Education for girls is at risk due to global hunger crisis

The world is in the grip of a catastrophic hunger crisis putting an estimated 193 million people in urgent need of food assistance.

The situation is expected to deteriorate even further. Our latest study shows the impact the crisis is having on girls’ wellbeing and education globally is alarming.

Women and girls account for 70% of the world’s hungry and when food is scarce, girls are often among the worst affected. Girls are more likely than boys to be taken out of school when families come under strain and for those who continue to attend school, hunger can severely impact their learning. Girls are also at heightened risk of child and forced marriage, as well as violence.

Longitudinal study of girls’ issues

The report called ‘World Hunger and its Impact on Girls’, presents findings from the ‘Real Choices, Real Lives’ study that has been following the lives of girls and their families in nine countries since the girls’ births in 2006. The research presented took place across 2021 and 2022 when the girls were aged 14-16. Girls and their caregivers were interviewed. The study covers Brazil, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Benin, Togo, Uganda, the Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam. While these countries are not classified as high risk for food insecurity, the data from the study shows that the current global food crisis is affecting girls and their families even beyond the most at risk countries.

“The global food crisis is impacting girls in countries all over the world” says lead researcher of the report Jenny Rivett:

“Families in the countries studied report having to forego food to pay for healthcare and prioritise buying food over paying girls’ school fees.”

In Uganda, families that struggle to provide girls with enough food at home worry about how this will affect their learning.

One mother in Uganda is very concerned about her daughter Nimisha.

“She was affected because learning on an empty stomach may cause the child not to concentrate,” says Nimisha’s mother.

Miremba says that her friends help her by sharing their food when she doesn’t have enough at school.

“I feel sad when I request my father to give me upkeep to spend at school and he tells me that he doesn’t have money,” says Miremba.

Climate shocks are leading to food insecurity

There are a number of reasons as to why girls are experiencing food insecurity and this latest report finds that extreme weather events linked to climate change have contributed. Families reported damage or destruction of crops in Benin, Togo, and Uganda due to dry, hot weather and drought, while in the Philippines and Cambodia girls and caregivers described how rice harvests were significantly reduced due to flooding.

Girls and their families interviewed have reported impacts of changes to the climate on their food security for a number of years, however for many this was further exacerbated by the economic strains brought by the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise in food and fuel costs caused by the war in Ukraine.

“We’re supposed to harvest but due to the heavy rains lately, the rice we got is empty. We’re losing money because the fertiliser is expensive. It’s sad…. we are trying. The only important thing is to have something to eat,” says Rosamie, 16, who is in the Philippines.

But there are ways to turn this around and Plan International’s recommendations include calling on the international community to help in any way possible, including help from donors and governments.

Funds must be immediately provided. Failure to do so will likely result in widespread starvation as well as a complete collapse of agricultural livelihood strategies and assets. Funding is needed desperately for school feeding programmes, mental health support and education.