More Progress Now for the Future of Latin American Women

In March we marked International Women's Day and celebrated the contributions of women all over the world. But too often during the rest of the year, we fail to notice and act when the international community is failing women and girls.

All over the world, women and girls are expected to eat last and least. About 60 percent of the world's hungry people are female, which means that nearly half a billion women and girls do not have access to the nutritious food they need for healthy and active lives.

There has certainly been progress on both hunger and women's empowerment. Many Latin American countries, especially Brazil and Mexico, have been able to reduce poverty and raise the status of women. But the gains are fragile, and there is still a long way to go.

Growth in farming has proven to have more impact on poverty than growth in any other part of the economy. However, female farmers still face unique challenges. Although there are laws on the books that are designed to remove barriers for women to own land, they are often not fully enforced in rural areas of Latin America as elsewhere. Sometimes these laws are ignored entirely. Women often have to farm the most marginal land. They also don't have access to many of the tools, seeds, technologies, and other resources available to men. The World Bank has found that if female farmers were treated equally, they could raise their crop yields by 20 to 30 percent. This alone would feed between 100 and 150 million of the world's 795 million hungry people.

Actions taken here in the United States affect women worldwide. The U.S. government's global hunger and food-security initiative called Feed the Future has reached millions of smallholder farmers, including many women. It has improved the prospects for long-term agricultural growth. Feed the Future works in three of the Western Hemisphere's poorest countries. There, it helps farmers increase their productivity and income. Collectively, farmers earned additional income of more than $2.7 million in Haiti, $11.5 million in Guatemala, and $24 million in Honduras.

Foreign-assistance programs like Feed the Future can also help change social and cultural norms and practices. This places more power in the hands of women. Boosting a woman's earning power boosts a family's economic prospects and promotes better nutrition and health.

In 2015, the United States and 192 other countries adopted global development goals called Sustainable Development Goals. The fifth goal is to reach gender equality by 2030. But according to the World Economic Forum, the world will not reach gender equality until 2133 if it continues at today's rate of progress. We can't afford to wait more than a century to ensure that women are treated as equal to men.

Research shows that ending global hunger and poverty is tightly interwoven with improvements in the status of women. And in order for women to lead and actively participate in efforts to strengthen their communities and countries, they must first have the resources and tools they need to overcome barriers to their own empowerment.