Why women are key to better nutrition and global poverty eradication
04 April 2019
Why focus on nutrition and adolescent girls?
Adolescence is the transition period between childhood and adulthood – the perfect opportunity to improve nutrition and correct poor nutritional practices. It is a period of growth and physical changes, as well as changes in lifestyle. This makes it an important time to focus on eating habits and food choices.
For young women there are often the additional nutritional demands of pregnancy and lactation. An estimated 16 million adolescent girls give birth every year - representing 11 per cent of births globally. Adolescent girls, especially if undernourished and stunted, are more likely to die in childbirth, and are at a greater risk to give birth to malnourished children. Providing girls and young women with nutritional knowledge can break the cycle of exclusion and vulnerability, opening the way to their economic empowerment.
Is improved nutrition alone the solution for poverty?
Poor nutrition and its effects cost developing countries billions of dollars and can reduce the GDP per capita by up to almost five per cent. So improved nutrition is not just an outcome of economic growth and social development, but an essential input as well. The response to malnutrition needs to recognise the role that different sectors play outside of agriculture, such as health, education and social protection.
IFAD tackles the issue from different angles. Integrating nutrition considerations into all stages of the food value chain – from storage, to processing to marketing – they all contribute to improving people’s access to nutritious foods. We also need to continue finding the links between environment, climate and nutrition as well as investing in water, sanitation and hygiene. Ultimately, this means we must strengthen nutrition-related policy dialogue and coordination with sectors beyond agriculture.
How can development be done differently to empower millions of women and girls in rural communities?
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Rather, there are many interventions that are context-specific: from increasing consumption of nutritious foods, job creation, training and youth apprenticeships; to promoting access to financial resources and land. It is important to involve young women in the development programmes for all these initiatives and ensure their voices are part of policy formation. As women make up a significant percentage of the workforce in agriculture and food systems in developing countries, gender-sensitive agricultural projects can ensure that women retain greater control over resources and that they have a say in the choice of crops.
Traditional obligations, such as preparing and cooking meals, carrying water, working in the fields or at the family business, as well as other activities often create significant demands on a woman’s time and energy. Making sure agricultural investments are designed to empower women and achieve gender equality, allows women time to take care of their children and other family members. Ultimately, this means that improving women's nutritional knowledge and dietary and hygiene behaviours can help reduce undernutrition.
Agricultural growth is enhanced if both rural women and men fully participate. How can we engage men in rural areas?
Gender transformative approaches have shown to be effective at stimulating change at the community, social group, and household levels. The household methodologies supported by IFAD tackle the underlying social norms, attitudes, behaviours and systems that represent the root causes of gender inequality. Individual people should be at the centre of development interventions, with their aspirations on who they want to be, what they want to do and how they can do so. This methodology, focusing on men and women in rural households and communities, represents a shift of focus in rural investments from the "what" - assets, infrastructure to the "who" - placing the affected rural people living in poverty at the centre of the change processes towards progress and prosperity without malnutrition.
Read more about IFAD and nutrition