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Focus on Women

Women may be victims of hunger but they are also the most effective solution to combating and preventing hunger.

Women make up a little over half of the world's population but in many parts of the world, especially in Asia and South America, they are more likely to go hungry than men. This is because women often have unequal access to resources, education and income, and because they participate less in decision-making.

But women are also the most effective solution to combating and preventing hunger. In many countries, women make up the bulk of agricultural labourers and are the backbone of food production systems.

Women also play a key role in guaranteeing food security for the household. Experience shows that in the hands of women, food is far more likely to reach the mouths of needy children. Learn more

Focus on Women - Stories

Haydee: Food and Nutrition Security Advocate

Zhurbohida “Haydee” Balading has been working for WFP for eight years, joining the organization just a few months after its 2006 return to the Philippines to complement existing peacebuilding efforts by the government in conflict-affected Central Mindanao.

Haydee is a Field Monitor Assistant assigned in the Cotabato sub-office, where she helps implement nutrition support activities in Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces.  She also assists during times of emergencies; she has been part of the emergency operations teams for typhoons Nesat (locally known as Pedring), Nalgae (Quiel), Washi (Sendong), Bopha (Pablo), and Haiyan (Yolanda).

“The most challenging aspect in working for WFP is the monitoring of nutrition interventions in conflict-affected areas because the situation is very volatile, thus, it poses security risks to me,” explained Haydee. “It is also very hard to verify the results of nutrition interventions because the families are highly mobile.”

Haydee at a local health center explaining to a father and child, who are seated inside a tricycle, the uses of Plumpy D'Oz.Photo: WFP/Piyavit Thongsa-Ard

Despite the difficulties, Haydee continues to be inspired by her work. “Moments when I see the children and pregnant and nursing women becoming healthy due to WFP's nutrition interventions inspire me. I feel like I am one of the instruments in bringing them new hope and a brighter future,” she said.

Describing herself as a food and nutrition security advocate, she believes she can also make an impact towards the goal of Zero Hunger by promoting strategies on food and nutrition security in Mindanao where agricultural lands and locally available food are underutilized.

“In my own opinion, I can contribute to Zero Hunger by advocating strategies for food security like vegetable gardening and other agricultural production, and also the proper utilization of locally available food,” said Haydee.

As a woman field monitor, she ensures that she also motivates other women to be food secure.

“Culturally, it is women who look into and prepare the food for the family while at the same time taking care of the children,” Haydee explained. “I believe that empowering women to be food producers and equipping them with the knowledge on how to use locally available food will contribute to the achievement of Zero Hunger.”

Charlyn: From Typhoon Survivor to Humanitarian Worker

Charlyn Pendang began working for WFP in 2011 as an Office Assistant in the Iligan sub-office. As a typhoon survivor of Tropical Storm Washi (Sendong), humanitarian work is close to her heart.

“As a typhoon survivor myself, there is a sense of fulfilment that you have responded to the immediate needs of the people and see their sincere gratitude to your organization,” Charlyn said.

On a day-to-day basis, Charlyn provides crucial administrative support to the Iligan field staff for their travel, procurement, and transportation needs.

“By providing vital support to the units of the sub-office for their daily routine in the field, I am able to contribute indirectly to the implementation of every programme,” explained Charlyn.

“I may not be directly involved in the field activities, touching the lives of every beneficiary, but I am giving the best I can to make sure that every staff is equipped with logistical and administrative support at all times which will enable them to be more efficient and responsive to whatever challenges they may encounter,” she said.

Charlyn at an office where she gives an information packet to a beneficiary.Photo: WFP/Romeo Bajador

Charlyn also assists in times of emergencies. So far, she has been able to respond to Typhoon Bopha (Pablo) and Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda).

“For me, responding to emergencies is the most challenging experience because it requires a quick response to every query, provision of assistance and dealing with WFP colleagues from other countries,” she said. “Also, the time spent away from my family makes it very difficult.”

In the face of the challenges, however, Charlyn remains committed to the work that she is doing.

“My current work provides an avenue for me to able to share my skills and knowledge in achieving our common goal of Zero Hunger. It is a privilege be a part of WFP,” Charlyn concluded.

Behind efforts to achieve Zero Hunger are humanitarian staff working tirelessly in the field or behind office desks. Here is the story of two women staff from the World Food Programme (WFP) Philippines, Haydee Balading and Charlyn Pendang, who contribute to addressing food and nutrition security in the country.

In eight different training centers in several remote villages of Shakardara district of Kabul province, around 500 illiterate women are attending classes daily to learn vocational skills and how to read and write.

Feroza, who is 16 years old, is the youngest trainee at one of these centers. Since her father did not allow her to go to school in the traditional sense, Feroza never imagined that one day there would be a class in her village that her father would allow her to attend. "I am not allowed to go to school, my father will not let any of my sisters to attend school because none of the older girls in our village went to school," said Feroza.

Her dreams of becoming literate came true when she got her father's permission to attend WFP-supported vocational skills training and literacy classes in her village. For the first time Feroza was able to write her name and read signs. "No one will understand how happy I am to be able to write my name and read signboards along my way," she added.

WFP, with its implementing partner Afghanistan Blind Management, supports these vocational skill training centers and literacy classes by providing a monthly food ration composed of wheat, pulses, enriched vegetable oil and iodized salt to the trainees for a period of three months. [quote|"No one will understand how happy I am to be able to write my name and read signboards"]

Twenty-three year old Tahira Habibi is another trainee of the same vocational skills and literacy class. She see these classes as the only chance for herself, other women and adolescent girls in her village to learn income-generating skills and how to read and write.

"We are really under pressure from our brothers, fathers, uncles and the other male members of our families. They are not ready to let us go to school. These WFP-supported classes are our only chance of going somewhere to learn something," Tahira said.

According to Tahira, WFP's food ration is very helpful because it encourages parents and husbands to allow their daughters and wives attend the classes. [photo|645546]

In addition to this project, WFP supports two similar projects in two other districts of Kabul, in Chahar Asyab and in Dehsabz, where more than one thousand women and young girls are learning beading skills and how to be literate.

In 2015, WFP plans to provide vocational skills training to nearly 30,000 people  - with women comprising more than two thirds of the trainees - in 58 districts of 20 provinces through its food and voucher distribution.

In a country where girls are rarely allowed to attend school, WFP's food serves as a powerful incentive for male family members to send the women - mothers and adolescent girls - of their family to vocational skills and literacy classes.

JAMALPUR DISTRICT - Fulasa Begum from Islampur Upazila earns around BDT20,000 (approximately US$ 257) every month. This income only recently became a reality for Fulasa who eyed an opportunity - to establish herself as an entrepreneurial vegetable cultivator - and took it.

Previously, Fulasa, and her husband Omad Ali, worked as day labourers, but irregular job opportunities and sporadic payments trapped the family in a cycle of poverty. The daily struggle for money prevented them from providing enough food for their two sons and Omad Ali’s mother.

However, in 2013, when WFP launched its School Meals programme in the school of her sons in Islampur, a job opening surfaced for Fulasa.

Through the School Meals programme, and in partnership with the Government of Bangladesh, WFP serves cooked meals to students. Providing daily meals in school helps students focus in class and gives a strong incentive for poor families to send their children to school and keep them there.

Moreover, the programme supports the community because the cooked meals are, among other ingredients, made from vegetables grown by local women cultivators and prepared by local women cooks. When Fulasa showed interest to work in the school's kitchen, the local procurement committee decided to recruit her as an assistant cook. 

While working in the kitchen, Fulasa noticed the vast amounts of vegetables used for the children’s meals every day and spotted another opportunity to boost the family’s economy. After having saved enough money, Fulasa leased two plots of land to cultivate vegetables. Eggplants, pumpkins and tomatoes, which she sells to the school's kitchen and at the local market, gave her additional income that helped free her family from poverty.

While gender inequality has improved in Bangladesh, the gap between women and men continuously fuels undernutrition and food insecurity, and prevents the population, and the society as a whole, from achieving its full potential. Based on the 2013 Gender Inequality Index, Bangladesh ranks 115 out of 149 countries. WFP recognizes that giving women the power to make choices over their lives is a key step towards a world with zero hunger, which is why women are the focus of all of WFP’s programmes in the country.

After struggling for years, Fulasa fought her way out of poverty by helping nourish the minds and bodies of children in her community. She serves as a shining example of the central role that women play in addressing poverty and undernutrition.

Women farmers like Alexandra were previously unable to access local markets. "If we wanted to sell lettuce to a local merchant, they would offer us 10 cents. But if we were going to the market to buy lettuce, they would charge us 50 cents,” said Pimampiro farmer Alexandra Bejarano. “Because we are women and from rural communities, no one took us seriously," Alejandra explained. Discouraged but determined, the women of Pimampiro set out on a mission to create their own market space.

"I don’t think you can, that is for educated people."
Alexandra, who was 24 years old when the association was created in 2012, recalls that much of her community did not believe in her ability to lead the project. "People would tell me, ‘I don’t think you can, that's for educated people,’ but I told them that I would succeed with the support of my association’s women," Alexandra proudly explained.

The Tierra del Sol Association
To recruit members, they announced on the radio that they were creating a small-holder farmers’ association and visited 42 communities to register them. Their perseverance and dedication led to the formation of the Tierra del Sol Association, consisting of 210 women and seven men in the province of Imbabura. The first order of business of the new association was to organize a weekly market where the association members could sell their products directly to their community.  Now, 110 farmers sell their products at a market that takes place every weekend.  Association members rotate from week to week so that all 217 members are able to participate.

Fresh, Quality Products
In addition to the market, the association also works with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Provincial Government of Imbabura. Members deliver fresh products for food assistance programmes implemented by WFP in coordination with local governments to serve vulnerable Colombians and Ecuadorians. "Today we provide top quality food to meet the needs of the programme," says Alexandra.

While Alexandra is glad that her husband works, she commented, "I also think that as a woman I can succeed, especially now that we are at the market and working with WFP. WFP has been the strength, the arm stretched out to support us, especially women."

Women living in the canton of Pimampiro north of Quito are taking action. After attempting to sell food grown in their home gardens, they soon saw that there existed few formal market opportunities in their communities and realized that they faced many challenges. The following article tells the story of a group of organized and united women farmers who created a space for themselves in their local market and who now provide food for WFP’s assistance programmes.