Increasing the role of women in the United Nations World Food Program was an important part of improving global food security.
A former executive director of the United Nations World Food Program, 2003 World Food Prize Laureate and, in the words of President Daniels, “a pioneer in many ways,” spoke at the Purdue Presidential Lecture series this Wednesday. Catherine Bertini has been a staunch advocate for improving food security in the developing world and a role model for women. Under her guidance, the U.N. World Food Program formed its current mission.
“So if the mission is to end hunger, the mission isn’t just moving food; people have to eat the food,” said Bertini. “So who cooks the food? Well, in the developing world, usually it’s women.”
We provided farming hoes to people in Angola, said Bertini. When she went to visit, all the hoes were lined up on a fence, unused. When she asked why, the villagers said those were male hoes. Apparently, female hoes are shorter and have a pointed spade. Women in developing countries carry their children on their back; shorter hoes allow women to kneel without straining their back while they work. More communication with these women would have prevented this misunderstanding.
Bertini had to make difficult moral and ethical decisions throughout her career. Under her leadership, the U.N. World Food Program provided resources to North Korea in the mid-1990s.
An audience member said, “I love that (Bertini) points out how important agriculture is to the world.”
“It’s tough the first time in a job like this when you see a child dying of starvation,” said Bertini. “Then you look around at all the children who are thriving because of your organization, and I think that is what I always try to do.”