In March, we observe Women’s History Month and March 8 is International Women’s Day. This year, the theme focuses on women who advocate for the rights and equality of women–illustrating, in the words of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, that women aren’t the problem, but the solution. The plight of girls is no more a tragedy than an opportunity. Empowering women and achieving gender equality requires not just the participation, but the leadership of women beginning with mothers and girls. This is an integral part of the vision Food for the Hungry (FH) has for all forms of human poverty ended worldwide. But first, I want to share with you some of what I have learned about the current state of women around the world. What is the day-to-day experience and injustice faced by women around the world?
The Millions of Missing Girls
Women and little girls die every day. Some of them die from violence. Some from hunger. Untold numbers of girls are victims of forced prostitution. Female genital mutilation. Honor killing.
But many, many others, suffer from “daily abuses” that never make it on the news. On a basic level is “the denial to girls of life itself.” The idea that women outnumber men is a myth. Actually, there are at least 62 million more men in the world than women. This is at least partly due to infanticide, sex-selective abortions, and nutrition and healthcare practices that favor boys. More than half of the 58 million school-aged children not in school are girls. Women make up more than two-thirds of the world’s 796 million people who can’t read or write. And the UN estimates that 60% of chronically hungry people are women and girls.
As philosopher Martha Nussbaum writes, “It’s difficult to get people to care about daily abuses like lack of education or undernutrition.”
The Focus of Development Work
Not too long ago, work to end poverty-focused almost completely on men. Women were seen as either passive recipients or the most efficient way to help children.
Eventually, research by economists like Ester Boserup helped the global community understand that women are essential to ending poverty. Without women, less developed countries will never achieve full economic or social capacity. Thanks in part to her work, there is now wide consensus that empowering women and girls is key to ending poverty.
More Than Smart Economics
But women’s empowerment is about so much more than just “smart economics.” Because FH is an organization grounded in Christian principles, we believe that women’s flourishing in health, education, work, and family life is more, not less than an economic growth problem. It’s a human dignity problem. Empowering women isn’t only about enabling them to lead their homes, communities, and countries out of poverty. It’s also that empowered women are able to be the people God created them to be as they flourish in every area of life.
Today, FH is part of the movement that believes empowering women requires a social and spiritual transformation. We don’t want women to participate in development in order to lift up their country’s economy. Instead, we want to ask bigger questions about power.
Development thinker Amartya Sen viewed poverty through the lens of a person’s capabilities. Are women able to live? Are they well-nourished? Can they read and write? Do they have the tools to create? Are they able to access a platform to communicate? Can they make decisions? Are they listened to by their families, communities, and countries?
Ending poverty requires that the answer to all of those questions be an enthusiastic “Yes!”
Where is Food for the Hungry In This?
At FH, the belief in the need for total transformation means that work in gender and child protection are not there only program areas. Rather, they are themes that are woven throughout all of our work. And the way that those themes show up in FH communities looks different depending on the country and local context.
Check out some of the resources below to learn more about how FH works to support women and girls!