An article on the July 20, 2008 front page of the Washington Post, as well as a series of articles and videos on WashingtonPost.com, demonstrate the unequal impact the food crisis is having on African women, many of whom eat the last and eat the least.
The articles, Africa’s Last and Least , and In Africa, One Family’s Struggle with the Global Food Crisis , both written by post reporter Kevin Sullivan, describe the lives of two women in Burkina Faso. Fanta Lingani, a street sweeper who struggles to feed over a dozen children, and Ruth Bamogo, a rural woman whose family is forced to get by with only a few bites of cornmeal a day.
Read about Women Thrive’s recent trip to Burkina Faso here. 
“Things have never been bountiful in [Bamogo’s] village,” Sullivan writes, “but a year ago Bamogo said her family had three meals a day, and those regularly included rice and meat, with tomatoes and onions and other fresh vegetables. A drought and then severe flooding devastated harvests across the country last year. Then on top of that, international market factors far beyond their control have pushed up the price of everything.”
The stories of Lingani and Bamogo point to one of the most tragic, but fixable, problems of poverty: despite being the backbones of economies and often growing the majority of the food supply, women are the hardest hit by poverty and face extreme and unequal economic barriers to escape it. The global food crisis, which has plunged millions of already poor families worldwide even deeper into poverty, is no exception.
“In poor nations, such as Burkina Faso in the heart of West Africa, mealtime conspires against women. They grow the food, fetch the water, shop at the market, and cook the meals. But when it comes time to eat, men and children eat first, and women eat last and least,” writes Sullivan.
But there are solutions. Ironically, it is those who are most affected by the food crisis—women—who are most likely to end it. This is because women are more likey to invest extra income and resources into their children and families, creating a multiplier effect that lifts entire families out of poverty. In many places, for example, if women had the same access as men to land, seed, and fertilizer, agricultural productivity could increase by up to 20 percent. Imagine how much food that is for hungry families like Ruth Bamogo’s.
Solutions: Invest in Women to Feed Families
The U.S., through its international development programs, has a huge impact on the lives of poor families in countries like Burkina Faso. But our programs don’t target the barriers women face. The result? We are losing a huge opportunity to transform the lives of women like Lingani and Bamogo and the many dependents they support.
If we are serious about ending poverty, we need to prioritize the needs of women in our foreign assistance programs.
Here are few ways we can do that:
1. Support bills like the GROWTH Act , which address some of the economic barriers women in developing countries face: lack of access to land and property rights, micro-finance and training for starting and growing small businesses, including agriculture, and access to trade opportunities.
2. Ask the Congress and the next President to reform our foreign assistance system. With a new President and increasing political will in Congress, we have a unique window to fix our foreign assistance system so that it effectively combats poverty for men and women.
3. Support programs that are already helping women deal with the food crisis. In 2006, the Millenium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. foreign assistance program that has recently faced threats to its funding, introduced a ground-breaking gender policy that incorporates the needs of women into its work. One result: it helped women in Lesotho achieve the right to own property, meaning they are more able to get credit for seed and fertilizer to grow food for their families.
Find out more and download our fact sheet.
Photo Caption: Nora O’Connell and Cataline Rojas of Women Thrive Worldwide on their recent trip to Burkina Faso.
Photo courtesy of Women Thrive Worldwide