March 5, 2015

Guest Commentary - Catching Up on Gender and Nutrition

Photo by Riccardo Gangale, USAID

By Asma Lateef, Director, Bread for the World Institute
 
About 60 percent of the world’s 805 million chronically malnourished people are women and girls, according to the United Nations World Food Program. Women’s dual roles as agricultural producers and family caregivers make them essential leaders in efforts to end hunger and malnutrition. Together, these realities explain why further progress against global hunger depends on further progress against gender discrimination.

For too long women’s empowerment was not seen to be integral to global development. More recently, the pervasive harm that gender inequality does to entire societies has begun to be recognized for what it is. The waste of human potential is reflected in economic costs—as much as 30 percent of a nation's GDP, according to Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund.

Contrary to what we might expect, a higher household income does not necessarily lead to better nutrition for children in the family. The allocation of resources and decision-making authority within the household helps explain why, since numerous studies show that women are more likely than men to invest their earnings in children’s health and education. Also, researchers who calculated the importance of various factors in explaining improvements in child nutrition between 1970 and 1995 found that improvements in women’s education and relative status accounted for more than half the progress.

Similarly, good nutrition, especially for infants and young children, was recognized only fairly recently as an absolute necessity for development. Previously, at a time when many developing countries were making great progress against famine and extreme poverty, the focus was on food rather than nutrition. There is now growing understanding of the devastating impact of malnutrition, which is an underlying cause of 45 percent of preventable deaths among young children and causes lasting cognitive and physical damage in survivors. There is also deeper understanding about its impact on people at other points in the life cycle—for example, the realization that antiretroviral medications to treat HIV simply do not work as well for malnourished people. The national economic costs of malnutrition (because of lost productivity and higher healthcare costs, for example) were neither calculated nor considered.

Indeed, the world has some catching up to do in both areas. Momentum to make both gender equity and nutrition top priorities has been building over the past few years. The science needed to end malnutrition is available. Global and national leaders, particularly the 54 countries (and counting) in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, are equipping nutrition workers to expand cost-effective, straightforward nutrition actions to benefit more children and developing policies and programs that will improve nutrition outcomes through sectors such as agriculture, health, and WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene). Success will depend on addressing gender inequality and empowering women.

The recipe for women’s empowerment and gender equity is perhaps more complicated because it must overcome pervasive, seemingly intractable social norms. But we know many of the essentials—for example, equality under the law, access to education, a much fairer division of household chores. These offer more than enough scope for sustained global attention, effort, and investment.

Bread for the World Institute’s 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish ... We Can End Hunger, identifies three themes that point toward solutions: more bargaining power, equitable sharing of unpaid work such as household chores, and greater representation in government and civil society. Progress in redressing the power differential between men and women has made it possible for women to take many steps forward; further progress is essential. Improving women’s ability to engage in economic activity means access to markets and credit, equal opportunity in both the formal and informal work sectors, and an end to gender-based violence—which limits women and girls in countless ways. Burdensome unpaid labor can often be eased by technology, public services, resource conservation, or other strategies, but this does not change the fact that “women’s work” must be redefined and their workloads lightened so they too can pursue education and livelihood goals, nurture their children, and contribute to community and national life. Finally, equality for women requires that a fair share of their society’s leadership reflects and represents their experiences and perspectives.

In 2015, the world is negotiating and adopting Sustainable Development Goals to succeed the Millennium Development Goals. This is a powerful opportunity to incorporate goals and indicators that will rally the global community to make rapid progress on women’s empowerment and nutrition—two intertwined prerequisites to end hunger and extreme poverty by 2030.
 

About

The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Blogroll

1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days

Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

The Global Food Banking Network

Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA

Archive

Interview with Mauricio Antonio Lopes

Mauricio Antonio Lopes, president of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, explains Brazil's national efforts to invest in agricultural development and the importance of scientific investment to achieve global food security.


Meet the Experts: Navyn Salem

Navyn Salem is the founder and Executive Director of Edesia, a non-profit producer of Plumpy’Nut and other peanut-based, ready-to-use nutritious foods used to treat and prevent childhood malnutrition. Since March 2010, Edesia has reached 1.6 million malnourished children in 36 countries.


Interview with Lindiwe Majele Sibanda

Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, chief executive officer and head of mission of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), highlights the need to invest in women farmers to boost agricultural production and the intersection between scientific research and agricultural development.
 


Photo of the Week

Anonciata Mbakirirehe of Kayenzi, Rwanda, stands amid her newly germinated maize.


Interview with 2013 Next Generation Student Jose Pablo Soto-Arias

Jose Pablo Soto-Arias, a plant pathology student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, describes his work on food-borne plant pathogens as well as the importance of supporting new agricultural research and young scientists in the field of food security.
 


Interview with Cynthia Rosenzweig

Cynthia E. Rosenzweig, senior research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, discusses the important role of research and education to help mitigate impacts of climate change.



Photo of the Week

Beatrice Wasike of Victorious, Kenya, shows off the millet she harvested this season. Beatrice harvested 8 bags of millet from a quarter acre of land.




Photo of the Week

Farmers in Kibachenje, Kenya, look through enrollment materials for the 2014 season.




Photo of the Week

Like most women in the Maasai community in Kenya, Elizabeth Talash Naikoni is up at dawn to milk her cows.


Interview with Ren Wang: Empowering Smallholder Farmers

Ren Wang, assistant director general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, explains why we must support smallholder farmers through knowledge, market access, and technology in order to achieve global food security.