555 million women go hungry worldwide | World Development Movement

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555 million women go hungry worldwide

By Miriam Ross, 8 March 2012

555 million women go hungry worldwide, according to estimates released today by the World Development Movement to mark International Women’s Day.

The anti-poverty campaign group is calling for action to tackle spiralling food prices, which disproportionately affect women. The EU will vote later this year on measures to prevent excessive financial speculation in food markets from driving up prices.

An estimated 60 per cent of the world’s 925 million hungry people are women, and 315,000 women die annually in childbirth due to lack of iron. Food prices in 2011 were 24 per cent higher than in 2010, driving more people into hunger, malnutrition and poverty.  

Indian government food advisor Biraj Patnaik told the World Development Movement:

Among the complaints of starvation deaths that we receive in my office to investigate, a large number are from single women who are bringing up children … Women often, given the gender inequity in our society, ration their own food so they can feed the children and feed parents."

Judith Atieno Odhiambo from Kenya told the World Development Movement how a sudden price hike affected her:

The prices shot up and later they came down a bit. I didn’t eat for three days, we only had water. My baby was only a few months old. I was breastfeeding but there was nothing coming out of the breast."

Financial speculation by banks and hedge funds is fuelling food price volatility and driving up prices. The US has already moved to limit speculation under the Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform Act, and the European Commission has proposed similar controls. But the UK government is blocking the EU measures.

Deborah Doane, director of the World Development Movement, said today:

Soaring food prices are a problem for everyone, but they’re a particular problem for women, to whom it usually falls to feed everyone else. We’ve heard of cases not only where women are going without food, but also where sudden price spikes force them to take on risky and demeaning work like prostitution. And when pregnant or breastfeeding women go hungry, of course, the health impacts on their children are permanent and devastating. 

Short term food price hikes also impact on long term opportunities for women, as girls’ education is often the first thing to be cut when rising food prices squeeze household budgets. Speculation benefits no one but a few wealthy bankers, and if we don’t tackle it now, efforts to improve the lives of women in developing countries will falter."

Notes to editors

India is starting to import greater quantities of commodities such as sugar and palm oil, which are subject to speculation, and is under pressure to open its markets to international trade which could expose its population to the impact of volatile financial markets.

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