Written by Caitlin Duncan, Government Relations Fellow
International Women’s Day was initially meant to bring the plight of working women’s rights and issues into the public eye. It has since grown into a global movement to promote women’s rights as human rights and to rally for equal inclusion in political, social, and economic spaces. Whether living in the savannahs of East Africa or an apartment in East L.A., all women should have equal access to justice, education, health care, safety, economic opportunities, political influence, and every other tool necessary to reach their full potential.
At Feed the Children (FEED), we strive to provide hope and resources to those without life’s essentials so that they can reach their potential. We also believe that wherever there is adequate support for women, the whole community stands to benefit. This is why the four pillars of FEED’s international programs—Food & Nutrition, Health & Water, Education, and Livelihoods—all include aspects that benefit women, especially mothers. This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is “Be Bold for Change,” and FEED is proud to be part of the bold work to advance gender parity around the world, and even more proud of the hard work and tenacity of the women we serve.
The following descriptions highlight FEED programs that aim to attain inclusion and empowerment for women and girls.
Empowering Women as Public Health Advocates
In an effort to improve public health outcomes in underserved communities around the world, FEED organizes Care Groups in which community health workers train a core group of local women in topics such as nutrition, family planning, safe food preparation, stigma reduction, and HIV prevention. These local women become community health leaders, regularly teaching 10 to 15 of their neighbors and helping households adopt positive behaviors, so that entire families and communities have improved health and wellness outcomes. The success of Care Groups is driven by empowered women and their capacity to share and support positive change.
Expanding Educational Opportunities for Girls
FEED recognizes that women and girls often face difficulty in achieving academic goals for a host of reasons. According to UNICEF, in cases when a family cannot meet the direct costs of schooling (school supplies, clothing, etc.) and must choose between sending a boy or a girl to school, the boy’s education often takes priority. Part of our work at FEED is pushing back against the factors that lead to such a decision in the first place.
In El Salvador and the Philippines, FEED provides regular tutoring to both mothers and children in reading and comprehension; this means that women who may have missed such instruction in their youth recapture the opportunity to attain this life-changing skill. Additionally, in order to encourage caregivers to enroll their children in school (especially girls), FEED provides educational training and community sensitization through talks, visits, and campaigns. To make attendance more attainable, FEED’s work includes school meals programs that encourage children to go to school and improve academic performance. In the same vein, FEED works with corporate partners to provide school supplies and backpacks in eight program countries and shoes in seven program communities, to directly benefit children in our programs—we strive to break down barriers that keep all children from receiving an education.
Organizing Village Savings and Loan Groups
Village savings and loan (VSL) groups are an effective approach to increasing access to capital, particularly for women. These small groups of community members save and pool their funds together in areas where formal financial institutions are not otherwise available or feasible. VSL groups incorporate women into community efforts at capacity-building, leadership development, and community solidarity. While men and women are both invited to be members of a VSL group, at least three of the five elected committee members are women, ensuring leadership across genders. FEED supports VSL groups in Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and the Philippines, reaching more than 27,000 individuals in 2015.
Supporting Small Business Development
FEED is involved in various community-driven livelihood activities that give women the traction they need to create both sustainable income and social capital, such as business development in El Salvador, Malawi, and Nicaragua. Currently, FEED provides ongoing training and support for business development in areas such as bakeries, natural medicine, tailoring and fabric shops, cosmetology, and community recycling centers. In FY 2016, FEED trained nearly 5,000 adults in El Salvador, Honduras, Malawi and Nicaragua in bakery enterprise and more than 9,000 adults in other income-generating activities. And in some cases, the women who run the bakeries become suppliers for our school feeding programs. Thus, when women are empowered to gain skills and use their talents, the effects ripple through the entire community.
For more information about Feed the Children’s international programs and our support of women internationally, head here, and for more info on our work in the US, head here. For ideas on how you can “Be Bold for Change” as an individual, head to the International Women’s Day site.