Across the globe, women and girls are severely affected by poverty, hunger, and disease. Last to eat, and often least as well, women tend to forgo food when it is limited. They make up almost half of the agricultural labor force, juggling this work with unpaid care responsibilities for their family, yet all too often don’t have the opportunity to eat what they grow. And these inequalities are only being exacerbated by COVID-19.
Food banks around the world have recognized the tremendous challenges faced by women and from Nigeria, to the Philippines, to Mexico, to Peru, they have met these challenges with programs targeting the specific needs of women and girls in their communities.
The 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday is crucial for mothers and children. It is a critical time of brain growth and development; good nutrition during this period is directly connected to a child’s ability to do well in school and earn a good living later in life. Indeed, studies have shown that failing to provide for the well-being of women and children during the first 1,000 days can lead to lower economic productivity.
The importance of good nutrition during this period in a woman’s life has not gone unnoticed by food banks in Nigeria and the Philippines. For example, in Nigeria Lagos Food Bank Initiative created the Nutritious Meal Plan for Vulnerable Mothers and Children (NUMEPLAN) to help improve the nutrition and food intake of young pregnant mothers who were unable to receive the nutrients needed during the pregnancy and breast feeding. In addition to assistance throughout their pregnancy, NUMEPLAN prepares these women for their future, providing job training and placement programs for continued success. Since 2019, this program has supported over 1500 young mothers and their babies.
And in the Philippines, Rise Against Hunger Philippines runs the First 1,000 Days Program in partnership with the Department of Health. This program provides meal packs to pregnant and lactating women at health clinics, alongside antenatal care, post-partum checkups, nutrition classes, vitamin supplementation, vaccinations, and follow-up medical appointments for children. Not only do these meals guarantee necessary nutrition for the women, but they also serve as an incentive to encourage the women to visit the clinics regularly and attend nutrition education classes.
But it’s not only pregnant women who are being targeted by special food bank programs. Recognizing the link between good nutrition and increased economic opportunities, food banks have expanded their programs to incorporate learning opportunities, specifically for women who make so many of the nutrition decisions for their families.
Bancos de Alimentos de México (BAMX) identified the need to educate women about nutrition and responded by creating Comer en Familia. This program specifically targets mothers and heads of households by promoting the proper selection, preparation, and use of local foods for families facing hunger and malnutrition. Comer en Familia is currently being implemented in 27 food banks across 12 states in Mexico and has reached nearly 100,000 people. In 2020, the program went digital in order to reach a wider audience during COVID-19.
And in Peru, the Comedor Popular (Soup Kitchen) program seeks to alleviate hunger in disadvantaged communities. The soup kitchens are operated by female leaders in the community and offer a place for women to learn about the nutritional benefits of their meals and how to prepare meals with local, nutritious products. Banco de Alimentos Perú operates 176 community soup kitchens that have served more than 8,000 people to date.
In every region of the world, women are more likely than men to be food insecure and the global pandemic has only made the problem of hunger worse and the inequalities more entrenched. However, when given the necessary resources and opportunities, women fight hunger, malnutrition, and poverty, and drive development for their communities. Food banks too are engines of change in their communities, and food bank leaders worldwide have recognized the immense potential of healthy, well-fed women. Inclusive, resilient food systems can only exist if all people are fed and healthy; food banks are making sure this is possible.