The Path to Zero Hunger Includes Empowering Women
Rocio MedinaM.D. – Chairwoman, Nutrition Advisory Board
When women are empowered, society as a whole benefits. Studies show that women’s empowerment leads to healthier families, reduced child mortality, higher schooling rates, and stronger economies with increased GDP.
Despite this, women are disproportionately impacted by hunger. Women and girls make up 60% of those who are food insecure, 821 million people worldwide.
The reasons for why women suffer more acutely from hunger is rooted by several complex and often interwoven issues, including cultural, gender inequity, access to resources, education and more.
However, by focusing on solutions that include gender equity and women empowerment, greater impact can be made to reduce malnutrition, food insecurity and hunger. By ensuring women have access to critical resources, global rates of hunger can be significantly reduced.
Why Hunger Impacts Women More Severely
Women are often tasked with meeting the basic needs of the family – such as food, caring, and education – yet denied the resources and freedom they need to fulfill this responsibility. This situation contributes to making women suffer from hunger and its effects more acutely:
Many societies have gender norms that impact women’s health.
In some societies, it’s not an uncommon gender norm that women eat last after all the men and boys have been fed. And when families face a crisis – be it war, a natural disaster or lack of money –women usually deny themselves food to ensure that their children are fed first. Furthermore, women can lose productivity in the workplace when they forgo eating as a coping strategy in response to food insecurity.
There are also practices like childhood marriage. Globally, 750 million women and girls were married before the age of 18. This negatively impacts women’s health, cuts short their education, curbs their potential, leaving them to rely solely on male partners or family.
Many girls lack of access to education.
Equal education is an unfulfilled promise for many families; it is estimated that 132 million girls worldwide are out of school. According to The World Bank, every year a girl stays in primary school boosts her future wages by up to 20 percent, which can enable them to break the poverty cycle and strive for a brighter future.
Women around the world are economically marginalized.
One reason families don’t send girls to school is to make them work, to earn money and help put food on the table. However, the economic panorama is far from being equal: women do 2.6 times more unpaid care and domestic work than men do, and they also earn 23% less for paid work.
The possibility of owning property is also a big issue: more than half of the world’s agricultural workers are women, yet they make up just 13% of landowners.
How Can Empowering Women Help End Hunger?
Tapping into women’s potential and empowering them with education, resources, and freedom of action is crucial to bringing hunger to an end. Here is why:
Education can reduce rates of hunger.
Gender equality is probably the most important determinant of food security. This isn’t a statement made lightly: according to a report from the Asian Development Bank, women’s education contributed to a 43 percent reduction in hunger in the Asia-Pacific region from 1970 to 1995, while longer life expectancy for women was connected to an additional 12 percent decline in hunger levels.
Education is a long-term investment: more girls in school will mean stronger economies and improved health for society.
When women are given the same resources as men, we can cut down hunger and poverty.
You may be surprised that women comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries and account for an estimated two-thirds of the world’s 600 million poor livestock keepers.
Unfortunately, however, they don’t have the same access as men to land rights, financial resources, training, and technology. Overcoming this issue can have a very significant impact: it is estimated that providing female farmers with equal access to tools and resources could decrease the number of people living in hunger and poverty by up to 17 percent, or 150 million people.
When women earn an income, they invest back in their communities.
Women reinvest 90 percent of their earnings back into their families, while men reinvest only 30-40 percent. This has a broad economic impact in their communities: women activate local economies by purchasing school supplies, food, medicine, and clothing.
What Can You Do to Help?
Policy interventions are necessary to empower women and their role in helping end world hunger. But this doesn’t mean individuals are powerless: you can help by supporting organizations who are working to address these issues.
Through our Nutrition for Zero Hunger initiative, we’ve partnered with organizations such as The Hunger Project, Feed The Children and local organizations to help tackle global hunger, food security, and malnutrition through key commitments to ensure greater access, education, and empowerment of healthy nutrition worldwide and whose programs including specific resources to address gender equity and women empowerment.
Women are the full circle: within them is the power to create, nurture, and transform. Increasing women’s inclusion and empowerment is key to thrive as a society.