Mar 08, Colombo: This year's UN theme for International Women's Day (IWD), celebrated on 8 March, is think equal, build smart, innovate for change. It resonates with World Food Programme's (WFP's) gender-transformative approach: working to give everyone lives of dignity, choice and opportunities.
International Women's Day is an opportunity to recognize the importance of putting women and girls front and center to tackle hunger, malnutrition and poverty. Reducing inequalities and barriers that exclude women is critical to reaching the global goal of a Zero Hunger world by 2030.
Food insecurity and malnutrition in Sri Lanka remains a major challenge. In most countries, including Sri Lanka, women produce between 60 and 80 per cent of the food and are responsible for half of countries' food production. Yet recognition of women's critical contribution to household food security, is very low.
Poor access and availability of food, especially affordable nutritious foods, directly links to malnutrition - a major issue in Sri Lanka where rates of wasting or 'thinness' are some of the highest in the world, and are unchanged over the last decade, with women and girls greatly impacted.
In addition to undernutrition, the World Health Organization STEP survey conducted in 2015 found more women suffer from overweight and obesity than their male counterparts (34 percent in female and 24 percent in male).
Malnutrition also is linked to Sri Lanka's high incidence of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease and diabetes which causes more than three quarters of all deaths. Nearly one in five people die prematurely from NCDs.
"Efforts to empower women and to be solution providers is an integral part of WFP's USD 46 million investment in Sri Lanka over five years (2018-2022), recognizing the often-unacknowledged but life changing contributions of women and girls in Sri Lanka," said Brenda Barton, WFP Representative in Sri Lanka.
Working in partnership with the government and others, WFP is working to transform families and communities to improve productivity and incomes of smallholder farmers and vulnerable communities, especially women; helping to ensure that children receive a needed nutritious meal at school; tackling the underlying causes of high and stagnant malnutrition rates; and assisting the government to prepare and respond in times of climate shocks which can have a detrimental effect on access to food and nutrition amongst communities.
Specifically, WFP is building off a three-year project funded by Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), enhance resilience and to support livelihoods through commercialized home gardening, marketable skills training for vulnerable women and youth, and bolstering against climate shocks through improved irrigation and water availability. These projects will strengthen communities in some of the most vulnerable parts of the country to better withstand the impact of Sri Lanka's frequent climate shocks.
WFP and UNFPA have also recently embarked on a new joint project to improve women's nutrition and promote gender equality and women's empowerment by providing critical information and services on sexual and reproductive health, nutrition and food security over the next year, funded by the Government of Denmark.
In addition, WFP and ILO's project EMPOWER is building peace through social and economic empowerment of women in Northern Sri Lanka. Funded by the UN Peace Building Fund, the project is increasing access to economic empowerment, social integration, resilience and peacebuilding for conflict affected women in Mullaitivu, one of the most conflict-affected Northern Districts of Sri Lanka.
"As WFP celebrates 50 years of partnership working with the Government of Sri Lanka in 2019, international Women's Day reminds us about the immense and valuable contribution women can and need to make towards a well-nourished and healthy nation," said Barton.