By Elise Young, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Elise Young is Vice President of Policy and Government Affairs at Women Thrive Worldwide, a Washington, DC-based advocacy group dedicated to women’s equality. The views expressed are her own.
It’s a long way from Benin to the family Thanksgiving table where I grew up outside of Philadelphia. But the people of this West African nation are never far from my mind, especially as I gather with my friends and family for Thanksgiving.
The daughter of a minister, I’m thankful for the many blessings in my life and especially for the food that I have to eat on a daily basis.
Not everyone is as lucky as I’ve been. Around the globe, nearly 840 million people are now considered “food insecure.” Almost 60 percent are women and girls – a despite the fact that women farmers actually produce most of the food in developing countries. Hunger is especially pronounced in developing countries like Benin, where one in three households is considered food insecure.
As a volunteer for the Peace Corps in Benin from 2000-2002, I saw firsthand the devastating effect that hunger and poverty can have on families.
Most of the high school students I worked with were young men. Families in the region couldn’t afford to send their girls to secondary school. My students were always hungry by the end of the day, because lunch was considered a luxury. And I lost two students over the course of my service, because access to affordable health care – especially for girls – was not a reality.
But just as women and girls in developing countries are disproportionately impacted by poverty and hunger, I believe they can also play a more significant role in reducing poverty and hunger if they are afforded greater access to opportunity and equality.
And there are plenty of women all over the world who, right now, are proving my point.
Take Rose Edith, for example. As an activist and a person of faith, I’m especially inspired by the example of this former Catholic nun in Haiti. Working with the National Congress of Papaye Peasant Movement, Rose Edith is trying to ensure that Haitian women farmers have enough high quality land on which to grow nutritious food and access to stable markets in which they can sell their crops at fair prices.
Rose Edith – and many other women like her – have opened my eyes to how the United States can be effective in reaching the world’s hungry and promoting long-term solutions for farmers: It’s by listening to and partnering with women change-makers.
I’m convinced that my obligation to those who are hungry in this world extends beyond my dinner table. And I know that my actions must go beyond simply acknowledging the problem.
The good news is that, this Thanksgiving, we have a unique opportunity to make a difference. Earlier this year, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) reintroduced the Global Food Security Act, legislation that would help empower local women farmers from Haiti to Benin to communities all over the world.
If passed, the bill would lay the foundation for a comprehensive, multi-agency strategy that invests in local communities and helps them access needed resources, training, and strengthened markets.
The bill also updates the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to include a renewed focus on women, nutrition, and smallholder farmers. The World Bank estimates that as many as 150 million fewer people would go hungry if women had equal access to agricultural resources.
The Global Food Security Act would be good news for women like Rose Edith and others involved in agriculture in developing countries. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, only 22 members have co-sponsored the Global Food Security Act. But whether we are motivated by faith, conscience, or cost-effectiveness, we cannot wait for the next hunger crisis to arrive and then react. Now is the time for each of us to encourage our members of Congress to co-sponsor and vote for the act.
Using our voice to speak up for change – like fasting and prayer – is an act that reflects what we truly believe in.
This Thanksgiving, I’ll be talking with my family and friends to get them involved in encouraging their members of Congress to show faith in empowering women and ending global hunger by supporting the Global Food Security Act. I hope you’ll do the same.