LESSENING THE BURDEN ON WOMEN: WFP MAKES COMMITMENTS A REALITY
ROME - The United Nations World Food Programme has chosen the theme of "Lessening the Burden of Women" for this year's International Women's Day (IWD) as part of its worldwide effort to turn into reality its commitments to empower women and improve their lives.
This year, WFP is also launching a Catherine Bertini Award in honour of the agency's previous Executive Director. During her ten-year tenure (1992-2002), Bertini initiated WFP's global practice of targeting women as the key recipients of food aid, to ensure that the food reaches those who need it most.
WFP has found that when women are in control of food, their children have a better chance of growing up well nourished, going to school and becoming productive members of society. The Bertini Award is given to a Country Office which has most successfully strengthened and facilitated the place of women at the centre of food security.
However, practice has shown that ensuring women's control over food often adds to an already heavy burden of responsibility. In many developing countries, women work from dawn to dusk to care for their families. They frequently have sole responsibility for growing, gathering, preparing and cooking food as well as fetching water and firewood.
Some of the ways WFP has lightened women's burden include reducing distances they need to walk to collect food and the waiting time at distribution points. WFP also repackages food in smaller, lighter quantities - which is especially important for those weakened by HIV/AIDS. Women are regularly involved or consulted on food distribution arrangements with particular regard to security.
"While women's access to food is all important, it is vital that we minimize the impact of the additional burden that this may create," said WFP Executive Director, James Morris. "By enhancing our commitments to women we are also generating social change which leads to altering the division of labour in the household."
WFP is marking this year's IWD with a variety of activities at its regional bureaux and country offices around the world. At a celebration at the headquarters in Rome, Morris is presenting an award to the Pakistan Country Office for successfully strengthening and facilitating women's control over food. The award, a cash prize of US$20,000, is to be spent on the winning project, already underway, which assists women in the desert region of Thar to expand construction of latrines and water tanks and to plant thousands of saplings.
In addition, through food for work, the project assists the setting up of income generation projects including poultry farming, handicrafts, tailoring and bee-keeping.
"Women have an incredibly positive and active role in food security," said Morris. "The 13 nominations for this year's Catherine Bertini Award range from literacy programmes in Bolivia to setting up a women's centre in Afghanistan to skills training in Ethiopia. They all show that innovative ideas are being put into practice."
"The involvement of women at all stages of feeding the hungry is essential. It is no longer a target, but a given - and agencies like ours should be creative in our efforts to strengthen the role of women, while lessening their burden," Morris added.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency; each year, WFP provides food aid to an average of 90 million people, including 56 million hungry children, in more than 80 countries.
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