Gender equality and the elimination of hunger are closely linked. Women and girls play a crucial role in rural development, but are hindered by structural barriers. Working with a gender perspective in conflict situations increases the effectiveness of development assistance efforts. That is why it is important to put women and gender equality at the center of humanitarian aid and development cooperation, writes Kawinzi Muiu, director of the gender department at the UN's World Food Program (WFP).
My mother always told me that if I did not do well in school, my life would remain in the rural village of Kenya where I grew up. I would look after the cows and harvest the fields. My mother encouraged me and my sisters to go to school and work hard. We did, and today I have the privilege of fighting for gender equality and rural development around the world.
My and my sisters' universes expanded in connection with our education. We began to see things from new perspectives and understand how we fit into the big picture. I received an education, but in many developing countries, millions of girls continue to be excluded from classrooms. The waste of knowledge, the diminution of self-esteem and the lack of financial independence is enormous. 1 in 5 girls in the world get married before the age of 18. 130 million girls between the ages of 6 and 18 do not go to school. Inequality manifests itself in many ways and is closely linked to the goal of the WFP - to eradicate hunger.
The number of people going hungry in the world is now rising for the first time in over a decade. Conflicts around the world have resulted in 815 million people suffering from hunger. Prolonged crises have a devastating effect on the great progress made in recent decades. The world is now facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Gender equality is a prerequisite for eradicating hunger, and the differences become clear in conflict situations. Today, the risk is 11 percentage points greater that women are affected by an insecure food supply than men. But conflicts do not only lead to hunger. Men more often die in combat during a conflict, but women are subjected to sexual violence, torture and forced to flee their homes.
WFP is determined to integrate gender equality and the strengthening of women's empowerment into all our work. Policies and programs must create the conditions for accelerating, instead of undermining, gender equality and the strengthening of women's empowerment. WFP's gender policy emphasizes that everyone needs equal opportunities, equal access to resources and an equal voice in decisions that shape their households and communities.
WFP's gender policy emphasizes that we need to use a gender perspective even in the toughest environments. The gender policy is not women-focused. Our efforts involve men and boys, women and girls, and we work on the basis of the overall goal of equal opportunities. This also needs to happen in the tumult of a crisis. Working with a gender perspective in these situations increases the effectiveness of the efforts and the opportunity to help the most vulnerable people.
Many of the people WFP works with live in rural areas, in similar environments that I myself grew up in. Women and girls have a crucial role to play in rural development and the achievement of the Global Goals, but they are still hampered by structural barriers. Rural women do not have the same access to land as men, they are expected to perform unpaid work at home and they do not have equal access to public and financial services. This weakens not only women's rights and opportunities, but also the opportunity for agricultural and rural development. Resistance to climate change and natural disasters is also declining.
Investing in women in rural areas has strong positive effects. WFP works with the joint UN program to strengthen the economic empowerment of rural women (JP RWEE). Sweden provides important support for this program and together we work with women in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Nepal, Nigeria and Rwanda. The goal is to strengthen the opportunities for rural women by improving access to and control over resources and services. When the rights of rural women are strengthened, they will have greater opportunities to contribute to the elimination of hunger, poverty and discrimination. They will take that responsibility. Women are more likely than men to reinvest their income in education for their children and health care for their families. The results have shown us that this approach is crucial for poverty reduction and the eradication of hunger.
We must ensure that all humanitarian aid and all development cooperation put women and gender equality at the center. Let us together ensure that rural women do not remain the face of poverty. Instead, let them be the face of change and sustainable development. Let them be what my mother was to me - the inspiration and motivation for a better future where we make sure that no one is left in poverty and hunger.
By reason of Stockholm Forum on Gender Equality arranges WFP, FUF and Sida seminar ”Food Security Through a Gendered Lens”With Kawinzi Muiu tonight (16/4) at Sida's head office. You can watch the webcast live at 18:00 on fuf.se.