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Remember others' hunger during Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving break is right around the corner, just in time for some well-deserved relaxation and copious amounts of delicious food.

But for many people around the world, Thanksgiving passes by just like every other day. There is no relief from these people's battle with hunger. This week, Hunger Awareness Week, might be a good time to take a moment or two to think about those people, especially women, which is this week's theme.

Why women? We all know some people in the world go hungry from time to time, and we assume those "people" include women. Are women somehow special? The short answer to that is "yes" -- and it doesn't take long to realize why.

Women in third-world countries are often the chief producers of food crops. And although they also prepare the food, women are more likely to go hungry than other members of the family. In the societies and cultures of developing countries (and often of developed countries) women eat last, while the male members of the family and the children are fed first. Consequently, if there isn't enough food, women bear this burden first, and suffer the subsequent nutritional deficiencies.

In developing countries, men often leave villages and farms to seek work in cities or are hired on large cash-crop farms. Women are then responsible for most of the basic needs of their families, such as gathering fuel and water, growing food, the family's health care, sanitation and child-rearing. The family is resting and eating upon the shoulders of the woman. If she is suffering from a lack of nutrition, they inevitably suffer also.

Development projects have not been very successful at reaching or helping women for a number of reasons. Women all over the third world are often living under a "triple oppression" of gender, class and race. This can deny them access to, among other things, political expression and economic resources. Women make up the majority of the poor and unemployed of the world, and what work they do is often viewed as unimportant in economic structures and reports. They are also generally less mobile than men due to their responsibilities or the cultural restrictions of their communities. These factors, in addition to man's traditional control of economic, political and religious structures, limit the visibility of women. It is not surprising, then, that they are often neglected when development policies are created.

Development agencies are beginning to realize that the input of, and continuous re-evaluation by, the people a project directly involves and affects are crucial for success. This means establishing meaningful and sustained contacts with women, as they are the primary providers of the basic necessities in developing countries.

Organizations where these communications occur enjoy great success. The now-famous Grameen Bank for women, located in Bangladesh, is just one example of this.

This Thursday is Oxfam's 18th annual Fast for a World Harvest and this week is MIT's 9th annual Hunger Awareness Week. Oxfam America helps people around the world work towards a more reliable food source and stable lifestyle. By giving something up for the day (a meal, coffee or cigarettes) and donating what you would have spent to Oxfam, you can identify a little with what hungry people all over the world are experiencing and help them in their efforts at the same time. As Oxfam America says, "Let us fast together. Let us join in a common effort to share our abundance and exercise our choice, to express our concern, that others may eat."


Rosina Samadani is a graduate student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.