“My emoticon doth frown”

On sinking ships (but which culture’s?), women and children are meant to be saved first. When a captain goes down with his ship, it’s seen as some kind of honour.

So why is it, then, that when it comes to a food crisis, it’s men and children first, then women, “last and least”? Keep your prejudices to yourself — what I want to know is how the blending of instinct and duty can end up being so deterimental to women.

Africa’s Last and Least
Cultural Expectations Ensure Women Are Hit Hardest by Burgeoning Food Crisis
By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, July 20, 2008; Page A01
OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso

After she woke in the dark to sweep city streets, after she walked an hour to buy less than $2 worth of food, after she cooked for two hours in the searing noon heat, Fanta Lingani served her family’s only meal of the day.

First she set out a bowl of corn mush, seasoned with tree leaves, dried fish and wood ashes, for the 11 smallest children, who tore into it with bare hands.

Then she set out a bowl for her husband. Then two bowls for a dozen older children. Then finally, after everyone else had finished, a bowl for herself. She always eats last.

A year ago, before food prices nearly doubled, Lingani would have had three meals a day of meat, rice and vegetables. Now two mouthfuls of bland mush would have to do her until tomorrow.

Rubbing her red-rimmed eyes, chewing lightly on a twig she picked off the ground, Lingani gave the last of her food to the children.

“I’m not hungry,” she said.

In poor nations, such as Burkina Faso in the heart of West Africa, mealtime conspires against women. They grow the food, fetch the water, shop at the market and cook the meals. But when it comes time to eat, men and children eat first, and women eat last and least.

Soaring prices for food and fuel have pushed more than 130 million poor people across vast swaths of Africa, Asia and Latin America deeper into poverty in the past year, according to the U.N. World Food Program (WFP). But while millions of men and children are also hungrier, women are often the hungriest and skinniest. Aid workers say malnutrition among women is emerging as a hidden consequence of the food crisis.

I think this is an important article, to be taken in bites even if you can’t stomach it all at one go.

“My emoticon doth frown.” — my new catchphrase from Joss Whedon, supporter of Equality Now.

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