International Women's Day: Eight Powerful Women Leading the Fight to End Hunger

Driving Change at Home, at Work, and in the Field

March 8th marks International Women’s Day, an opportunity not only to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievement of women—but also to take an unflinching look at the harsh legal and social inequalities as well as the abuse and exploitation that limit the advancement of women and young girls in every country of the world.

  •  A new report on global gender equality published this week by UN Women shares evidence that in nearly two thirds of the world’s countries, women are more likely than men to suffer from hunger and food insecurity.
     
  • Across all regions of the world, women are more likely to live in extreme poverty than men.
     
  • Globally, many of the world’s small-scale farmers are women: in many low-income countries, women farmers comprise more than 50 percent of agricultural labor
     
  • Giving women farmers more resources could bring the number of hungry people in the world down by 100 to 150 million people.
     
  • Empowering mothers to breastfeed their babies in the first six months of life could save more than 800,000 children’s lives each year

Unquestionably, empowering women would greatly advance global efforts to defeat hunger and malnutrition.

Action Against Hunger is committed to enabling women to provide for themselves, see their children grow up strong, and contributing to help whole communities prosper. We also educate fathers to change the status quo and change their views that caring for children is “women’s work,” encouraging them to share responsibilities at home and ensure the health and nutrition of their families.

In health outposts and treatment centers, many women—serving as doctors, nurses, community health workers, program managers, and nutrition officers—are leading efforts to prevent and treat malnutrition among children and educate communities about improving health and nutrition. In the areas in which Action Against Hunger works across 50 countries, mothers are usually the first to spot the signs of malnutrition in their children. In their communities, mothers support each other in countless ways: raising their children, spreading awareness about health and hygiene, and earning income. 

Action Against Hunger’s teams—from our headquarters to the field—are led by many women working to discover and implement more effective ways to fight malnutrition on a global scale. And in the halls of power in the business world and the international community, women are dedicating their expertise, leadership, and principles to achieve a world free from hunger.

On International Women’s Day, we honor eight powerful women leaders we are privileged to call our partners.

NATHALIE ROTHSCHILD, ACTION AGAINST HUNGER HEAD OF LOGISTICS AND INFORMATION & COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY
 

“Today, the field of humanitarian logistics field has better gender balance than it used to. You have men involved in nutrition and nursing—and you have women involved in engineering and water and sanitation. What keeps me going—and what fires my dedication—is not only the work we do to serve communities in crisis, but also what I learn in the process from colleagues and from people we serve.”

Photo: Walleelgne Yitayew for Action Against Hunger, Ethiopia

Nathalie Rothschild’s career in humanitarian logistics spans more than two decades and 11 countries, including responding to many of the world’s most severe humanitarian emergencies, including the Rwanda crisis; civil conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia; natural disasters in Asia; and major hunger crises in East Africa. Today, she works in Action Against Hunger’s New York headquarters overseeing global logistics and ICT operations.

“In the early days in the humanitarian sector, the logistics field was pretty macho, and there were very few women involved at all. However, over time, as the areas of supply chain management, compliance, and systems emerged as priorities, more and more women joined. And along with that, the mentality in the sector changed as well.”

Nathalie is a huge inspiration to her colleagues in Action Against Hunger and to women in communities we serve. She says, “I love logistics: there is nothing I would rather do. Why? We make things happen, no matter the constraints.”

NACIMA ELMI MAHMOUD, FARMER, SOMALIA
 

“With the first round of money, I paid my debts. With the second round, I bought food. With the third, I bought seeds for my farm.”

Photo: Action Against Hunger, Somalia

As a pastoralist, Nacima Elmi Mahmoud used to rely on her livestock to support her family. The prolonged drought in Somalia has changed that, killing all of her animals and putting her livelihood at risk. Food is still available in local markets, but, for a long time, Nacima and others in her community had no funds to pay for it. 

Action Against Hunger is responding to the severe drought in Somalia, and is providing cash transfers to allow families to purchase food or meet other urgent survival needs and helps support the local markets. Nacima used the cash to feed her children but also saved it to help start a farm. Action Against Hunger, with support from local partners, rehabilitated the wells that Nacima uses to water her farm. So far, she has planted watermelon, kale, sorghum, and tomatoes, which she uses to feed her family and to sell to earn income. 

Nacima's success has inspired her neighbors—including her village's chief, Abdullahi Farah Abokor: “Nacima has come a long way since losing all her animals. A lot of people are now considering farms. I, myself, have followed the example of Nacima, and I hope many others will do the same.”

JENITE FORRELUS, ACTION AGAINST HUNGER NURSE EDUCATOR, HAITI
 

"As a nurse educator, I love working with mothers and children to improve nutrition."

Photo: Christophe Da Silva for Action Against Hunger, Haiti

Since 2014, Jenite Forrelus has been a champion in Action Against Hunger’s efforts to improve nutrition in Haiti. She trains nurses and mothers to diagnose and treat acute malnutrition in children. Her job also involves organizing distributions of health supplies to communities and health centers, conducting health screenings for children, referring malnourished children to health centers where Action Against Hunger is supporting local partners to provide lifesaving treatment, and training mother-to-mother support groups to improve health and nutrition among children in communities.

REGINA, LEADER, MOTHER-TO-MOTHER SUPPORT GROUP, SOUTH SUDAN
 

"I wanted to be useful to the community. It is essential for me to pass the message along to the new generations. They are the future of the country.”

Photo: Lys Arango for Action Against Hunger, South Sudan

Regina is the leader of one of Action Against Hunger’s mother-to-mother support groups in Northern Bahr el Ghazal in South Sudan, one of the states worst affected by the massive hunger crisis. Regina volunteers her time to support our program to prevent malnutrition among children by educating mothers and caregivers about healthy care and feeding practices, and she helps refer acutely malnourished children to our centers for lifesaving treatment.

Regina says, "Here, some women have to walk many miles to bring their very malnourished children to the health centers for care. But things are starting to change thanks to this program. We are coming together to learn about nutrition, and to control our own fate and that of our children.”

TANNUBA, ACTION AGAINST HUNGER MENTAL HEALTH AND CARE PRACTICES ASSISTANT PROJECT MANAGER, BANGLADESH 
 

“Our approach to helping children overcome their trauma must be very gentle. When kids come here for the first time, it is important to establish a relationship with them so that when they come back, they feel safe, and start to relax in that space. We play fun games to help them forget their fears.”

Photo: John Owens for Action Against Hunger, Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, Action Against Hunger’s trained mental health specialists have provided counseling and services to address the psychosocial needs of more than 200,000 traumatized Rohingya children, mothers, and other extremely vulnerable refugees who have escaped violence and persecution in Myanmar. Trauma often interferes with a mother's ability to breastfeed,  and can contribute to malnutrition.

The United Nations estimates that 688,000 Rohingya refugees have arrived to the Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh since August 2017. Most of the refugees are children.

Action Against Hunger’s Mental Health and Care Practices Assistant Project Manager, Tannuba, works in a “parent-child space” she and her team set up in one of the refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar n Bangladesh. Tannuba helps Rohingya children cope with the stress, anxiety, fear, and trauma that threaten their nutrition and health.

TAIMBAY CONTEH, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER, SIERRA LEONE 
 

“I receive business management training and support from Action Against Hunger, and I am now part of a women’s livelihood support group that now has a small business selling a variety of food items. This business now brings more income to our households.”

Photo: Action Against Hunger, Sierra Leone

Taimbay is a part of a support group supported by Action Against Hunger’s nutrition security program in Sierra Leone. Taimbay’s group includes ten mothers who work together to set up small businesses and improve their income, which in turn gives them the resources to provide their families with healthier, more diverse and nutritious food.

Taimbay says, “Before, when I tried to earn money from selling cosmetics, there were days we would go hungry because I was not able to make sales on that day, and there was no money to buy food. Today, my group’s food items sell very quickly because everyone needs them.”

MADAME MRS. SECK, MIDWIFE, SENEGAL 
 

"There is nothing more rewarding than being able to support a mom’s nutrition through pregnancy and see her deliver a healthy baby."

Photo: Andrew Parsons/i-Images for Action Against Hunger, Senegal

For Madame Seck, being a midwife is a calling. Along with other midwives in Matam, an arid region in northeastern Senegal, she has dedicated her professional life to breaking the intergenerational circle of malnutrition. Madame Seck supports moms-to-be and young mothers during and after their pregnancies to ensure both mom and baby receive optimal nutrition. She advises women to see her for their monthly check-ups, provides advice on how to diversify their diets, and encourages them to breastfeed exclusively within their baby’s first six months of life. 

Says Madame Seck, “We must work across the health, community, and education sectors to provide information and support to adolescents to that they can learn about reproductive health and good nutrition. By empowering them to make their own decisions on when and how many children they have, and providing them with the information they need to look after themselves during pregnancy, we can tackle malnutrition head on.”

LINDA FEMLING, DIRECTOR, GOOGLE FOOD - THE AMERICAS  
 

Linda Femling visited Action Against Hunger’s programs in Kenya with her daughter in 2015.

“Be kind to each other, lift each other up, remember that if we stand together we can solve anything. Women are powerful and we can change the world!”

Photo: Action Against Hunger, Kenya

A longtime supporter of Action Against Hunger's work, Linda Femling is a champion for women and girls' empowerment and good nutrition. In her role leading Google Food in The Americas, her vision is to use food and food experiences to develop more sustainable lifestyles and communities--with a particular focus on women and girls--within Google offices, the communities in which they work, and the world at large. 
 
Linda shared her advice to women and girls around the world in her quotation above.

Action Against Hunger is a global humanitarian organization that takes decisive action against the causes and effects of hunger. We save the lives of malnourished children. We ensure everyone can access clean water, food, training and healthcare. We enable entire communities to be free from hunger.