Women’s Progress Toward Parity, Through Better Nutrition

March 7th, 2016 | Viewpoint


Gender-based inequalities persist in countries around the globe in access to healthcare, equal pay, and division of household labor, among other areas. As we celebrate women this International Women’s Day, March 8, we are asked to #PledgeforParity, highlighting women’s achievements and discussing how to enable girls and women to reach their goals.  At the Strengthening Partnerships, Results, and Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING), USAID’s global nutrition project led by JSI, we couldn’t agree more that greater gender parity is needed in the area of nutrition! Our work draws health, agriculture, and economic development together to empower women and make real progress towards ending malnutrition.

Studies show that when women have more income and influence in household spending, child nutrition and food security improve. We’ve written a brief about the importance of women’s empowerment in agriculture and nutrition. Empowerment can focus on interventions like encouraging women to grow specific cash crops, thus increasing their income and buying abilities — but we know it’s also important to balance that against the additional time and labor such activities might require from women. We want to avoid increasing women’s already high workloads in farming communities, while still improving their nutritional prospects. This may mean encouraging fathers to share farming and childcare responsibilities so mothers have time to breastfeed and properly feed young children, or teaching families that rest and reduced workloads for pregnant women and lactating women contributes to healthier babies and ultimately more productive adults. Parity starts early, and it begins at home!

SPRING’s community media work in India, Niger’s Sahel region, Senegal demonstrates a successful way to engage with entire families, teaching about the importance of good nutrition. We work directly with community members to develop scripts and realistic stories teaching about good hygiene practices and improving nutrition. In the videos, local actors show how a family can work together to increase dietary diversity, how family members can help with complementary feeding, and how to reduce a woman’s workload during pregnancy.

Inclusive Nutrition Programming

Another place we can focus our #pledgeforparity is adolescent girls’ nutrition. Much of a girl’s growth occurs during her adolescence. If she is undernourished or anemic during this critical window, she (and her children, if she becomes pregnant) will suffer. Adolescents who become pregnant before they have finished growing face increased risks of obstructed labor, having low-birth weight babies, and dying in childbirth.

When we use a systems approach to address malnutrition — looking at interactions between households, finances, policies, markets, sociocultural environment, and more — we see that empowered girls and women can contribute immensely to the productivity of their families and communities. Our review of nutrition in lower and middle income countries for adolescent girls and women found that both underweight and overweight girls and women still suffer from malnourishment, and frequently, anemia, despite intervention efforts. In addition, babies born to overweight or obese mothers face a greater risk of developing health problems like diabetes and high blood pressure themselves.

Looking to the Future

There is no single way to address gender inequality, or to make the #pledgeforparity a reality, but through a variety of both nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive initiatives, we can make a difference. Empowering women to improve their family’s nutrition benefits communities around the world, and it helps improve not only this generation’s health, but that of future generations.

Young Girls at market in Guinea, Photo Credit- Peggy Koniz-Booher, SPRING (1)

At SPRING, we’re excited to share in the worldwide #pledgeforparity, and recognize the critical role women and girls’ play in meeting global nutrition goalsInstituting better nutrition programming and addressing the unique situations of women and girls provide great steps toward increasing empowerment. This year on International Women’s Day, make sure your #pledgeforparity includes a pledge to work toward better nutrition!

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