Women are crucial in the fight against malnutrition and here is why

Lawrence Haddad, GAIN’s Executive Director, sheds light on the crucial role played by women and girls in fight against poverty and malnutrition.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, it is really important to remember the key role that women play in securing food and nutrition, status and security for everybody in their family and their community and, in fact, in their nation. There are three key things that come to mind when I think about the role of women in food and nutrition.

Firstly, women are overrepresented amongst people living below the poverty line, people who are malnourished. This is because they tend to be less powerful in terms of their access to resources, but also because they are more vulnerable to certain nutrition deficiencies, like anaemia. It is a very important and numerical fact, and it’s a very big, important difference.

Secondly, it is really important to remember that, when women control resources, everyone in the household benefits.  Not just women benefit, but the children, and the men and everybody in the family. So when they control more income, when they bring assets into a household, when they have more education, when they have more decision making, power over what is bought in terms of food and healthcare and schooling, everybody benefits. Their own nutrition status improves, their children’s nutrition improves and interestingly the men in the household their food security also improves. So it’s not a zero sum game where you empower women and you disempower everybody else, on the contrary you empower women and everybody is empowered.

And the third point – in fact the most important point – is that this gender imbalance in terms of power is not culturally fixed; it is culturally determined in many places and in many contexts, but it’s not fixed in the sense of it doesn’t have to be this way forever. There are many interventions, programs and laws that can actually quite quickly change norms around what is appropriate and not appropriate for women to be, to have decision making power over. So, for example the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh decided to target small loans and small credit to women to prove that this was going to empower them and, lo and behold, it did. Mexico decided to invest in big cash transfer programs progresses that were targeting women. The cash transfers empowered them, but also let everybody in the household benefiting in terms of improved food and nutrition security from those cash transfers.

So, it is important on International Women’s Day to remember three things: first, women and girls are more likely to be living in poverty and more likely to be malnourished than their male counterparts; second, empowering women is good obviously for women and girls, but it’s good for everybody in the household and in the community; and third, there are some really, very tangible proven interventions that can shift the way we think about gender norms and the balance of power between men and women.

Read Vinita Bali, GAIN’s Chair of the Board, latest blogpost here

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 9 March