Briefing Papers Number 16, March 2012

Number 16,  March 2012 briefing paper Jim Stipe Enabling and Equipping Women to Improve Nutrition by Noreen Mucha, M.P.A. Key Points • Gender inequality is linked to higher rates of child mortality and malnutrition. • Improvements in women’s access to resources, ability to make independent decisions, and level of education are critical to better nutrition, both for young children and the whole family. • In some societies, girls are far more likely than boys to be stunted by malnutrition. A combination of efforts to improve agriculture, programs focused on better nutrition for pregnant women and children younger than 2, and initiatives to empower women as agents of change will help reduce gender disparities in household food consumption. • Using a gender perspective—including tools such as gender analysis, gendersensitive strategies and activities, and gender audits—will make programs aimed at improving nutrition, agriculture, and health more effective. Noreen Mucha is a nutrition consultant with Bread for the World Institute. Bread for the World Institute provides policy analysis on hunger and strategies to end it. The Institute educates its network, opinion leaders, policy makers and the public about hunger in the United States and abroad. Abstract Gender1: the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women Malnutrition during the 1,000 days between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday has irreversible physical, cognitive, and health consequences, reducing a person’s lifetime earning potential. For many countries with high rates of hunger and malnutrition, the low status of women2 is a primary cause. Women often have less education, lower economic status, and limited decisionmaking power in the household and community—all of which contribute to poorer nutrition. The status of women is a key determinant of maternal and child feeding practices as well as decisions about how food is distributed and consumed within the household. The end result is higher levels of malnutrition among women and girls than among males. Gender roles and inequities are a critical consideration in planning and implementing programs to improve nutrition among pregnant and lactating women and children younger than 2.