In her own words: The violence of hunger

August 15, 2022
By Kerri Whelan
August 15, 2022

This story is part of a blog series called “In her own words,” where you’ll read incredibly powerful stories directly from the experts with whom we work: the girls and women themselves. Please also note that this story mentions sexual violence and suicide.

More than 820 million people around the world will go to bed hungry tonight. It’s estimated that 70% of that group are girls and women. And when you’re a girl, the situation goes beyond food. Because as hunger escalates, so does gender-based violence. Girls are the last to be fed, and the first to become vulnerable.

Here, four girls and women share how the global hunger crisis is putting their safety at risk. These stories can be difficult to read, but communities are calling out for help, and it’s up to us to listen and respond.

Aisha, a 55-year-old community worker in Somaliland , Somalia

In the Horn of Africa, the worst drought in 40 years is leaving parents without the resources to feed their families, and millions of children are facing severe malnutrition. Conflict has been another powerful driver of hunger, responsible for 65% of people facing food insecurity. And, steep rises in food prices are creating immense strain on household budgets, with the poorest families hardest hit.
In the Horn of Africa, the worst drought in 40 years is leaving parents without the resources to feed their families, and millions of children are facing severe malnutrition. Conflict has been another powerful driver of hunger, responsible for 65% of people facing food insecurity. And, steep rises in food prices are creating immense strain on household budgets, with the poorest families hardest hit.

“As a result of the drought, people are less financially secure,” Aisha says. “Gender-based violence has risen dramatically. Before the drought, most men were busy with their work, but now many have lost their jobs. Men are harassing young women on the street, and some will commit rape if they get the chance.

“Families are facing greater hardships because of the drought and its effects on the economy. This means gender-based violence within families is becoming more common. These abuses happen between married couples when food is more expensive and there’s less work available. It leads to conflict, and women are beaten and hurt.

“Because of the drought, displaced people from the countryside are moving in search of water. Displaced people are coming to live with relatives in the city. There may be older men who’ll commit abuse, either physically or mentally. It may come from the landlords, or from within the family. Girls may be abused in the home, or domestic workers may be subjected to abuse in their workplace.

“In rural areas, girls who walk long distances to fetch water are at greater risk of being harassed or abducted. There is a lot of abuse.

[Read — Photo story: Black tea for dinner]

“Girls who go to college at night also suffer. For example, a lot of abuse happens in tuk-tuks. If a girl uses a tuk-tuk at night, it may not stop where she wants. Instead, she is taken to a place where she is abused.”

A tuk-tuk is a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi, a common form of public transportation in some countries.

“Some victims come and ask for help  in dealing with the trauma,” Aisha says. “They find people who are there to help, they return to their communities, adapt and have hope. Others don’t seek help. They may hurt themselves. Some may even attempt suicide. Others leave their families and communities.”

 

Hawi, a 13-year-old girl in Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, more than 5 million people are in need of urgent food assistance, and more than 3 million children are at risk of malnutrition. At least 2.1 million livestock, whose milk is the main source of nutrition for children, have died due to drought.
In Ethiopia, more than 5 million people are in need of urgent food assistance, and more than 3 million children are at risk of malnutrition. At least 2.1 million livestock, whose milk is the main source of nutrition for children, have died due to drought.

“My future has become dark due to the severe drought we have been facing this year … Many girls have migrated to urban areas to look for work,” Hawi says. “I heard that many of my friends are now working in hotels. Many children are now working. This is all the result of the drought.

“I have never experienced a drought or thought it could be like this. I now understand that the biggest enemy for girls is drought.  Drought makes girls homeless and forces them towards violence and abuse.

“I have great love and respect for nature and uniquely for cattle. I named my cow ‘Harme,’ which means mom. And I loved her equal to my real mom. But she passed away during the drought along with many other cows and calves. I cried … but no one comforted my grieving, because everyone has been crying.

“My brother is thinking of migrating. I advised him to not do so, but if the situation continues like this, he will leave the area and become one of the vulnerable migrated children. My little sisters are also becoming weak and hopeless. Not only my beloved cows and calves — I am also going to miss my brothers and sisters,” Hawi concludes, as though their future is already determined.

Halima, Hawi’s mother in Ethiopia

Halima, a 30-year-old mother in Ethiopia, says her daughter Hawi and her other children are often sick from hunger.
Halima, a 30-year-old mother in Ethiopia, says her daughter Hawi and her other children are often sick from hunger.

“Learning from my daughter’s active engagement in girls’ rights [with Plan], I was encouraged to bring together women in my village,” Halima says. “I started a small women’s group to challenge gender-based violence. But now, many of the women have become even more vulnerable as their husbands have abandoned the village, leaving them responsible for everything.

“They cannot feed their children because there is no food, no husbands even to support them. They have become hopeless and most of them have lost their minds — they don’t know what they are saying, but are always crying.

“Women and girls go to very far places searching for water. We have to walk 10 kilometers [more than 6  miles] on average to collect water. Very few ponds have any water left.

“We take turns to go, often taking three or four hours. Many women go during the night thinking that less people will be at the ponds. They are abused by men and some arrogant people at night.

“I cannot express the challenges we mothers are facing in this community due to this drought. Our children are always sick since the water is not clean. We don’t have water to wash our bodies. My daughters can’t wash their bodies regularly as before. Girls’ health and hygiene are being seriously affected by the absence of water. No food, no water, no way to keep my body healthy – it’s a really dark life.”

“I spend my time looking after this calf,” Halima says. “I don’t know if the calf will survive. If this calf dies, I am not sure about my own survival. All I have left is this calf, so I share some of my food with it as I love it so much.”
“I spend my time looking after this calf,” Halima says. “I don’t know if the calf will survive. If this calf dies, I am not sure about my own survival. All I have left is this calf, so I share some of my food with it as I love it so much.”

Marie, a 16-year-old girl from Haiti

Last year, Marie became pregnant after she was attacked by one of her neighbors. She was forced to drop out of school. Now, her child is severely malnourished, as is most of the population of Haiti — 4.4 million people are in need of urgent food assistance.
Last year, Marie became pregnant after she was attacked by one of her neighbors. She was forced to drop out of school. Now, her child is severely malnourished, as is most of the population of Haiti — 4.4 million people are in need of urgent food assistance.

“We rely on selling charcoal, which is the only income we have as a family,” Marie says. “As a result of our situation, my child is not well fed.

“A man who lived in my neighborhood called me to his house. When I arrived, he put his hands on me and raped me.”

The hunger crisis in Haiti has been aggravated by growing political instability following the assassination of the president, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake last August and increasing gang-related violence. Plan is responding with food assistance, treatment for malnutrition and awareness-raising against sexual violence.

“My family’s economic situation does not allow me to go back to school,” Marie says.  “We have no home — and when it rains, we can only wait for it to stop.”

Marie’s name has been changed to protect her identity.