International Women’s Day: Mind the Gap
March 24, 2016
Moeun Sun, Communications Fellow, Alliance to End Hunger
On March 8th, women across the world were celebrated as part of International Women’s Day. While it was a day commemorating the unprecedented economic and social progress women have made globally, it also served as a somber reminder that gender inequality still prevails in every country. In 2016, women are still more prone to hunger, at a higher risk of dying during natural disasters, more prone to poverty and sexual exploitation, receive less education, and make significantly less in the workforce than their male counterparts.
Looking at global hunger alone, women are disproportionately affected, constituting about 60% of the world’s population of hungry people. But the truth is, the world can no longer afford to pay the price of gender inequality; because when a woman is underfed, the consequences are tenfold. Currently, maternal care is not readily available in many developing countries, resulting in an estimated 300,000 preventable maternal deaths each year. Even if a malnourished mother survives giving birth, she runs the risk of giving birth to an underweight child, who has a much higher chance of being stunted, malnourished, and dying before the age of 5. In agriculture, the gender gap is also grim—while about 40% of farmers in developing countries are women, their crop yields are 20%-30% lower than men’s, due to their limited access to seeds, fertilizers, and equipment. And in many cases, women are more likely than men to be seasonally employed, making less than men despite having higher qualifications.
But there are two sides to every story, and the story of women and hunger is no different. While it is true that women are victims of hunger, they also have incredible potential to become change agents and play a crucial role in ending global hunger when given the same opportunities as men. Studies show that in the hands of women, an increase in family income could improve child health and nutrition. Additionally, giving women farmers more resources could lower the population of hungry people by as many as 150 million people.
When women are empowered, communities thrive; and without their contribution, achieving zero hunger as part of the Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the UN would be impossible.
In 2016, the huge gap that persists in gender equality is both equally ironic and tragic. And with all the research that poignantly show the benefits of empowering women, our inaction as a global community can no longer be excused. We have all the evidence we need, all the resources we need; all we lack now is the collective will that moves us to act. After all, how can we thrive when half of our population is lagging behind?
It’s time to mind the gap. And close it.