Hunger is an often overlooked cause—and effect—of gender inequality
World Food Program USA
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Around the world, women and girls face many obstacles to advancement, such as unequal access to education, lack of economic opportunity, and disproportionate rates of violence. But one disadvantage women and girls experience often gets overlooked, even though it contributes to and is perpetuated by other gender inequality issues—hunger.


According to global statistics from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the face of hunger is largely female. From mothers sacrificing food for their children to girls' needs being neglected due to discrimination, women and girls experience food insecurity at disproportionate rates. Nearly 500 million women and girls don't have enough to eat, making them 60% of the world's food-insecure population.

Women and girls not getting adequate nutrition isn't just a problem for them personally, but for society as a whole. When mothers are malnourished, pregnancies and infant feeding are compromised, leading to unhealthy outcomes. When women don't get enough calories and nutrition, they struggle to find the energy required to work or care for their families. When girls go hungry, they can't learn well and their education suffers, leading to a cycle of disadvantage.

When women and girls thrive, communities thrive, so tackling hunger for women and girls may help remedy other gender inequality issues as well.

WFP is addressing women and hunger with several initiatives:

Providing School Meals

When families can't afford to send all of their children to school, they often choose to send their sons instead of their daughters. But if parents know meals will be provided at school, they are more likely to send their girls as well. School meals and take-home rations keep girls in the classroom, which makes them more likely to find jobs and build financial stability as adults. WFP has provided millions of school meals in 61 countries and was the world's largest provider of school meals in 2018.

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Supporting Female Farmers

More than half of the world's hungry people are small-scale farmers, and nearly half of small-scale farmers are women. However, only 13 percent of those female farmers are allowed to own land—another example of how gender inequality crosses over multiple issues. If female farmers had the same access to resources as males, they could feed 150 million more people. WFP works to empower female farmers by improving access to resources like fertilizer and farming equipment, as well as providing training in areas like improving production and developing business skills. Investing in local knowledge and tools helps women farmers become more self-sufficient, leading to greater food security for all.

Nourishing Mothers and Infants

More than 3 million children die of hunger each year, and 45 percent of deaths among children under 5 years old are caused by malnutrition. The first 1,000 days of life, from pregnancy to a child's second birthday, are a crucial period for mental and physical development—a time of life when adequate nutrition matters the most. That's why WFP designs nutritional programs and specialized food packets to treat and prevent malnutrition in mothers and children. Last year, WFP reached more than 15 million mothers and babies with their First 1,000 Days program, helping ensure that kids get the healthy start they need.

Empowering Women With Cash-Based Assistance

Hunger is a complex issue with various causes under diverse conditions. Sometimes the most helpful way to solve hunger is by providing cash-based assistance to people so they can buy food themselves, and women are the primary purchasers of food for their families. The power to choose what groceries their family needs restores dignity and contributes to dietary diversity, an essential element of nutrition. It can also strengthen local economies and reduce food costs, waging the hunger battle on more than one front at once. WFP uploads funds to e-cards to enable people to purchase food directly themselves.

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Solving hunger will require diverse approaches from different directions, and the United Nations World Food Programme is working on many fronts at once. Figuring out what to prioritize isn't always easy, but when it comes to hunger, focusing on women and girls has proven to be an effective strategy. When we feed women, we feed the world.

To learn more about what WFP is doing to solve hunger, go to WFP USA Women & Hunger. Want to join the fight to end hunger for women? Follow #WomenAreHungrier and take the #Pledge4Moms.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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