Week 6 / Women and Hunger

When our oldest son Jesse was about 4 years old, my wife Nanci (who is ever vigilant about such things) pointed to a passing bus and said,

“Look Jesse,  a woman bus driver!”

“No!” said Jess emphatically, as if such a thing were not possible.

We’ve ribbed him about it many times since but it really did surprise me that a young boy, with reasonably progressive parents, would have so early adopted prejudicial  paradigms that were, in his mind, unquestionable.

Twenty-some years later I’m in Ethiopia with a traveling companion (Heather Plett* -then communications coordinator for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank) who asked,

“When you hear the word farmer, do you get a picture of a man or a woman?”

“Man,” I say.

“Curious you would conjure a male image when by far most farmers in the world are women.”

“No.” I say emphatically.

“Yes.” said Heather… emphatically.

And yet, knowing the facts and having been to many areas of the world where those facts are easily verifiable, I still conjure an image of a man when I hear the word farmer.

And so when the Canadian Foodgrains Bank writes policy papers encouraging our government to adopt programs that support the local farmer in developing countries, what should be dawning on us is that this is a plea for the mothers of those 30,000 children who died recently in the Horn of Africa.

Sam Vander Ende

In 2008, while bumping along a coarse gravel road in the highlands of Ethiopia, I asked Sam Vander Ende (CFGB Field Representative, Addis Ababa) what, in his opinion, was the best use of development dollars.

“Invest in the women,” he said without reservation, “it’s by far the best bang for your buck.  Men tend to seize resources and use them to fortify their own social stature and economic advantage.   Women, however, are more likely to use resources in a way that benefits the community.” **

Women are the nurturers. The word nurture derives from the latin nutrire which has the double connotation of feed and cherish. From the same root we get nature and nourish.  It should be no surprise that the ones who first nourish us from the moment of our birth, continue, on a global scale, to be the single largest demographic most passionately occupied with the production and distribution of food – so much so, that when food becomes scarce, women are the most likely to volunteer their own portions for the sake of family members.

It should be fairly evident that any policies that hope to eradicate poverty would focus on  fortifying these natural nurturers. Those policies would not only  encourage practical support “for the small farmer”  but  also enact  laws that protect women and their rights; policies that encourage the safety, health and education of female children; policies that demonstrate we understand and respect the fact  that men, for the most part, have to learn by discipline and virtue what for women is… well… natural.

My foster daughter is a First Nations mother with three gorgeous children. She and her two youngest have recently moved in with Nanci and I while they re-establish a life for themselves in the city.  She currently lives on a social assistance program which is so meagre that I can’t for the life of me figure out the metrics of survival for one adult never mind a single adult with children. And her prospects for prosperity, by virtue of skin colour, are rather dismal. Yet her capacity for her children is nothing short of heroic; the pride she takes in their appearance; the daily efforts made for them to experience life to the full; the patient tenderness evident in her every action.  If I were to invest in those children’s future, I’d bank on the mom.

Those of us concerned with issues of chronic poverty at home or overseas need to support organizations who understand the primary  role of women in the battle for our future. We need to relentlessly hound our governments to adopt policies that reflect a progressive understanding of the issues; that directly benefit women and perhaps look with some caution on solutions which tend to benefit corporations** whose interests (understandably enough) are profits, rather than the small farmer of the Ethiopian highlands whose name sounds suspiciously female.



Bangladesh / 2008

This is Blog 6 from a six-week coffee fast I undertook in support of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank’s FAST FOR CHANGE campaign.  I’m officially off the fast now but surprisingly am not in any hurry to re-establish my frenetic habit.  It has been meaningful for me to set aside this time to attend to the needs of others and the needs of the planet. It has been good to have a heightened awareness of related news around the globe. It has been good to write down thoughts that came from this exercise.  It has been sobering to learn more about my own complicity with systems that perpetuate hunger. It is good to begin to change patterns of living that are harmful to others. There is something to this fasting thing.  Perhaps it is something that should become more of a lifestyle commitment rather than an occasional one:

Fast and Pray. Fast and Advocate. Fast and Give  

There are worse ways to live a life.


Learn more about the CANADIAN FOODGRAINS BANK…

Learn more about FAST FOR CHANGE…

Read previous blogs from this series:

* Photos of women and children courtesy of Heather Plett. See Heather’s blog: Sophia Leadership

** Clearly not every woman is a saint nor every man and corporation a demon.  These are general statements made only on the assumption that readers understand the limitations of a blog to identify and clarify the obvious and many exceptions.

Listen to FAST FOR CHANGE radio HERE…

7 thoughts on “Week 6 / Women and Hunger

  1. Thanks, Steve, for your concern for women. My husband and I have been to Sierra Leone several times to teach war widows how to sew. Our experience has been that giving women resources produces dignity and stability and prosperity for them and their families.
    In her book, The Blue Sweater, Jacqueline Novogratz tells of her journey to support women through various means including the Acumen Fund. It’s a fascinating, easy read.

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