PORTO-NOVO, Benin, May 24 (IPS) – This coming weekend, May 28, we celebrate World Hunger Day. The day serves as a reminder that more than 800 million people around the world live with hunger and malnutrition. That number is staggering, but there is hope.
World Hunger Day also celebrates that hunger can end. We can create sustainable food systems, to ensure that everyone has access to nutritious and affordable food, both now and in the future.
I see it every day in my role as country manager for The Hunger Project-Benin.
So, what does it take? In my experience, the single biggest change a society can make to end hunger and improve nutrition is a change in mindset around gender equality.
In Benin, in West Africa, the government has implemented many strategies to improve access to drinking water and sanitation, improve healthcare and increase access to nutritious food.
Yet high child mortality and morbidity reveal the presence of important underlying factors that catalyze malnutrition, but are generally minimized in policy-making. One of these factors is gender inequality.
When looking at the distribution of resources and responsibilities in the household, especially between men and women, the negative impact of gender inequality on household diets becomes quite clear.
In our patriarchal society, men are seen as heads of households. They have the social responsibility to make resources available to the household to provide meals. It is expected that women then use these resources to ensure household sustenance.
In today’s world, where the price of food and agricultural inputs have skyrocketed, it becomes a challenge for many to provide for a family. It often falls to women to find additional sources of income to ensure their family has food, although many face obstacles such as lack of education, lack of resources and little time due to household tasks such as childcare, fetching water and tending livestock. .
Although she may be the one to close the gap and ensure that the family has food on the table, men are prioritized in the service of the meal, both in quantity and quality. Women usually make sure others have eaten first.
They then eat what is left, which often does not meet their daily nutritional needs, especially for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Malnutrition and hidden hunger have specific implications for the health and safety of women and girls, as they increase the risk of life-threatening complications during pregnancy and childbirth, weaken their immunity to infections and reduce their learning potential. This is how malnutrition becomes multigenerational.
These are the challenges we face in our work to end hunger. They are deeply rooted societal norms but they can change.
At The Hunger Project, we work with women and men, girls and boys to identify these mindsets and change them. A proven way to overcome many systematic barriers to a woman’s success has been the increased participation of women in local, regional and national legislation as empowered agents of change.
So we work with women to take on leadership roles in society and raise their voices in public settings to demand change and accountability. Over 38,600 women and 28,000 men in 22 communities in Benin have been trained in Women’s Empowerment.
Over 3,000 community leaders (approximately 50/50 women to men) have been trained to deliver THP’s Women’s Empowerment workshops in their communities, ensuring that the work of changing mindsets can continue even after The Hunger Project leaves a community.
We also facilitate female entrepreneurship and literacy courses, so that women have the agency and confidence to start and run a business. Since 2008, over 32,500 women have undergone THP training on income generation in Benin. Through these trainings, women can increase their income to buy nutritious food for themselves and their families.
We are working with these local leaders to rethink the local food system to make it work for the millions of women living with chronic hunger and malnutrition, so they can break the cycle of malnutrition among women and girls.
This includes working with communities to plant diverse household gardens with nutritious staple foods, investing in infrastructure to process these foods adequately to preserve their nutritional value, and strong local distribution channels that ensure access to nutritious food throughout the year.
Women are key to ending hunger and breaking the cycle of malnutrition. To do so, they need an enabling environment around them and a belief in themselves that they can create a future for themselves and their families.
Elodie Iko became Country Director of The Hunger Project-Benin, 2022. She has over 15 years of professional experience in the field of development and management of projects and human resources, with a specific focus on gender and women’s empowerment. Elodie joins the team after working for Plan International Benin as a Gender and Inclusion Advisor. Prior to this, Elodie worked for The Hunger Project-Benin from 2013 to 2020, first as program manager for gender equality issues, then with inclusive economy, the coordination of the program ”Her Choice” against child marriage and “leadership and governance in the epicenters of THP-Benin” program to her responsibility. Her creativity and collaboration in these and other projects has worked to improve the status and position of women/girls, thereby strengthening gender inclusion and equality throughout Benin.
Founded in 1977, The Hunger Project is a global nonprofit organization whose mission is to eradicate hunger and poverty by pioneering sustainable, community-led, women-centered strategies and advocating their widespread adoption in countries worldwide. The Hunger Project is active in 23 countries, with global headquarters based in New York City.
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