While Men Eat Their Fill, Women Go Hungry


I usually spend the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur obsessing over my hunger, steering clear of the kitchen and counting the hours until I can eat again. But last week, my grumbling stomach gave me something to really grumble about: the 925 million people around the world who can’t grab a snack at their fridge a few feet away, and who don’t get to break their fast with deli trays and dessert spreads. And of the few that do get to eat, most tend to be men. In fact, women make up more than 60% of those starving, even though they are less than half of the world’s population. Gender inequality is causing a food gap.

Mahabouba, from Ethiopia, was just a teenage girl when she got pregnant with her first child. As she was so malnourished, she developed a fistula, and could not give birth to her baby. When experts took a closer look at Mahabouba’s family life, they found that the men were well fed and in perfect health, while the women suffered from starvation.

In their recent book, Half the Sky, co-authors Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn tell the story of Mahabouba and other girls like her, affected by the same disparity, from countries all over the globe.

The 2011 Nepal Demographic and Health Survey highlights Nepal as one of these countries. The survey discovered that in the remote northwest, more than half of all girls are “chronically malnourished.” Many of rural Nepal’s patriarchal societies deprive women of the abundant fruit and grain found in the area.

Indra Raj Panta, program officer for Decentralized Action for Children and Women, offers an explanation for the disparity: “Girls are neglected because they are thought not to need strength.”

This is ironic, considering that Nepal’s culture requires females to work so hard. Women carry baskets of food and rocks on their heads. They walk miles to bring buckets of water to their villages. They cook and clean and raise their children. Despite all this, they are offered the dinner’s leftovers, while husbands and sons get the most nutritious food first.

It’s a vicious cycle. Women who are malnourished give birth to weak children, and cannot feed them as a result of a reduced breast milk supply. This can lead to a generation of stunted, underweight children, at risk of getting infections.

So how do we stop the cycle? Tara devi Sejuwal, a health worker in Urthu, Nepal, says supporting maternal healthcare is the answer. As of now, communities expect pregnant women to fulfill all of their usual tasks. It has even become a tradition that women be deprived of doctors’ check-ups. She says that if improvements were made, and births were spread out between children, kids could be born with a healthy foundation.

But even with better maternal health, the food gap would still be an issue. That’s why several NGOs, like the World Food Program, are working in Nepal and in countries around the world to change the way men think. Educating men about women may be the first step to improving women’s lives.


Related Stories:

How You Can Help Stop the Africa Famine: Ask 5 For 5

How The Cry of a Healthy Baby Can Save The World (Video)

Newborn Death Rates Decline Worldwide


Photo from J McDowell via flickr creative commons


Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra6 years ago

Thank you Isabel, for Sharing this!

Tammy Andrews
Tammy Andrews7 years ago

Cannot understand how men can think this way and not love and respect women as well as amimals and all life.

Donegal Higgins
Past Member 7 years ago

Yet another demonstration of why feminism remains important.

Shania Chadha
Past Member 7 years ago


Ellen M.
Ellen M7 years ago

This is appalling! So, the men can't see what's right in front of them? Obscene.

Trudi Gray
Trudi Gray7 years ago

LILITHE M- your grandmother has, I fear, herself to blame..by her indulgence of a man who has to be the last word in selfishness, she perpetuates her own shameful treatment......in her position, I would tell him to get it himself......IF I were still living with the pig. No-one should have to put up with such barbaric treatment- is she not a person? Doesn't she KNOW that she is?

My sympathies lie with her, BUT she can change this- unless she is terrified of him, in which case, all the more reason to leave the bastard.

Sharon Schaffhauser

I believe it will change the more we communicate. When a woman stands up for her rights to equal food, water, air, and education. When a woman says no to deprivation and being bullied. When a woman realizes she has the same birthrights as a man. When a woman (man with a womb) realizes that she gives rise to the next generation, that she can influence this next generation to change it's attitude, then will she be empowered. Just because a tradition exists, does not mean it is good. Change it, if it does not work anymore. I believe we are all born with a natural dowry, given to us by Divine Source. Wherever we go, the rain will fall to water us, feed us. But when we neglect each other, our Divine Source dries up and leaves us barren and in a state of Famine. When we Honour each other, the rains come and natures abundance overflows.... Blessings to All

Linda McKellar
Past Member 7 years ago

Having seen this first hand it is absolutely true. Men, especially soldiers, come first.
How often do you see men starving on the news regarding famines. 99% of the time it's women and children.
Education, education, education! That's the only thing that will stop this cycle.

Robert F.

A shift in thinking across the board is essential to fixing this problem. Patriarchal religions combine religious truths with patriarchal entitlement thinking creating a situation almost impervious to change. This educational program has to embrace deeply embedded mythological and religious dogmas as well as common sense rational concerns before real change can take place. Gender roles need to be redefined, not deconstructed. Rather than expecting women to compete with men in a man's world, we need to look at what makes women so mythically valuable to creation. What is it about women that gives them such mythic power in the minds of men, and why do male religions seek to keep women tied down? It is time to deconstruct the patriarchy. Not into a remake of the old matriarchy. More into an equiarchy, a system of balance, equality, and respect between the genders. This will require a retelling of mythologies, especially in places where women are abused, in ways that are balanced and honor the feminine. Nothing less will work.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W7 years ago