March 8th marks International Women’s Day: a chance to celebrate progress for women and gender equality—and to shine a light on the immense challenges and injustices that women and girls still face worldwide.
Women and girls are disproportionately affected by hunger, but they are also uniquely positioned to help fight it. Here are a few things you might not know:
In nearly two-thirds of the world’s countries, women are more likely than men to suffer from hunger and food insecurity.
Young women raising families are 25% more likely than men to live in extreme poverty, and, compared to women who marry later in life, girls who marry young are more likely to be malnourished. Child marriage perpetuates the cycle of hunger and poverty, too: adolescent mothers are more likely to give birth to low-weight babies, who in turn are more likely to suffer from malnutrition.
80% of people who are displaced by climate change are women, according to data from the UN’s Development Program.
In many low-income countries, women farmers comprise more than half of agricultural labor. Giving women farmers more resources could decrease the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 million people.
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 improve household hygiene and feed their families more nutritious foods.
Women are our most powerful allies in the fight against hunger. In health outposts and treatment centers, many women – who are doctors, nurses, community health workers, and other roles – lead our efforts to prevent and treat malnutrition.
In the communities where we work, mothers are usually the first to spot the signs of malnutrition in their children and are in the best position to make changes to improve health and hygiene and prevent malnutrition. We also work with fathers and community leaders to change traditional gender roles and encourage shared decision-making and responsibilities at home.
Below are some of our inspiring champions. They are women who support each other, women empowered with knowledge and new skills, women who have started their own businesses, women who – despite personal challenges – will never give up fighting for a better life for their children, their communities, and themselves.
Amina and Fardosa, Community Influencers, Somalia
Meet Somalia’s Female Community Influencers: 50 women charged with increasing the number of mothers who are aware of and utilize maternal health services.
Working in pairs, these influencers cover three districts in Mogadishu. They go from home to home, meeting with mothers, and discussing behavior changes that women can make to improve both their health and that of their children, including topics like breastfeeding, birth spacing, and delivering their babies at a health facility.
“Our biggest challenge is that some mothers leave their homes to go stay with their families a few weeks before their due date and give birth at home without proper care. We do routine checkups and follow up with neighbors whenever possible to ensure that mothers give birth at the maternal and health center," says Amina.
Maryam, Child Psychologist, Niger
Dr. Maryam Abouacar has seen Niger’s high rates of hunger and malnutrition firsthand where she works with Action Against Hunger in the Mayahi Rehabilitation Center. In just two years – between 2016 and 2018 – the 38-year-old child psychologist has treated 4,500 cases of acute malnutrition. Using a holistic approach, Maryam helps children not just survive, but thrive.
One day early in her career, she had a revelation. A child she was treating, who was thought to be terminally ill, opened his eyes wide and said, "Mom, I want milk."
These four words made a big impact on the psychologist: “I saw in him the desire to live and, at that moment, I understood that the fight is never over. Until the last second, there is still hope.”
That motivation still guides Maryam today. Recently, she met a woman named Aisha and saw that her triplets were malnourished – she did everything in her power to restore their health and make sure Aisha was equipped with the tools she needed to care for them, her other children and herself.
María Josefina, Seed Bank Secretary, Guatemala
María Josefina Roque, 30, is a pioneer in her community in Chiquimula, Guatemala. A member of the Mayan Chortí ethnic group, she grew up in a culture of machismo and deep-seated patriarchy.
A single mother of four, María Josefina recently learned to read and write and now serves as secretary of her local seed bank, an Action Against Hunger project that aims to diversify diets and stabilize food prices.
“It has been a great help for us. Now I have a little garden where I grow chard, beans, and medicinal plants,” she explains, proudly. “Today we eat much better – my youngest son has even been named a model child for his good nutritional status. What I most want is a better future for my children."
Nyalam, Breadwinner, South Sudan
Nyalam Kai, a 26-year-old mother of three, lives with her disabled husband and children in the remote Paguir region of South Sudan. She is the family’s sole breadwinner.
Dependent on farming, Nyalam struggled in the last drought to grow enough crops to meet her family’s needs. Her youngest child became malnourished, and she took the little girl to an Action Against Hunger health facility for treatment. While there, she received additional support to improve water, sanitation, and hygiene in her home.
Nyalam has picked up extra work transporting supplies for Action Against Hunger, and the new source of income has helped to ease some of her burden. Despite the challenges, she is proud to share the stories of her life:
“I never imagined one day someone would come to listen to my story, and I always wish to keep them with me. My trust and confidence in Action Against Hunger has empowered me to reveal my heartfelt story. I am proud to be selected to represent the voices of a thousand women in Paguir today who also go through the same pain I am going through in life.”
Achta, Small Business Owner, Chad
In the heart of the drought-prone Sahel region, Action Against Hunger supports livelihoods, helps people earn an income, and gives communities tools to cope with shocks caused by economics, climate, and conflict. More than 18,000 people across 40 villages in eastern Chad benefit from the project, which supports a range of income-generating activities from farming to manufacturing to livestock cultivation.
One of the project participants is Achta, a 35-year-old widow who runs a pasta-making business. Before her husband passed away, Achta and her family – including the children – worked the land, but they rarely grew or earned enough to fully support them.
“I started this activity four years ago, after the death of my first husband, but I had to go into debt to buy flour,” says Achta. “I received support from this project, and it brought a big change.”
Action Against Hunger provided Achta supplies to get her business off the ground: flour, peanuts, rice, oil, a table, frying pans, and a pasta machine. She makes the noodles, bags them up, and sells them out of her home and at the market every Tuesday.
“When I worked on credit, I had all kinds of difficulties. Now, with the support of the project, I have a certain autonomy to operate on my own,” explains Achta. “My children are eating their fill...They can finally go to school.”
As part of this project, Action Against Hunger has facilitated the formation of village savings and loans associations to help people save money and borrow funds when they want to invest in the growth of their businesses. Achta is saving up for a couple things: she needs to fix the roof of her home, and she wants to set up a flour mill in her village – right now, she and her neighbors make a costly and time-consuming trip to the nearest mill to grind cereals.
Kavita, Community Mobilizer, India
When 28-year-old Kavita finished her schooling in 2012, she found herself with a lot of spare time – then she met Action Against Hunger and became a Community Health and Nutrition Worker.
“Malnourished children were treated and became healthy and formed a bond with us even though we were not related,” she explains. “We started with zero knowledge on this subject, but we were trained by the organization, we passed these lessons on to families and they became wiser. I get a lot of motivation from realizing that I am doing good work…that’s why I am still here.”
The role of women in her community is very difficult: “Women work a lot, much more than men,” Kavita says. “They work in the fields and do household chores, too, whereas men only work in the fields. Women get up in the morning to go fetch water and take care of the cattle. If she is a daughter-in-law, she will serve and feed the whole family first and then she will eat.”
A strong advocate for equality and change, Kavita continues to fight for the rights of women because: “In today’s time, women should have the freedom to decide what they want to do.”