Top Six Reasons Women Are Hungrier

March 8, 2019
Photo: WFP/Rein Skullerud

A handful of brand-new reports show that we still have a long way to go to raise awareness about the disparities women face around the world. Even for something as basic as food, in nearly two thirds of the world’s countries, women are more likely than men to suffer from hunger and food insecurity. Each cause of unequal treatment reinforces the others, trapping women in a cycle of disadvantage, poverty and hunger.

Here are the six ways women are hungrier. For food. For equality. For change.

1. In every corner of the world, women are more likely than men to live in extreme poverty.

Mainly, this happens because women’s work is underpaid or not paid at all. Women do 2.6 times more unpaid care and domestic work than men do and earn 23 percent less for paid work.

This deficit is magnified at home, because when women work they invest 90 percent of their income back into their families, compared with just 35 percent for men.

Photo: WFP/Inger Marie Vennize

Sarah waits in line for food at a refugee camp in Nigeria. She lost everything when she fled from violence with her two young children.

2. In many parts of the world, women aren’t allowed to own property.

In some, they are property. Even though women occupy such valuable positions as farmers, business owners and entrepreneurs, they are often barred from the rights and resources that men receive. A prime example comes from agriculture: Nearly half of all small-scale farmers are women, yet only 13% of them own the land they work on. Closing this gender gap could increase output on women-run farms by 20-30%.

In short, giving women farmers more access to improved seeds, fertilizers and equipment could feed 100 to 150 million more people every year.

Photo: WFP/Gabriela Vivacqua

Thanks to WFP’s Food for Assets program, 35-year-old Nyanut owns the home her family lives in. “My life changed completely,” she says. “I was able to build a new house and send my children to school…Now I cultivate my own food in my own garden.”

3. Discriminatory laws perpetuate unequal treatment.

For example, on average, women have only three-quarters of the legal protections given to men during their working life, ranging from employment bans to laws against workplace sexual harassment. It’s worse in the Middle East and North Africa, where the typical economy gives women less than half (47 percent) the legal rights of men. In 18 countries, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working.

There are no laws protecting women from domestic violence in 49 countries.

A Syrian woman named Najla cooks chicken kabsa for her family in Turkey's Boynuyogun refugee camp.
Photo: WFP/Berna Cetin

A Syrian woman named Najla cooks chicken kabsa for her family in Turkey’s Boynuyogun refugee camp. Only 34% of Syrian laws are equitable to women.

4. Cultures and traditions uphold sexist norms.

These norms include extreme practices such as childhood marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). Traditions like these can have severe implications for their health, cut short their education, curb their potential and make them almost entirely dependent on men. In crises, women are more likely than men to be affected by hunger, and their access to aid can be undermined by gender-based discrimination. In some countries, tradition dictates that women eat last, after all the male members and children have been fed.

Surveys in a wide range of countries have shown that 85 – 90 percent of the time spent on household food preparation is women’s time.

Photo: WFP/Saikat Mojumder

Faruq (center) and his family fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar. Last year, the Bangladeshi government proposed a law to combat sexual harassment, but there is no criminal penalty associated with it and victims have no grounds for suing.

5. Menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth make women more vulnerable to ostracism, violence and malnutrition.

In women of reproductive age, one-third have anemia – a diet-related iron deficiency that can cause organ damage if left untreated. Malnourished mothers are more likely to give birth to underweight babies who are 20 percent more likely to die before the age of five. The recent viral story of 22-year-old Gauri Bayak who died in Nepal after being banished to a “menstruation hut” is a heartbreaking reminder of the price women pay for having a period.

In 2015, more than 300,000 women died in childbirth or because of complications from pregnancy. That’s roughly one woman every two minutes.

Photo: WFP/George Fominyen

In South Sudan, mothers like Nyalel Mayang don’t have access to modern healthcare. She and her husband have three children, and they survived on water lilies and palm nuts for three months after their village was attacked.

6. Boys often receive more resources than girls, especially in education.

In societies that favor sons, girl children may be neglected, denied health care, and receive less or lower-quality food. Boys also tend to go to school more often than girls. This disparity between men’s and women’s access to resources and education keeps women economically and socially disadvantaged. One study showed that women’s education contributed to a 43 percent reduction in child malnutrition over time, while food availability accounted for just 26 percent.

In 2017, two-thirds of illiterate adults were women.

Photo: WFP/Kiyori Ueno

Sekina Hassen (right) and her fellow first-graders at Udassa Repi Elementary school eat porridge every morning. Thanks to WFP, they can focus on their studies instead of their empty stomachs.

Through its programs, the World Food Programme (WFP) makes sure women and girls have equal access to resources, opportunities and food:

  • The First 1,000 Days program targets pregnant and breastfeeding moms, from pregnancy through their child’s second birthday, to help them get the full range of nutrients they and their children need to stay healthy.
  • WFP provides school meals to 25 million children across 63 countries, often in the hardest-to-reach areas, helping to keep girls in school. Girls who stay in school are more likely to find a job, be financially stable, have better health, and marry and have children later in life.
  • Purchase for Progress provides small-scale farmers – nearly half of whom are women – with training and tools to boost production and grow their businesses. This training helps women improve the lives of their families, become financially independent and participate in local markets.

But there is so much more we could be doing. International Women’s Day is a global recognition of the progress we’ve made and of how far we still have to go.

Isn’t it time women and girls had equal opportunities?

YOU can be the difference. Take action today.