Monday, May 18, 2009

Women Bear the Brunt of Hunger

There's a hunger crisis in Africa and women are taking the heaviest nutritional toll as they often choose to feed their children before themselves. MSNBC reported:

Ancient traditions and modern circumstances often combine to place the burden on women to feed their poor families. Researchers say women do as much as 80 percent of the farm work in poor countries. And, with food and fertilizer prices rising, and AIDS and the global financial meltdown taking their toll, women like Ndwandwe are straining under growing responsibilities.

"We eat whatever we can get," said Ndwandwe, after describing a breakfast of corn meal porridge. She said her husband had gotten sick and died but wouldn't say what illness he had. When asked what the family would have for lunch, she said she had no idea.

She has seen the price of an apple rise 50 percent in recent months to the equivalent of about 15 U.S. cents. She used to take the bus to town to buy a bag of apples to sell to her neighbors, the small profits supplementing her garden work.

Now, she can't afford the bus fare — and few of her neighbors can afford fruit.

The consequences of women having to scrape together food for their family, often on their own, can be far-reaching. They may not be there for their children at all, as a poorly fed woman is more likely to die in childbirth. And their babies are also more likely to grow up physically and mentally stunted. It's a vicious circle that deepens misery in Africa and other lands of hunger.

The U.N. estimates women and girls account for 60 percent of the world's nearly 1 billion undernourished people.

This makes me sad and brings up lots of complicated feelings about my own mother. Because, as I've said before, food was scarce in my family when I was growing up and hunger was my near-constant companion. I saw this sacrifice on my mother's part at least once a week and I recognized it for the symbol of love it was (especially since my father's tendency was to take as much as he could).

In the fight for food that was our dinners, we all showed up to the dinner table as soon as it was ready (or sooner) and descended upon our paltry fare with the kind of ravenous obsession that hyenas have when tearing apart a dead animal. Speed was the name of the game, because whoever got those seconds (if there were any) would be gone quickly. Or, as often as not, all of the food was rationed between us all with dad's plate always the fullest and my mother's always the most empty. She would even take the smallest portion and give away part of it to anyone who was actually hungry enough to complain about it.

Watching this at home for years and years amazed me. I wondered how my mom could live on what she ate - and now that I think about it, it probably had as much influence on her constant exhaustion as her emotion-deadening depression did. This sign of strength - existing by sheer force of will it seemed - showed me the amazing power women can have and the sometimes shocking demands of having children.

Here's wishing the best to all the hungry mothers out there. You ladies deserve it.

If you'd like to help make a difference, please donate to the World Food Programme, which provided nearly 4 million tons of food to 102 million people just last year - as well as supporting community changes to simplify food procurement.

Related posts:
Poverty and Hunger (Blog Action Day)
FreeRice: Play to End World Hunger
Cultures Threatened as Climate Changes

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1 comment:

Applecart T. said...

it's one of the reasons i don't have children … umbilical cords are just the beginning …