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Spring is on the way, even if the weather in many places hasn’t yet caught up with the calendar. March is the month we celebrate Women’s History Month in the United States and International Women's Day on March 8.
Bread for the World Institute emphasizes that ending hunger and malnutrition will require gender and racial equity. When researchers or advocates look at the root causes of hunger and visualize the conditions that would be part of a world without hunger, gender issues emerge every time.
In this issue, we include a look at women’s history of work to reduce hunger in the United States, consider the resonance of the Green New Deal proposals with Americans, and ask ourselves whether the new, more diverse 116th Congress will lead to progress against hunger.
We also look at global action to end both gender inequity and hunger. Here are two examples showing that the two are inextricably linked. From the point of view of agricultural specialists and farmers, ending hunger in the context of population growth and climate change will certainly require more effective use of available resources. One significant way to accomplish this is to look for land that could be producing more, and people who could be better nourished, if barriers were removed. This leads to gender equity, among other solutions, because women’s lack of equal land rights and other forms of discrimination lead to lower agricultural productivity. The world simply cannot afford continued waste of women’s potential.
Or suppose anti-hunger advocates are developing strategies to “leave no one behind,” a phrase that Institute Insights readers see often because it is integral to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that our country has adopted. Ensuring that no one is left behind will require many diverse approaches, including recognizing that while many of those who are still at risk are women and girls, others are boys—whether infants, children, or teenagers—whose mothers are responsible for providing them with food and other basic necessities. Gender inequities put human beings, regardless of gender, at greater risk of hunger.
Both “the world can’t afford it” and “gender inequity hurts everyone” are among the many reasons for men to be full participants in the movement for gender equity. This International Women’s Day, Friday, March 8, has the theme #BalanceforBetter. It emphasizes that the world, and all people, are better off—in every way—with a more equal gender balance.
“Collective action and shared responsibility for driving a gender-balanced world is key,” organizers said. It is important that “achieve gender equity” does not become just another item on a long list of things that women are expected to accomplish.
International Women's Day celebrates women’s contributions while also calling for faster progress toward gender equity. As organizers explain, “The race is on for the gender-balanced boardroom, a gender-balanced government, gender-balanced media coverage, a gender-balance of employees, more gender-balance in wealth, gender-balanced sports coverage ...”
Organizers have developed both general and specific messages for individuals and for groups. The general messages emphasize what everyone—men, women, and children—can do in daily life: “I/We will challenge stereotypes and bias,” “I/We will celebrate women’s achievements,” or “I/We will forge positive visibility of women.”
Other messages are tailored for activities or groups of people. For example, a message for dances and parties aimed at celebrating women’s accomplishments or progress on gender equity is “Join the Party for Gender Parity,” with hashtag DanceRebellion.
More specific messages are based on advocates’ identification of problems or causes of problems. For example, the following message and actions are intended for scholars and professors, responding to the finding that on average, academics cite the work of women in academia only seven times for every 10 times they cite work by men: “I pledge to address the citation disparity in my discipline,” by citing women more often, sharing female colleagues’ scholarly work more widely, and paying attention to citations in articles they are asked to review.
One reason it has proven difficult to achieve gender equity and end hunger is that people assume that the way things are, or have always been, must be the best way of doing things. Today, we scoff at the argument, made by men who opposed female suffrage in the early 20th century, that there was no need for women to vote since they would just vote for the candidates their husbands voted for.
Yet when, for example, only 4 percent of the peace treaties signed in recent decades include women as negotiators or even mention gender, we often do not recognize the need to learn the lessons of relevant past issues such as women’s suffrage. In this case, the main lesson is that women have diverse talents, experiences, strengths, and priorities—from each other, and from men. Their participation is not merely a duplication of men’s participation. And, in fact, recent experience confirms this in the case of war: when women are involved in peace negotiations, ex-combatants are far less likely to take up arms again.
As we know, gender equity is a matter of fairness and fundamental human rights. Men and women alike need to recognize that it is also essential to putting the best ideas on the table and enacting laws and policies that will work.
Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute.
By Marlysa D. Gamblin
March is Women’s History Month—a time to celebrate the contributions that women have made in our country and around the world. Achieving gender equity will help us move closer to ending hunger—in fact, the world cannot end hunger without it.
Gender equity means recognizing men and women as human beings of equal value. Recorded human history has consistently overlooked women’s work and accomplishments. Recognizing women’s past and current initiatives in the struggle against hunger helps correct this neglect, which both reflects and causes the undervaluation of women as human beings. Lifting up this work, much of which has been proven to reduce hunger, will get us closer to our 2030 goal.
Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman to be elected to the House of Representatives, was a champion of equal rights for women. Her speech on the House floor, “Equal Rights for Women,” on May 21, 1969, argued that gender discrimination in the workforce only sustained and exacerbated inequality, and therefore greater poverty among women and their children. Back then, Chisholm, along with other women advocates, recognized that women’s inability to compete on an equal basis for good jobs put them at higher risk of unemployment, underemployment, poverty, and hunger.
Chisholm also understood the role of discrimination in maintaining job segregation by gender. Women were relegated to the lowest-paying jobs. Chisholm brought to the national stage the fact that only 2 percent of people in managerial positions were women. For decades, women have graduated from college and earned advanced degrees at higher rates than men, but this has failed to spur significant improvements in gender pay gaps.
Although there has been some progress, women are still underrepresented in leadership positions. For example, less than 30 percent of senior-level corporate managers are women. For more on underrepresentation in political leadership, see “More Diversity in Congress: What Will It Mean for Hunger Advocacy?” in this issue of Institute Insights.
One of Shirley Chisholm’s foremothers was the African American female activist Rosina Tucker, a leader in the fight for equal pay as early as the 1920s. Tucker helped organize the first Black labor union in the 1920s. Unions have proven to be an important vehicle to help secure equal pay and equal opportunity in employment. They are especially important for women of color, who experience discrimination at the intersection of gender and race. Women-led organizations such as the American Association of University Women (AAUW) have continued the work for equal pay by publishing research on the gender pay divide and advocating for policies that will reduce it.
Chisholm concluded her speech by stating that our nation needs laws to protect working people, to guarantee them fair pay, safe working conditions, health insurance, and unemployment insurance. The National Women’s Law Center is a women-led organization that is continuing much of the work of Shirley Chisholm and the women who came before her. The National Women’s Law Center has, for example, proposed and pressed for strategies to end job segregation. This in itself would undo some of the impacts of gender discrimination, since, as earlier mentioned, job segregation remains a problem. Women are disproportionately represented in the 10 lowest-paying occupations in the country, and they work disproportionately in jobs that pay below-poverty wages—as low as $2.13 an hour for tipped-based jobs. They work disproportionately in jobs that do not offer benefits, including sick leave. Women are more likely to work in unsafe work environments and to suffer sexual violence at work.
Ending gender job segregation, ensuring fair pay for all women, and ensuring job protections for female workers are all policies that have been initiated and advocated for by women of every race and ethnicity, whether in elected office, unions, or national organizations. We have mentioned just a few of the ways women have, for the past 100 years, played a critical role in shaping policies that will help end hunger. When we celebrate Women’s History Month by honoring the leadership of these women and lifting up their work, we can draw on their experiences and sense of hope as we continue efforts to see that policies that reflect our shared ideals are enacted.
Marlysa D. Gamblin is domestic advisor, policy and programs, specific populations, with Bread for the World Institute.
By Todd Post
You have to respect the ambition of the Green New Deal. At Bread for the World, we are all about ambition. After all, we believe it’s possible to end hunger, and we’ve set out to help make it happen.
House Resolution 109, “Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal,” introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in January and joined by 68 co-sponsors, is first and foremost an ambitious agenda to shift national priorities rapidly enough to avert the cascading catastrophes of the current climate change trajectory.
In addition to generating all electricity from clean, renewable sources of power, such as solar and wind, the shift in priorities outlined in the Green New Deal includes addressing economic and social inequities that are only being exacerbated by climate change. For example, H.Res. 109 calls for a guaranteed job at a family-sustaining wage for everyone who needs one, guaranteed health care, and safe, affordable housing. These are just some highlights.
Neither the term Green New Deal nor its proposals originate with H.Res. 109. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is credited with having coined the term as early as 2007. The Millennial generation, people born between 1981 and 1996, came of age during and in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Their frustration fuels some of the provisions less directly related to climate change.
There are few challenges facing humanity as breathtaking as climate change, which is why anything less than a super-ambitious Green New Deal would seem grossly inadequate. I cannot help drawing comparisons with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), another frequent topic here in Institute Insights. Adopted by the United States and 193 other countries in 2015, the SDGs also envision a transformed world, without hunger and extreme poverty and with gender equity, health care, and education. The SDGs also call for humanity to fight climate change with the energy and commitment it demands. There are 17 SDGs, so I am leaving a lot out, but I’m sure you get the gist.
Americans are talking about the Green New Deal. Traditional media and social media across the political and social spectrums are engaged in spirited debates about it. The SDGs don’t have nearly as much name recognition.
Not long after the SDGs were adopted, I was speaking to a college class on the relationship between climate change and hunger. I mentioned the SDGs and was not surprised when none of the students had heard of them. I encouraged them to learn more about the goals, but I was taken aback when one of the students said the word “sustainable” was probably too incendiary for many of his fellow students. Why? I asked. The answer was essentially that it had a ring of liberal piety. Other students in the room agreed. I was the one getting educated.
But just a few years later, we’re hearing widespread public discussion of the Green New Deal. I think it’s a compelling way to engage people in our country with the SDGs. Although the Green New Deal is not the mirror image of the SDGs, the two have a lot in common. As I’ve written recently, the Green New Deal reminds people of the New Deal, which resonates with Americans.
There’s a recognition that the New Deal helped millions of U.S. families during and after the Great Depression. The New Deal certainly benefited my own family. The breadwinner in my family was a blue-collar worker, and New Deal labor policies provided us with an entrée into the middle class. The SDGs don’t have that connection with the U.S. past. That is not a criticism, but an observation that helps make the case for “rebranding” them. All of these various goals are ambitious and will need the help of people all over the country. We should think about how we can best engage potential advocates.
Todd Post is senior researcher, writer, and editor with Bread for the World Institute.
By Michele Learner
We’ve now observed the early weeks of the 116th Congress, which continues to receive a great deal of attention as the most diverse in U.S. history. At Bread for the World Institute, our question is: Will the election of more legislators from underrepresented groups, notably women of color, help end hunger in the United States and around the world?
Early proposals in the House of Representatives on government transparency, climate change, and broad social justice issues are encouraging (for more, see “The Green New Deal: Building a Brand” in this issue of Institute Insights). Control of the federal government is divided, with the administration and the Senate in the hands of one political party, and the House led by the other party.
Past experiences in our country and others offer reason for hope that a growing share of female leaders will make a difference. Analysts have tracked government actions and decisions to help determine how more equal gender representation in past situations has affected social, economic, foreign affairs, and other types of policies and priorities.
Thus far, the data on what happens as a result of an increase in numbers has been somewhat limited, but the U.S. Congress had a trend of larger numbers of women even prior to the 2018 midterm elections. In 1991, there were 33 women in Congress. By 2016, there were 104. One milestone came in 2013, when a record 20 women served in the Senate. Nonetheless, women of all races and men of color remain significantly underrepresented.
Researchers have found some differences between how women and men work in Congress. Findings show consistently that female legislators are more likely to introduce legislation that specifically benefits women—for example, prosecuting violence against women, increasing paid leave, or providing health care.
Moreover, they are more successful in getting bills passed than men—up to twice as many were enacted. Female legislators secure more funding for programs in their districts. Between 1984 and 2004, they sent an average of 9 percent more home to their constituents than men did.
The author of the study that documented these differences argues that one possible explanation hinges on the fact that women are less likely to believe they are qualified to serve in Congress. This means that those women who do run for office and get elected may have stronger qualifications than many of their male counterparts.
Meanwhile, gender norms still pose barriers to women who might otherwise run for office. For example, research from 2008 found that women with enough experience and education to be likely congressional candidates were 15 times as likely to be responsible for child care at home, and six times as likely to do the majority of housework.
Bread for the World Institute’s 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish... We Can End Hunger, looks at some of the dynamics that affect women running for office in the United States. In line with the research just mentioned, the report emphasizes the constraints of the unpaid care work that women are expected to perform, in both the U.S. and international contexts. We also note some policy changes in other countries that appear to be the result of increased female participation.
It has been more than two decades since India opened the door for hundreds of thousands of women to be elected to local councils. Researchers have found that female councilmembers place greater emphasis than men on some social services, particularly education, clean water, and sanitation. Rwanda has the world’s first majority-female parliament. As time goes on, it will become clearer in what ways such a parliament will make a difference for the country’s large proportion of hungry and malnourished people.
The new U.S. Congress is more representative of people of color, particularly women. In fact, there will be more legislators of color in the 116th Congress than at any other point in U.S. history—between 26 percent and 27 percent of the total membership.
Women, particularly women of color, continue to record other “firsts”—and this nearly a century after most U.S. women won suffrage. In 2013, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) became the first woman of color to serve in both the House and the Senate. The two Native American women elected in November 2018 are the first to serve in Congress. Native Americans were denied U.S. citizenship until 1924, and in some states, they could not vote until 1948. Fewer than two dozen Native American men have ever served in Congress, and as yet, no Alaskan Natives have been elected.
For the first time, the number of women in the House of Representatives has reached triple digits. Female representation in the House and Senate combined is at a new high of 23 percent. The number of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Congress, meanwhile, has reached double digits – 10. And, perhaps just as important to progress against hunger as diversity by race and gender, there is greater age diversity in Congress. In fact, the average age of a member of Congress dropped by 10 years when the new Congress was installed.
Electing a Congress that “looks like America” is a matter of fairness. But in addition, the inclusion of lawmakers with a wider range of personal and family experiences could also spur progress against hunger and food insecurity. Bread for the World will continue to advocate with and for people who are facing these unnecessary hardships in a wealthy country such as the United States.
Michele Learner is associate editor with Bread for the World Institute.
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