SHIKANDA KAWANGA, Livingstone
EMPIRICAL evidence suggests that empowering women improves nutrition for mothers, their children and other household members.
It is with this evidence that the Zambian government, in partnership with local and international organisation, has made various strides in prioritising women empowerment, which has a positive effect on a familyâ€™s nutrition.
However, it is worth noting that gender and nutrition are not stand-alone issues as they are inter-linked in a way because nutritional conditions affect both men and women though females are the worst-hit.
International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) special adviser on nutrition for east and southern Africa Marian Odenigbo said in an interview that gender is an important point of consideration as the nutritional statistics already review an imbalance.
She said being over-weight, under-weight and stunting are nutritional conditions that affect both men and women.
Mrs Odenigbo said surveys conducted in Zambia reviewed that being over-weight was rampant among boys whilst stunting and under-weight were common among girls.
â€œAdult population shows that 19 percent of men and only nine per cent of women are over-weight, and under-nutrition is highest among women with 12 percent of females and six per cent of men,â€ she said.
Ms Odenigbo observed that the nutrition burden mostly affects rural communities, small-holder farming households, and had a bias towards gender.
She, however, stated that critical state of stunting affects Burundi with 57.5 percent, Eritrea (50.3 percent), Ethiopia (40.4 percent) Madagascar (49.2 percent), Malawi (42.4 per cent), Mozambique (43.1 per cent), Rwanda (44.3 percent) and Zambia with 40 percent.
Ms Odenigbo, however, called for the need for intensified sensitisation and training of front line staff in nutrition issues.
And in a separate interview, IFAD regional gender and youth co-ordinator for east and southern Africa Elizabeth Ssendiwala stressed the importance of women and men working together in ensuring that there is food security at household level.
â€œOnce men and women work together, there will be increased income, improved asset base, improved nutrition, improved school attendance, improved health,â€ she said.
She said women and men must be equal and respected partners in improving their lives.
Ms Ssendiwala said womenâ€™s empowerment is not just a fundamentally moral cause, adding that countries with the most severe gender inequalities face the highest levels of hunger.
She said womenâ€™s lower bargaining power in the household is linked to increased child malnutrition and inter-generational transfer of poverty.
Ms Ssendiwala also said violence against women is linked to reduced access to economic resources in the household and economic opportunities outside the household.
She noted that womenâ€™s lack of control over assets is linked to lower investment in family nutrition and welfare; and greater vulnerability of families to poverty.
Ms Ssendiwala also said womenâ€™s lack of ownership and control over productive assets is linked to lower agricultural production and food insecurity.
She reiterated that realising gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will be crucial for progress across all other goals and targets.
Ms Ssendiwala said there is need to promote economic empowerment to enable rural women and men to have equal opportunity to participate in, and benefit from, profitable economic activities.
â€œEnable women and men to have equal influence in rural institutions and organisations, so that more equitable balance in workloads and in sharing of economic-social benefits between women and men can be achieved,â€ she said.
She said gender equality and womenâ€™s empowerment are beneficial for households, communities, and nations.
Gender is central in exploring the linkages and synergies of social protection, agriculture, health, education programmes and policies in reducing poverty and enhancing nutrition, health, and education outcomes.
Several projects identify innovative ways to empower women to maximise impacts as they and their children are the most affected.
The health of a child is inextricably linked to the health and nutritional status of the mother. An under-nourished woman will give birth to a baby with low birth weight, causing the cycle of under-nutrition and poor health to continue.
In eastern and southern Africa, approximately 14 percent of infants weigh less than 2.5kg at birth, 26 percent of all children under the age of five are under-weight, and 45 percent suffer from stunted growth, often resulting in irreversible physical and mental deficiencies later in life.
Under-nutrition contributes up to 50 percent of all cases of child mortality.
Gender inequality is an important underlying cause of womenâ€™s under-nutrition and is further exacerbated by poverty and lack of access to resources.
In many cultural settings in the region, boys and men traditionally eat first, and girls and women eat the left-overs.
When food is little, females have very little, or nothing at all, to eat. Because of gender norms, women often also have limited access to and control over resources and may therefore be excluded from household decision-making while menâ€™s low involvement in infant and childcare further has a negative impact on childrenâ€™s nutrition.
In order to improve childrenâ€™s nutritional status, womenâ€™s nutrition needs to be addressed at all stages of the life cycle.
Lactating and pregnant women and children under five have special nutritional requirements and suffer severe consequences from under-nutrition.
Therefore, everyone, including the men, need to be involved in nutrition issues both at household and national levels.
SHIKANDA KAWANGA, Livingstone