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Girls who receive quality education are more likely to work when they are adults, have fewer children, and exercise more decision-making power in their households, the Bread for the World Institute finds. (Photo: Bread for the World)

To End Hunger, Empower Women: Study

'We must not tolerate discrimination against women and instead, demand a comprehensive approach to women’s empowerment that includes applying a gender lens to all programs and policies.'

Deirdre Fulton

Empowering women and girls is critical to ending hunger, extreme poverty, and malnutrition around the world—including in the United States—according to a new report released Monday by the Bread of the World Institute.

The report by the Institute, a non-partisan, Christian citizens' movement aimed at educating policymakers, opinion leaders, and the public about hunger, shows that discrimination against women is a major cause of persistent hunger and that increasing women’s earning potential by boosting bargaining power, reducing gender inequality in unpaid work, increasing women’s political representation, and eliminating the wage gap between male and female labor could help stem the worldwide epidemic.

"Discrimination is why women farmers labor with fewer productive resources than their male counterparts, why women in all sectors of the economy earn less than men, and why girls are pulled out of school to work or to marry."
—Bread for the World

"Neither women nor men living in poverty have much economic bargaining power—that is, an ability to negotiate favorable economic outcomes for themselves—especially in developing countries, as the vast majority of people do low-paying, low-productivity work," reads "When Women Flourish…We Can End Hunger" (pdf). "Even within the constraints of poverty, however, working conditions for men and women are far from equal: women suffer many more forms of discrimination, which worsen the effects of poverty on their lives. Discrimination that establishes and reinforces women’s lower status in society starts within the family and extends through community customs and national laws."

"Discrimination," the analysis continues, "is why women farmers labor with fewer productive resources than their male counterparts, why women in all sectors of the economy earn less than men, and why girls are pulled out of school to work or to marry."

Yet women are the ones the world relies on to combat hunger and malnutrition. And when they are afforded more agency—when they are given control of their own earnings, allowed to participate in the development of agricultural programs, protected from domestic violence, or permitted to stay in school longer, for example—health outcomes improve.

"Eliminating barriers and empowering women around the world is key to ending hunger in our time," said Asma Lateef, director of Bread for the World Institute. "We must not tolerate discrimination against women and instead, demand a comprehensive approach to women’s empowerment that includes applying a gender lens to all programs and policies."

While the report examines hunger worldwide, it devotes an entire chapter to "The Feminization of Hunger and Poverty in the United States." To reduce hunger and poverty in the U.S.—issues that are compounded by high levels of incarceration, a persistent wage gap, and insufficient childcare benefits—the report declares, "we must identify and adopt policies that help eliminate entrenched and interconnected sexism and racism."

The report includes a joint statement from U.S. Representatives Kay Granger (R-Texas) and Nita Lowey (D-New York), urging policymakers at home and abroad to consider the implications of giving women the tools they need to survive and thrive.

"There is no greater force multiplier than empowered women," they write. "In developed and developing countries alike, from conflict zones to refugee shelters, when we make women’s rights and opportunity top priorities, we stand a much better chance of defeating intolerance, poverty, disease, and even extremism."

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