Posts from October, 2014

Women's Roles in the Goal to End Hunger

By Shannon Morrall

“Women can and often [do] grow up to 80% of rural area foods, in addition to raising the children, cooking [...] Despite rural women’s central and cultural roles, society often denies them access to the tools…to lift their families out of hunger, out of poverty.” Mrs. Ertharin Cousin's powerful statement was only one of the many points made in her call to action at the United Nations last month. Cousin, Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme, was one of the key speakers at the Women for EXPO 2015’s event “Feeding the Planet – Empowering Women: The Food and Nutrition Security Challenge.” The meeting focused on the necessity to bring equality to women in the agriculture industry, especially in rural areas, in order to reduce world hunger. The leaders who spoke insisted that something must be done about the gender inequality surrounding female farmers, and that the best possible approach is to enable these women to improve their own livelihoods by improving their access to equal opportunities.

How Women's Empowerment Solidifies Food Security

In her rousing speech, Cousin asserted that “we cannot expect to achieve the [Millennium Development] Goals – the goals of zero hunger – when we leave half of the population out.”  By removing gender-specific barriers that prevent women from owning and farming land, the world can maximize its output of food production. According to H.E. Federica Mogherini, Italy's Minister of Foreign Affairs, closing gender gaps would increase productivity by up to 30%.

Here are some of the challenges that these women are facing:

Legal Barriers: Denial of rights to own land

Market-based barriers: Women have no one to sell to, because they have less access to markets

Lack of farming technology or training needed to use relevant technology

Lack of awareness on land rights and inheritance rights, due to illiteracy or lack of information

Grassroots Approaches to Finding Solutions

Real change often begins at the grassroots. This is where VGIF makes its impact, supporting projects that are designed and implemented by grassroots women leaders in local communities. The following are just a couple of the projects that VGIF has funded – projects that help women in the agricultural sector realize their rights and improve their own livelihoods, food security, and economic empowerment.

Rural Empowerment Development Organization (RUWEDO)

One of the main barriers women face in farming is a lack of access to technology and the knowledge needed to use that farming technology. RUWEDO used the grant money from VGIF to buy a tractor and trailer for a group of widows and trained them how to use it, saving them significant time and energy. As a result, participants’ health improved, and they also saw a rise in income due to increased productivity. Additionally, women learned modern agricultural techniques, including lessons on adaptation to climate change and the ecological issue of land use.

Overall, the project yielded an increase in both food and income for the 60 women involved. These women used their new skills to support their households, resulting in a total of 300 people who have directly benefitted, 180 of which were girls.

Community Education and Empowerment Centre (CEEC)

In some countries, women actually do have land rights but are unaware of them. CEEC’s project aimed to promote awareness of women’s land and inheritance rights in Kandara, Central Kenya. The group achieved this goal by training 27 community leaders in women’s inheritance rights, land rights, court procedures, communication, and conflict resolution skills. The group also published a training manual for future leaders to continue the project activities.

As a result of being able to support themselves, the women of the community reported feelings of confidence and empowerment, and the social attitude of the community began to change. Out of the 19 women whom were trained, 5 were nominated to local leadership positions in school and church committees. By teaching these women their rights and how to use those rights as tools, they were able to take charge in many other aspects of their lives.

Moving Forward

These projects represent only a few instances of how grassroots groups can and do make a difference in local communities. H.E. Federica Mogherini insisted that “local level initiatives [are] the most effective: they actively empower women while simultaneously shape national-level policymaking and generate strategic cross-national partnerships.” The international level is important too; EXPO Milano 2015, a group working on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, will host debates for the best possible plan of action to allow women farmers and fishers proper access to markets, technology, and other resources in order to better feed the planet. With these combined top-down and bottom-up efforts, there is hope for the fight to end hunger.

Meet the (New) Authors

By Jenna Wallace

VGIF has exciting news – three new interns have been selected to represent us at the United Nations. These talented, enthusiastic university students will attend important meetings related to VGIF topic areas, write for our blog, and help us make connections between high level discussions at the UN and grassroots women and girls all over the world. As many of VGIF’s future blog posts will be written by our UN interns, we’d like to take the time to introduce them.

Karla Boza is a Sociology major at Manhattanville College with experience in environmental education, research and advocacy. She’s an active volunteer in her home country of El Salvador, and hopes to bring innovative ideas and programs for environmental sustainability and community development back with her after she graduates in May 2015. One of Karla’s past projects includes creating, coordinating and leading research on an environmental and community development program for Escuela El Carmelo in El Salvador for 16 at-risk students who participated in the renovation of a green area.

Kristie Manzueta, another Manhattanville student, is double majoring in International Relations and French, with a concentration on political science and economy. She will graduate in May of 2016. Kristie traveled to Uganda in 2009, where she learned just how impactful technology can be for empowering communities in developing countries. This experience has driven her interest in access to technology and education for women and girls. She is fluent in Spanish and brings valuable experience from her past internship, leadership, and volunteer positions.

Shannon Morrall will graduate this Spring from Fordham University with a BA in International Political Economy and a minor in Mandarin Chinese. She studied abroad in Beijing, where she gained a global perspective and an improved understanding of international business. Shannon is involved in Fordham’s Women’s Empowerment Club, and has volunteered for several other organizations on and off campus. She has a skill for filmmaking, and created a short film on the prevention of violence against women, which garnered the support of the New York State Office of Prevention of Domestic Abuse and End Violence Against Women International, and has even been screened in Hollywood.

Past VGIF interns have contributed greatly to the work of VGIF through their participation in United Nations meetings, individual research projects, ideas and enthusiasm. We hope you’ll follow along to read more from Karla, Kristie and Shannon!