Since the mid-1990s, the number of hungry people worldwide has been steadily increasing. Currently about 925 million people worldwide are hungry—about 1 in 7 of the global population. Most sobering about this fact is that, for the first time in history, humankind has the knowledge and technical ability to feed all of its citizens.
The root causes of hunger include factors such as poverty, cultural barriers, inadequate education, geopolitics, disease, geography, climate, governmental debt, and corrupt leadership. The complexity of these root causes mandates a multipronged response on the part of individuals, the private sector, nonprofit and charitable organizations, and governments. Individual advocacy is an important component, and that includes nurses.
Nurses as advocates
In an article in the Journal of Emergency Nursing, Hearrell defines advocacy as “the act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea or policy,” and an advocate as “a person who is intensely committed to seeing a particular change happen, [and] is willing to gain the knowledge and develop an understanding about the issue.”
Why should you participate in social justice advocacy for hungry people? Nursing’s history is deeply rooted in social justice advocacy as is demonstrated by the contributions of nurse advocates such as Florence Nightingale, Lillian Wald, Lavinia Dock, and Margaret Sanger. Many of our nursing codes mandate, and the nursing literature encourages, political involvement and advocacy for nurses. As nurses, we have a unique viewpoint on human lives and have much to offer to any health-related discussion, including the issue of world hunger. We are a trusted profession that consistently scores at the top of Gallup’s annual Honesty and Ethics Survey. In addition, having enough to eat is a basic human right and primary health need. We now have the capability to ensure that human right for all. However, this can only happen if individuals, the private sector, nonprofit and charitable organizations, and governments collaboratively contribute. We all need to get to work!
Getting the job done
How might nurses meet the challenge to become advocates and champions of social justice for hungry people? The starting point is awareness of hunger-related issues and political astuteness, a responsibility of every citizen and every responsible nurse. Then, it can be an action as simple as writing a letter or sending an email to a senator or representative or attending a lobby day sponsored by one of the many anti-hunger advocacy organizations.
Many groups and organizations have invested much time and expertise in understanding the problem of hunger in our world. Becoming affiliated with one of these groups can be helpful since hunger advocacy is a daunting endeavor on one’s own. Through these groups, you can learn more about the issues affecting hungry people, receive email alerts to petition legislators when hunger-related issues are discussed in Congress, participate in lobby days, learn how to teach others about hunger, and connect with other advocates.
The Alliance to End Hunger is a newly formed organization of almost 75 private-sector, nonprofit, and faith-based foundations and organizations engaged in antihunger activities. A listing of these organizations can be accessed through the website at: http://alliancetoendhunger.org. Click on “members” for the full listing and to find an organization or two that fit you best. Then visit that organization’s website to get started. Another good website to visit is that for the World Food Programme (http://www.wfp.org), an arm of the United Nations and the largest humanitarian organization that exists to fight hunger.
Hunger-related advocacy also can involve education of other potential advocates through speaking, teaching, or writing. Some hunger organizations have speakers’ bureaus that you can become involved with, and informed advocates also can provide hunger advocacy education to groups they are already affiliated with, such as religious organizations, professional organizations, and social clubs.
Another way for nurses to engage in hunger-related advocacy is through nursing research. Through research, nurses can explore and study topics relevant to hunger advocacy. One example is a study that helps determine the best educational approaches in teaching others about hunger-related issues. Another might be how to effectively motivate people to contribute to hunger-related charities or participate in hunger advocacy.
Adding richness to our role
Through volunteer activities and nonprofit organizations, hunger advocacy does not have to be a specific component of our employment situation, but can add a rich layer to what we do as nurses. By engaging in political advocacy, education, and research, nurses can—like Florence Nightingale and Lillian Wald—participate in social change for hungry people without ever leaving the beside. Simply lift your gaze upward and outward and extend your focus to include not only those who are in the immediate environment, but also those who are far away in distant lands.
Worldwide, about 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day. A cup of coffee in the United States costs approximately $1.50. An email, phone call, or teaching someone about hunger costs even less. It does not take a lot. It just takes many. The World Food Programme has billed hunger as the “world’s greatest solvable problem.” With will and determination on the part of all, this age-old violation of the most basic of human rights can, for the first time, be eradicated forever.
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Beckmann D. Exodus from Hunger: We Are Called to Change the Politics of Hunger. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press; 2010.
Falk-Rafael A. Speaking truth to power: nursing’s legacy and moral imperative. ANS Adv Nurs Sci. 2005;28(3);212-23.
Hearrell CL. Advocacy: nurses making a difference. J Emerg Nurs. 2011;37(1):73-4.
Paquin SO. Social justice advocacy in nursing: what is it? How do we get there? Creat Nurs. 2011;17(2);63-7.
Sachs J. The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities of Our Time. New York, NY: Penguin Press; 2005.