International Women’s Day: Why Achieving Gender Equity Will Help Us End Malnutrition

In her latest blogpost, Vinita Bali, GAIN’s Chair of the Board, explains why we need to focus on women empowerment and gender equity to create healthier and more prosperous societies free from malnutrition in all its forms.

Once again International Women’s Day will be marked by talks and speeches around the world where mostly the right words will be spoken (and that too, largely by women, for women). The reality however, is embodied in several documents and reports including the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2016, which says that it will now take until 2186 (170 years from now), for women to achieve gender parity in the workplace. This is a notable step back from last year’s projections of 2133 and a triumph of tokenism over substantive action.

So, the key question is the value that is placed on equity and fairness, when it comes to gender – whether at home or at work, whether by the immediate family or the larger community and society? The pervasive social and cultural bias has stymied the progress of women at large and prevented them from realising their full potential. Of course, there are exceptions and they get highlighted all the time everywhere, as though the act of doing so, absolves us from the unfairness for the majority.

It is a travesty that despite being the primary food producers in the world, women are most affected by hunger and under nutrition. In a majority of the countries they eat last in the family and also eat poorer quality food. In the developing countries almost half of all women are anaemic which contributes to 20% of all maternal deaths and the birth of underweight infants, who in turn grow up stunted, wasted and unable to realise their full potential (globally we have 156 million stunted children). Malnutrition holds back education, economic opportunities, productivity and growth in an inter-generational and vicious cycle. The prerequisite for a healthy world is healthy women, starting from the infant to adolescent girls and women.

Women account for over 40% of the global labour force and yet malnutrition, including micronutrient deficiencies, diminishes their earning power through low energy levels, illness and increased absence from work. It is estimated that tackling anaemia alone could lead to increased productivity of up to 17 percent.

At the same time, there is empirical evidence that women are leaders in the fight against malnutrition. Healthy and strong women help build strong families and communities that in turn contribute to creating prosperous societies.

Despite the fact that several organisations around the world are working tirelessly to secure a fair and equitable future for women, the odds are stacked against them. It therefore behoves every responsible individual to contribute to creating an environment where gender is not a determinant of any form of exploitation. And those of us privileged enough to know and influence have the huge responsibility to act. A transformational change in the attitude and behaviour towards women is an individual and organisational effort that comes from a deep conviction that inequity and unfairness of any kind must not be tolerated.

At the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), we strive to create a world that provides its women and children, who are the most vulnerable, healthy and nutritious food to eliminate malnutrition. We do this through partnerships and alliances with governments, civil society, donors, development partners and the private sector, working from the insight that malnutrition has various dimensions and must therefore be addressed comprehensively. Given the numerous links between empowering women and improving nutrition, more still needs to be done in order to address the specific nutritional problems of women, adolescent girls and young children. The barriers for women in accessing nutritious diets are numerous.

Adequate nutrition is important for women not only because it helps them be productive members of society, but also because of the direct effect maternal nutrition has on the health and development of the next generation. Maternal malnutrition’s toll on maternal and infant survival prevents countries from achieving most of the Sustainable Development Goals. Focusing on women empowerment and gender equity is the right thing to do to create healthier and stronger societies.

 Vinita Bali is a global business leader with extensive experience in leading large Companies both in India and overseas. She is among 27 global leaders appointed by the UN to help improve maternal and child health as part of its SUN (Scaling Up Nutrition) initiative. She has been recognized in forums nationally and internationally and has won several awards for her various contributions to business. She is Chair of GAIN’s Board of Directors.

Read the stories of women in action to improve nutrition in their communities

Learn more about GAIN’s work to improve the nutrition of women and girls

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Published on 8 March