How to empower women through food opportunities

It is essential that women have equal access to financial resources and food to build a world without hunger. Right now, women and girls make up 60% of the 345 million people around the world who face severe hunger. For Women’s History Month, we’ll look at this gender gap and how the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) is working to close it.

At the current rate of progress, it will take the world 300 years to achieve full gender equality. Until then, women will continue to be disproportionately affected by the global hunger crisis:

  1. In countries experiencing conflict and famine, women often eat last and least.
  2. While more than half of the world’s farmworkers are women, only 13% own the land they farm. When women own the land, their harvests are 20-30% lower than men’s. This difference is not due to a lack of skills but because, in most cases, women do not have the same access to loans and tools.
  3. Certain structural and cultural inequalities disempower women. For example, on average, women have only three quarters of the legal protections granted to men.

Each year, more than half of the people served by the UN World Food Program are women and girls. Through resilience-building projects and emergency food assistance, the UN World Food Program equips women with the food, tools and training they need to survive extreme hunger and withstand future shocks.

School meals empower and nourish girls

In countries like Yemen, daily school meals help keep children like Ferdous fed and focused on their studies. Ferdous and her family have fled their homes several times due to the war in Yemen. Today she is safe and settled in Mokha, where she attends a school supported by the United Nations World Food Program. Every morning, Ferdous volunteers to distribute our fortified snacks to her classmates. And every day, Ferdous dreams of becoming a doctor, a dream she is closer to becoming a reality thanks to the nutrition and education she can depend on.

Photo: WFP/Mohammed Awadh

Fardous distributing WFP High Energy Biscuits (HEBs) to students at his school.

“If I study, I will become a doctor and treat people from my family and other people,” Ferdous said. “If a girl works, she will serve her homeland, her family and everyone. She will work for them.”

Globally, girls are less likely than boys to attend school due to factors such as poverty, cultural and social norms, child marriage, and gender-based violence. School meals help families overcome these challenges:

  • With the cost of a daily meal covered, parents can redirect that money to other pressing needs like housing and health care. These savings add up and help reduce poverty.
  • Girls are kept in the classroom instead of helping around the house or get married at a young age.
  • With daily, nutritious meals, girls can focus on their studies and learn the skills they need to succeed in life.

The UN World Food Program is the world’s largest provider of school meals, feeding more than 15 million children each year. Learn more about our school meals program.

Cash and food stamps boost women’s purchasing power

In some crisis areas, markets are still functioning and food is available, simply inaccessible to those trapped in extreme poverty. When this happens, we provide cash assistance in the form of cash, food stamps, debit cards, or electronic cards. This kind of help empowers women like Anastasia, who are often the sole breadwinners and decision makers for their families, to buy what they need.

Photo: WFP/Edmond Khoury

Anastasiia and her family are completely dependent on WFP humanitarian assistance. WFP’s multipurpose cash program is a way to give displaced people the ability and dignity to buy the most essential items they need, at any given time.

Anastasia is a primary school teacher in the Ukraine who had to flee the day after the war started. As she packed to leave, she felt that her life was, in her words, “completely ruined.” Today, she and her family have hope for the future thanks to our cash assistance to cover her food and transportation needs.

Cash assistance from the United Nations World Food Program provides women with the means to buy essential items such as food, medicine and hygiene items. Learn more about our food stamps and cash assistance programs.

Tools, land and leadership opportunities transform women farmers’ small businesses

With the right resources and opportunities, women can build and maintain their own businesses.

Through the Food for Assets (FFA) program of the United Nations World Food Programme, smallholder farmers gain access to the tools, land and training they need to grow food and earn an income. Farmers like Alilia are also equally involved in the decision-making and planning processes to manage FFA projects.

Photo: WFP/Giulio d’Adamo

With the help of WFP, the women of this community have transformed their land into hope and opportunity for the families here. They are growing drought resistant crops, producing organic pesticides and now they are prepared for the dry season.

Alilia, a widow with 15 children, lives in a region of Central America known as the Dry Corridor for its long periods of drought. Without water, Alilia’s crops fail and she is unable to support her family. The UN World Food Program helped Alilia’s farming group build a water reservoir, grow drought-resistant crops and make organic pesticides. Through these solutions, they diversified their crops and created an additional source of income by selling the surplus. With the support of the United Nations World Food Program, this enterprising farming group of women transformed their land into hope and opportunity for the families there.

The UN World Food Program supports small farmers around the world. Learn more about our work with farmers and business owners.

Women in technology innovate for a world with zero hunger

The UN World Food Program Innovation Accelerator provides resources for entrepreneurs and start-ups to build a world without hunger. The One Innovation Accelerator program, driven by an all-female team, created a successful project called EMPACT.

EMPACT team at WFP Innovation Accelerator.

EMPACT provides hungry youth with in-demand technology skills training. With these skills plus access to the Internet and a device like a phone or laptop, young men and women have the potential to transform their lives. EMPACT also promotes gender equality and inclusion, with 52% of its students being women.

Learn more about the Innovation Accelerator and its cutting-edge solutions to fight world hunger.

The Catherine Bertini Trust Fund supports girls’ education and development

Women leaders can create significant change in their communities for generations.

After winning the World Food Prize in 2003, Catherine Bertini, former executive director of the UN World Food Program, saw an opportunity to leave a legacy for women’s empowerment.

Girls at the Afghan Lamia Foundation, one of the winners of the Catherine Bertini Trust Fund Award.

Twice a year, the Catherine Bertini Girls’ Education Trust Fund provides a grant to grassroots organizations that connect girls to schools and vocational training. Recent grant recipients include the Lamia Afghan Foundation in Afghanistan and the Galkayo Educational Center for Peace and Development in Somalia.

Read more about the latest recipients of the Catherine Bertini Trust Fund.

Women at the forefront of humanitarian work at WFP

Women are essential to humanitarian work and have proven to be more effective leaders in crisis situations.

WFP Tartous field monitor Azza Hasan during field visits.

One such leader is UN World Food Program field monitor Azza Hasan in Tartous, Syria. Azza experienced firsthand the devastating effects of the conflict in his country:

“I know how hard and difficult it can be to be forced to leave my home. I wanted to play a positive role and help people in need.” Azza says that he treats everyone with dignity and respect “because we are all human.” She is proud of how her work with the UN World Food Program has empowered other women to lead her communities.

“One of the women we assisted told me that the UN World Food Program has changed her life. The woman she learned about marketing and project management. Now, she advises other women to develop ideas that can generate income. This made me very proud to see that the UN World Food Program is changing lives.”

The UN World Program would not have the global impact it does without the courage, compassion and leadership of its female humanitarian staff.

The UN World Food Program is the world’s leading humanitarian organization. Learn more about our logistics reach in 120 countries and territories.

By providing women with equal access to food, resources, decision-making and leadership opportunities, can end gender inequality.

Learn more about how gender inequality drives hunger.