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At The Hunger Project, we facilitate individual and collective action to transform the systems of inequity that create hunger and cause it to persist. Gender inequality is one of the most deeply rooted inequities and is responsible for keeping millions of women and girls malnourished. Globally,  the gap between men’s and women’s hunger has widened, with food insecurity as of 2022 has been affecting 150 million more women than men. 

Malnutrition impacts girls’ and women’s health and wellbeing, reducing economic potential, new opportunities, and learning capacity. It reinforces gender inequality. 

To break this cycle of malnutrition, community leaders from around West Africa are working with The Hunger Project to improve maternal and early childhood nutrition and create thriving communities. 

Through a unique initiative in Benin, model couples are on a mission to raise awareness about how gender equality, positive masculinity, and spouses taking on joint decision-making can lead to healthier families. 

Orou Maco Assouma and his wife Anne-Marie have three children, ages 9, 5 and 2. They were nominated by their peers to serve as their village’s “model couple.” Orou Maco is a well-educated veterinarian and Anne-Marie studied up to 4th grade and is a food product trader. They had very different opportunities and access to education growing up, which may be why they are committed to creating a more equitable future. 

The Hunger Project trained Orou Maco and Anne-Marie on maternal and early childhood nutrition, the basic principles of gender and social inclusion, women’s empowerment and positive masculinity.

“From these capacity building sessions, we understood that we can deconstruct prejudices in our communities and participate in behavior change in favor of gender equality. These training courses have reinforced our commitment to change things for the well-being of households in our community,” said Orou Maco.  

Today, they visit households throughout their community to promote joint decision-making by couples about the appropriate care of children; raising awareness among couples about gender equality in child rearing and raising awareness about the involvement of both parents in nutritional and parental education sessions. 

This work is particularly important as women often hold the responsibilities of feeding the family, childcare and other domestic tasks, which cuts into her time to earn additional income if she wants. At the same time, when food is scarce, women and girls typically eat last and least, which impacts their health and development, particularly when they are of child-bearing age.

To break this cycle, it is crucial to create support systems around women so that they can access resources that will support their families. 

In Senegal, The Hunger Project has trained a corps of “Relays” to drive awareness and educate their communities about nutrition. To share their knowledge, the Relays have been establishing community-based Young Mothers Clubs and can barely keep up with demand—The Hunger Project had initially planned to establish 32 clubs, but there are more than 82 operating and potentially more on the way. These are safe spaces where new moms can share their experience and learn from one another. They work through the challenges of breastfeeding, postpartum health and wellness. It is a key setting for the Relays to share information and guide new mothers toward resources. 

Finally, the Relays are equipped to screen for malnutrition in children, which means that families have access to this vital intervention right in their community. They no longer need to make the journey to the health center. 

For many mothers around the world, transitioning their children to solid foods is a stressful experience.

To ensure that children stay well-nourished during this time, The Hunger Project is working with community members on creating traditional meals with nutrient-dense, locally available ingredients.  

“Thanks to the nutrition training provided, I acquired new knowledge in nutrition. I prepare enriched porridge everyday for my child. This practice has really changed my life and also that of my child. Indeed, with the enriched porridge, my child is now well nourished and healthy. This allows me to go about my economic and household duties,” shared Bowossan Dianou, a mother in Burkina Faso.  

Bowossan has become known as the “committed activist”  for the well-being of children in her community. She and other facilitators travel to different villages twice a month to teach other women how to make porridge enriched with local ingredients. 

“When a child consumes fortified porridge, he cannot be malnourished,” she states. 

Too often, gender inequality prevents women from accessing information about nutrition, for herself and her family. But, knowledge is power. By training local community leaders in key actions to break the cycle of malnutrition, The Hunger Project and its partners are transforming systems of inequity keeping hunger in place. Together, we are creating thriving communities. 

Ailani Roldan is an intern with The Hunger Project’s Global Communications team. She is a senior at Baruch College in New York City.

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