Isatou jallow, chief of WFP's Gender Unit.
Copyright: WFP/Giulio d'Adamo
Women form the backbone of the agricultural sector in many countries and play a key role in getting food onto the table. Speaking on International Women's Day, Isatou Jallow, chief of WFP’s Gender Unit, explains the central role that women play in fighting hunger.
What is the significance of International Women’s Day (8 March) this year?
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Equal rights, equal opportunities: progress for all.” It’s a great theme as it spotlights the fact that everyone stands to win from women’s empowerment—women themselves of course, but also children and men. This is because women often re-invest a large portion of their resources in their families and communities, also known as ‘redistributing the wealth.’ This could be one reason why countries with greater gender equality tend to have lower poverty rates.
Why does WFP consider women to be at the heart of hunger solutions?
Women are the most effective solution to combating and preventing hunger. In many countries around the world, women are the foundation of agricultural sectors and food systems, making up the bulk of agricultural labourers. They also play a key role in guaranteeing food security for the entire household. Although more than 60 percent of chronically hungry people in the world are women, experience shows that food put in the hands of women is far more likely to reach the mouths of needy children, and to be distributed equitably.
How does WFP's food assistance help women and girls?
First and foremost, we support women and girls by providing them with nutritious foods during the critical stages of their lives – including childhood and pregnancy. Our focus is not to just give any food but to give quality, fortified foods to ensure that we contribute to the nutrient needs of – in particular – newborns, pregnant and lactating women. Nutrition is critical as it is estimated that iron deficiency, anemia and maternal short stature increase the risk of death at delivery and account for at least 20% of maternal mortality.
What are some of the challenges that many women around the world face during emergency situations?
"The message ... is to always keep our heads high. To carry the dream that every woman in Haiti can reach her full potential and be empowered in a new and more nurturing Haiti."
Gender differences in roles mean that men and women are differently affected by crises, whether natural or man-made. Because of their priorities of looking after children, women are often less able to access aid and emergency relief assistance when it is provided. In the security breakdown that often follows a disaster, women are particularly vulnerable to violence. When family members are injured, women’s work burdens increase, sometimes for decades, as they assume the care responsibilities for handicapped family members and other displaced persons.
Generally, how do women cope during times of crisis?
Women have shown remarkable solidarity during emergencies, such as natural disasters or conflicts. They are often the first to produce fresh food again for their own families and for the surrounding community, always finding a way to go on even in the most desperate of situations.