faring because no one has been tracking the indicators that would give this information to governments, communities, and the entire global community.

We needed to figure out how to show what isn’t there. With the help of an incredibly talented group of volunteers, we came up with a compelling interactive visualization that will be available on the Hunger Report website on November 24.

  Missing woman

This image is a snapshot of the online tool we’ve created to illustrate how much data on women are missing. If all the data were available, the woman’s photo above would be entirely visible. This example is for sub-Saharan Africa. The interactive tool will allow users to do the same for all developing regions, seeing how countries compare with one another in how much data they are collecting. Todd Post

“Shared Prosperity” as Women’s Empowerment

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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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