Abstract – Witnesses to Hunger: Participation through photovoice to ensure the right to food

Mariana Chilton, Jenny Rabinowich, Christina Council, and Jennifer Breaux

Health and Human Rights 11/1

Published June 2009

When the lives and the rights of children are at stake,

there must be no silent witnesses.1


Currently 30.2 percent of female-headed households with children in the United States experience food insecurity, defined as the lack of access to enough food for an active and healthy life. In 2007, approximately 12.4 million children were at risk for hunger. When female-headed households and households with children have the highest prevalence of food insecurity and hunger in the US, the participation of low-income mothers in the development and administration of policies and programs related to nutrition and poverty are fundamental to the process of ending hunger and improving child wellbeing.

In this article, we describe the Witnesses to Hunger program, a participatory advocacy project that uses the “photovoice” technique to engage mothers to take photos and record their stories about poverty and hunger with the intent to inform social welfare policy in the US. Witnesses to Hunger is grounded in the human rights framework that is supported by international conventions on the rights of women, the rights of the child, and economic, social, and cultural rights. The Witnesses to Hunger program works to increase civic participation of low-income women and to maintain a strategic public awareness campaign.

After introducing the Witnesses to Hunger program, this article describes the past decade of unchanging food insecurity disparities, demonstrates the lack of participatory dialogue in health and welfare programs, and provides examples of how Witnesses to Hunger counters the conventional dialogue about welfare. Throughout, this paper demonstrates how the participatory approach of the Witnesses to Hunger program improves our understanding of basic human needs and the social determinants of health, and informs legislators on how to improve health and welfare policy.