Malala, a fearless education advocate, has spoken passionately about why the world must educate the 60 million girls that are out of school today. Tapping their energy and potential is seen as key to solving some of the world’s most pressing challenges — including ending the scourge of global hunger.
So here’s the connection: Many girls in low-income countries face unique barriers to education and nutrition. Parents often keep girls at home to care for relatives; girls are sometimes married off young; and girls are often the last to eat when there is limited food at home. For those who choose to become mothers, this lack of education may also impact whether their kids have good nutrition and whether they are able to lead food-secure households.
Want to learn more? Check out these six things you may not know about women, girls and hunger:
- Women and girls make up more than 50 percent of the world’s agricultural workers and serve as the backbone of food production systems in many low-income countries, thus fueling economic growth and community development. Yet at the same time, female farmers in these same areas are often denied access to land rights, financial resources and the technology necessary to succeed.
- Although women play a critical role as food producers through small-scale farming, cultural traditions and social norms often mean women feel the brunt of hunger and poverty more than men. In some countries, women eat last, well after all the male members and children in the household have been fed. As a result, 60 percent of the hungry are women and girls.
- More than 31 million primary-aged girls around the world don’t go to school. And that’s a big deal when the World Bank reports that every year a girl stays in primary school boosts her future wages by up to 20 percent. To incentivize attendance, school meals programs have been shown to significantly improve school enrollment and attendance rates among girls.
- Many girls are also kept home from school to work and help put food on the table. In Malawi, one nonprofit, through its Goats for Girls program, is introducing a creative way to provide families with a better financial foundation and enable them to send their daughters to the classroom. The program involves giving a goat to vulnerable households, to generate income and alleviate the financial need for sending girls to work, freeing them up to learn and grow without impacting the family’s finances.
- When women and girls earn income, they put that money to good use. According to WFP and the United Nations Girls Education Initiative, they reinvest 90 percent back into their families — buying things from books to medicine to mosquito nets. This provides them with a direct benefit in their future and a broader economic impact for their communities.
- Data is already showing how women are doing their part to solve global hunger. According to a 2013 study conducted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the Asian Development Bank, women’s education alone contributed to a 43 percent reduction in hunger in the Asia-Pacific region from 1970 to 1995, while longer life expectancy for women was connected to an additional 12 percent decline in hunger levels. Gender equality is the “single most important determinant of food security,” said Olivier De Schutter, then U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food.