Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Girls bear brunt of Ethiopia food crisis

Guest Post by Rose Foley, Plan UK media officer
Plan’s Food distribution point – Wondongenet, SNNPR, Southern Ethiopia

Women collecting aid at a Plan
food distribution point in Ethiopia
“Where are all the men?” I ask.

“Not here,” Tsala replies. She’s walking slowly uphill from her village in the south of Ethiopia, with a child strapped to her back and 2 daughters scuffing slowly behind her. The girls’ cheekbones look like they might push through their flesh and they totter on their legs, as if they were stilts. This family is hungry, sick and heading from their village to Plan’s food distribution point.

“Are the men not hungry too? Is your husband?” I continue.

“Yes, he does not have enough to eat – many men do not,” the 40-year-old replies, “but we are the ones to bring food to them.”

Missing men

We join many other families in the queue for Plan’s distribution point in Wondongenet. I survey the crowds. I can’t find one man who’s here to collect nutritional supplies. Those men who are here are in charge: They’re handing out food aid, dragging bags of flour, and organising lines. It is women and children who form into orderly queues, carrying, and waiting for, provisions.
“Women have a lot of work to do, especially when there is hunger,” explains Tsala.

“I am in charge of the house: I have to rise early to prepare everything and do all my chores. My daughter helps me care for my young baby. Besides these tasks, I am also responsible for making sure everyone in my family eats. If there is no food, I have to go and find it.”

Girls eat last

When she does find something to eat, it’s usually the boys and the men in the family who get the priority, and the biggest portions. Girls eat last, and take what is left. As a result, girls and women are frequently weaker and more malnourished than boys and men.

Girls may strike out alone to help their mothers forage for food, or they might be left at home on their own, while their mother is busy.

Child marriage

In times of serious economic hardship, such as during droughts, a common issue is early marriage. Families may consider marrying off their daughters at a young age. “They may need the bride price; it’s also one less person to feed, and the parents may feel they’re offering their child more security,” says Leulseged Begashaw, Plan’s disaster risk reduction coordinator in the Shebedino area.

“Plan is working in communities to explain the negative effects of early marriage and help families become more economically robust,” he continues. “At times of crisis, we’re keeping an eye on the whole picture – the safety, health and future of some of the neediest people in the region.”

I then bid my goodbyes to Tsala and her children, who are waiting patiently to receive vital nutritional provisions. They’re grasping empty bottles and an empty bag. Soon they’ll be brimming with flour, oil and sticky, milky porridge. At home, Tsala’s husband and sons wait; hungry.

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