A recent United Nations report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World shows that world hunger is on the rise for the first time in over a decade. This is something we should be worried about. Hunger affects 11 percent of the global population. That is more than one in ten and the trend is going downward. By the year 2050, it is predicted that the world population will grow to 10 billion. To meet the needs, we will need to increase our food production by 50 percent.
Driven by hunger and obesity, malnutrition continues to be a global issue that puts many lives in danger. Malnutrition is not just about if you can put food on the table, but if you can provide substantial nutritional value in that meal. Obesity has plagued America and Europe for the past two decades, with 20 percent of the adult population suffering from it in 2002. Increasingly obesity has become a global issue. Rates have nearly doubled in the past ten years on every continent. In communities where children are malnourished, there is a prevalence of adult obesity. This is due to a lack of knowledge of nutrition or a lack of access to access to nutrient-rich foods.
Poor nutrition can lead to obesity, but it can also lead to stunting, which prevents many children from healthy physical development. Stunting affects 1 in 4 children under the age of five. Children who have stunted growth have an increased risk of impaired cognitive ability, poor performance in school, and even dying from infections. Malnutrition has severe long-term effects that can impact the likelihood of a child to survive and succeed.
So, what is the solution to hunger and malnutrition? We say, women’s empowerment because we’ve seen it in action. Our holistic approach to women’s empowerment includes not only vocational, business and numeracy skills trainings, but also health and rights classes where women learn about their reproductive health, sanitation, and the importance of preparing nutritious and balanced meals. The knowledge and skills gained help not only themselves but also their families. Before participating in Women for Women International’s yearlong program, 33 percent of women report having concerns about running out of food over the past three months, but after our program, only 6 percent report this type of food insecurity.
Hunger and malnutrition is not just about food security. It is also about access to knowledge and education. This is why Women for Women International incorporates nutritious planning program. We also teach women how to create kitchen gardens so they can grow healthy vegetables for themselves and their children. When women join our program, about 30 percent of them say they have no knowledge of nutritional planning, but by the time the graduate, virtually all have some knowledge. When they are aware, women use their knowledge to improve their lives. In fact, 97% of the women who graduate from our program say they practice nutrition planning to ensure their families have healthier and more wholesome meals.
Our program has transformed the lives of more than 462,000 women survivors of war in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kosovo, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Sudan.
Among them is Evelyn. She is a 36-year-old Nigerian woman with five children. Before WfWI, Evelyn ran a small grocery store, making about five dollars a day. Her husband was jobless and this was the only income that the family relied on. However, when her landlord raised the rent for the shop, she was no longer able to turn a profit, and her family was living in poverty and hunger. This is when Evelyn learned about WfWI’s program in her area.
Once in the program, she chose to learn poultry farming and attended classes on health and learned about her rights as a woman. She also learned important business and numeracy skills and began saving her monthly stipend to start a new business. With her stipend from WfWI, she was able to build a poultry house that would fit 100 chickens. She now sells chickens at the local market and can feed her family. Her business is doing so well that she is looking expand into selling eggs too. She is no longer worried about providing food for herself and her family.
Evelyn is an example of how equipping women with the right knowledge and skills can not only empower them and improve their own lives but also decrease hunger and poverty in families and communities. She can now provide for her five children and makes health decisions for her family, making sure they don’t face malnutrition.
Ensuring that every woman has the same opportunity as Evelyn to stand on her own feet is essential for women’s rights and equality and building a world that is well-fed and healthy, but it is also important for our security. Food insecurity and lack of or unequal access to resources is a major driver of violent conflict around the world. Non-state conflicts have risen by 125 percent since 2010, and the number of displaced people doubled between 2007 and 2016. This is not a coincidence. Hunger and poverty go hand in hand with conflict. Over half of all people living in hunger are living in countries affected by conflict. 56 percent of these people living in conflict zones live in rural areas that are largely dependent on agriculture. Conflict drains resources, and effects every aspect of agriculture. But, this is not a one-way street. According to the UNFAO report “over the past 60 years, 40 percent of civil wars have been associated with natural resources,” and food insecurity is a trigger for violence.
Violent conflict and food insecurity feed into a cycle, reproducing one another and the way to break this cycle is to empower women to fully contribute to the economies of their families and communities.
If you are interested in supporting women impacted by war, including women living in rural areas in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Sudan, you can sponsor a sister for $35 a month or visit http://www.womenforwomen.org/ways-give to learn more.
*All statistics and information come from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report on State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World unless otherwise stated.