OPED: International Women's Day and food security
For International Women's Day on Thursday, March 8, let's remember what all girls need to achieve their potential: food and education. Tragically, many girls across the globe are without either.
According to the United Nations, "31 million girls of primary school age are out of school. Of these 17 million are expected never to enter school." Many of these girls suffer from hunger and its stunting effects.
But if a girl receives school meals, she can move mountains. Or in the case of Nimdoma Sherpa of Nepal, she can climb them. Nimdoma was, at one time, the youngest woman ever to climb Mount Everest. She is a member of the Seven Summit Women's climbing team, among the greatest athletes in the world.
What made it all possible? Nimdoma credits the school meals she received as a child from the UN World Food Program, which was providing aid in Nepal. The food gave Nimdoma the strength she needed to grow.
When girls receive school meals it ends hunger and provides the nutrition they need to reach their potential as women. The McGovern-Dole global school lunch program, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides school meals in developing countries. One of its main purposes is to improve the attendance of girls in school.
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) uses McGovern-Dole funding to provide school meals in Mali. According to CRS "Our research shows that McGovern-Dole programming has greatly improved overall attendance and reduced hunger in the schools where we work, especially amongst girls... Some children - particularly girls - described how school lunch is the main reason their parents send them to school to begin with, and how parents’ have benefitted from the diminished hunger among their other children because they have one less mouth to feed during the school day."
Suddenly a girl, who may have been forced to work or beg on the street, can go to school instead. She gets a nutritious meal and learns new skills that would have been impossible otherwise. She becomes a breadwinner by bringing take home rations back to the family.
That young girl receiving school meals today is the woman who leads tomorrow. On International Women's Day we should be thinking about how to provide school meals everywhere to help children.
This is particularly crucial among refugees from the wars in Syria, South Sudan and other disaster areas. These children, particularly girls, need the hope that food and education can provide. We should make sure these programs are fully funded to help these refugees through the harshest of times.
The Congress has the power to expand the McGovern-Dole program which only receives about 200 million in funding in a given year. Doubling that amount to 400 million would still make it a very tiny part of the federal budget. As a comparison, nuclear weapons annually cost well over 20 billion at year at least.
Feeding children and helping girls with school meals is a tiny price tag, but with huge returns. Food for education is the road to end hunger and poverty. It’s the foundation for economic success.
According to the World Food Program, “Educating girls is one of the most effective ways to improve food security: when girls are educated they are more likely to be able to meet the nutritional needs of their children and to head households that are food-secure.”
As International Women’s Day arrives let it be a catalyst for action. For Congress they could expand the McGovern-Dole global school lunch program , which will provide great help to girls. Not only does McGovern-Dole provide meals in school, but it also feeds preschoolers and infants. That helps prevent malnutrition which can cause lasting physical and mental damage. The more funding it receives the more children we can reach.
Imagine if you saw a young girl in a developing country who was hungry and sick. You would surely help her get the food she needs to be well and grow. You want to see her go to school and learn. School lunches are the precious gift for all women.
On International Women’s Day let’s remember that food and education for girls can change the world.
— William Lambers is an author who partnered with the UN World Food Program and Catholic Relief Services on the book Ending World Hunger. He writes on History News Network, the Hill and many other news outlets.