March 28, 2023
In recognition of Women’s History Month, Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) staff and Congressional Hunger Center fellows shared their perspectives and expertise on how best to address food insecurity impacting individuals identifying as women.
According to FRAC research on the intersection between hunger, poverty and health, in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, women were more likely than men to report food insufficiency, which is not having enough to eat. For example, in December 2020, 55 percent of respondents who sometimes or often reported not having enough to eat were women. In 2019, 28.7 percent of households with single mothers were food insecure compared to 15.4 percent of single-father households.
Q. What are some of the ways we can address the root causes that lead to women experiencing hunger?
A. Alex Ashbrook, FRAC’s Director of Root Causes and Specific Populations:
Due to current and historical systematic discrimination, exclusion, and oppression, hunger and its root causes disproportionately impact some groups, including women – particularly, women of color.
If we are to end hunger, our work needs to include addressing the root causes of hunger and center these issues to those most impacted. Root causes are complex and multifaceted economic and social hardships that perpetuate hunger and poverty. They include insufficient wages and job supports, lack of affordable housing, health care, and educational opportunities, as well as an inadequate social safety net in times of need.
Anti-hunger advocates can help address these root causes of hunger by leveraging the strength of the anti-hunger sector to support policies and practices that ensure equitable wages, affordable housing, accessible child care, and quality health care.
We need to shift from a scarcity agenda to an agenda of abundance where we work across sectors to address the multifaceted needs of the whole person who is struggling against hunger and poverty, and seek solutions that are tailored to people who are disproportionately impacted. This approach will honor the prior and current generations of women, who have immeasurably contributed to our country, and paved the way for generations to come.
Q. Which policies do we need to ensure every mom knows their child is getting the nutrition they need to succeed in school?
A. Crystal FitzSimons, FRAC’s Director of School and Out-of-School Time Programs:
School breakfast gives children the nutrition they need to start the school day ready to learn, and school lunch allows them to continue learning throughout the day. Children can even get nutritious suppers and snacks at their afterschool program.
Unfortunately, too many children miss out on school and afterschool meals, but Congress and states can enact policies that support access and allow every mom to know their children are getting the nutrition they need at school. This includes the following policies:
- First and most importantly, schools should be able to offer meals at no charge to all students, commonly called Healthy School Meals for All. Under the current program rules, only some children qualify for free school meals. Too many families struggling to make ends meet miss out, because their income is not low enough.
- To qualify for free school meals, a family of three has to earn just under $30,000 per year. Even eligible children miss out because they did not make it through the application process or they opt out of the program due to stigma.
- During the pandemic, schools across the country were able to offer free meals to all of their students, and it was a game changer for students, families, and schools. Advocates need to urge Congress to reinstate Healthy School Meals for All.
- Second, more must be done to increase school breakfast participation. School breakfast served 54 children for every 100 who participated in school lunch in the 2021-2022 school year. Children miss out on breakfast, because too many schools serve breakfast in the cafeteria before the school day starts.
- Innovative breakfast models like breakfast in the classroom, grab and go breakfast, and second chance breakfast can help increase participation. States and Congress can pass legislation to support innovative breakfast models and provide funding to cover start-up and implementation costs.
- Third, afterschool programs provide critical child care for working parents . These programs keep children engaged and learning through the afternoon and should also provide nutritious afterschool suppers and snacks. Unfortunately, many afterschool programs do not qualify for the federal afterschool supper and snack funding, but Congress could make more programs eligible, and Congress and states also can provide additional funding to ensure that moms and dads can access high quality afterschool programs and meals for their children.
Q. What inspired you to become an emerging leader in the fight to end hunger in America?
As an Asian American woman, I have seen the unique, disproportionate burdens women face within their own community. For me, I saw the way women would be preyed upon and be vulnerable to forms of violence such as trafficking or abuse. Asian hate and violence during the pandemic emphasized this, with many women, especially older adults , being victims of violence.
I was first exposed to nonprofit work when working for an anti-trafficking organization and fought for women’s rights and protection against violent crime. I noticed how much poverty and food insecurity were interconnected with trafficking, and this spring-boarded my passion for fighting against hunger.
Access to food is its own, inalienable right that is key to alleviating a lot of intersecting problems such as violence and poverty. Fighting to end hunger is a part of a very personal journey for me. By participating and leading in this fight, I am also combatting Asian American female stereotypes and can advocate on behalf of other Asian Americans and people of color.
Q. What does a nation free from hunger look like to you?
A nation free from hunger is one where citizens look out for one another. No one is left without food, and everyone has the nutrition they need. It is a nation where people gather, share meals, trade fresh fruits and vegetables, share recipes, and enjoy each other’s company. In addition, there is an abundance of healthy and affordable food outlets including farmers markets and family-owned grocery stores This abundance would be so much so that hunger pains are a distant memory for those who knew it all too well.
No more hunger in a nation means that the quality of living for citizens has drastically increased. There are no longer stressors of questions like, “Do we have enough money for our kids to eat?”; “Do I have enough to eat?”; “How many more hours of work, to be taken away from family time, do I need to make it by?”Food is a human right and addressing food access, food insecurity, and hunger overall means that individuals, families and communities have one of their core basic needs met. They will not need to wonder where and when their next meal will be. Citizens will be free of a burden that so many today experience daily.