How women can end world hunger

Creating solutions for 821 million people suffering from hunger worldwide will take far more than changing food systems. It will require gender equality.

Atap Dumo lives in the South Sudanese village of Mayen Baac, which didn’t have its own water source.

The burden of fetching water fell on Atap, and other women and girls, who made a treacherous, four-hour journey every other day to collect potentially contaminated well water. The journey took time away from going to school, tending crops, and making money. It also put their lives at risk.

I met Atap when I came to Mayen Baac to build a well. Atap told me, “Females have no say in any community issues and nobody in our household or village ever paid attention to our concerns.”

The Action Against Hunger team listened.

Atap said, “When you sat down with us, we shared our concerns about clean water and sanitation, and most importantly, our role in community decisions.”

We formed a Water User Committee of both men and women who would maintain the new water system.

Atap felt inspired to act, and was elected Committee Co-Chair. She told me, “Now, I see myself as an important person. Even men listen to me carefully and pay attention to my advice on other matters as well.”

This year’s International Women’s Day theme of #BalanceForBetter is more than a social media hashtag.

For women like Atap, gender equality is quite literally a matter of life and death. Women and girls bear a disproportionate burden of hunger and poverty, and in places like South Sudan, hunger can be deadly. The U.N. and other agencies just declared that seven million people here now face severe food shortages, a 13 percent increase over last year.

While there has been tremendous progress in the fight against malnutrition, globally, we still lose 5,500 lives to hunger every day. The world needs better ways to deal with hunger.

Creating solutions for 821 million people suffering from hunger worldwide will take far more than changing food systems. It will require gender equality.

Whether in the U.S. Congress, a community water committee, or in the home, it makes a difference when women have an equal voice in decision-making.

Studies show that women who participate in household decisions produce and earn more, which raises family income by as much as 20%. And, women tend to use more of their earnings to promote proper hygiene and feed their families more nutritious foods.

From one empowered woman, change spreads.

We train thousands of community health workers, predominantly women, to save lives in some of the most remote parts of the world. These committed women go to their neighbors’ homes, checking on the health of women and children. They educate on nutrition and sanitation. They screen for malnutrition, treat illnesses and save lives. They serve as role models for young girls.

Gender equality isn’t just about women. It’s vital to actively involve men.

In East Africa, radio shows and men’s discussion groups are creating safe spaces for men to admit they don’t have all the answers, and to challenge traditional expectations of themselves. They also begin to reconsider women’s roles, adopting new mindsets that tend to decrease gender-based violence and increase equitable sharing of household responsibilities.

One study in Kenya even showed that men who participate in these programs are more likely to share chicken and other nutritious foods with the women in their family.

Hunger and gender equality are inextricably linked. This International Women’s Day, we all must go beyond social media feeds to empower women to feed the world.

Photo by Guy Calaf for Action Against Hunger, South Sudan

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Action Against Hunger is the world’s hunger specialist whose primary goal is to create a better way to deal with deadly hunger. For almost 40 years, this global humanitarian organization has been on the front lines treating and preventing hunger across nearly 50 countries; serving more than 20 million people in 2017 alone. Action Against Hunger is the leader in a global movement that aims to end life-threatening hunger for good within our lifetimes. The organization is committed to doubling the number of children who receive urgent hunger care, from three million to six million by 2020. Of every dollar donated, 93 cents go directly to saving lives today and preventing hunger tomorrow.

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