Nutrition and Women’s Empowerment

By Nabeela Waheed

Good nutrition is not only a concern for the health and development of an individual, but also has major implications for the health and productivity of the entire country. Women’s empowerment has massive implications for nutritional status of children – on their physical and mental development. Investment in women’s human capital in rural communities of developing nations have greater positive implications for nutritional improvements of children as compared to the investments in men’s human capital development. Children are the future human resource of a country, hence it is vital to more effectively invest in and promote the development of their intellectual and physical development. Research shows that women — as mothers and primary caretakers — are more likely to influence health and nutrition outcomes of their children and their families if they are economically empowered.

Many interventions have been completed with the aim to alleviate poverty and improve investments in human capital in the world, and one of the most important lesson learnt from those interventions is that women’s empowerment is the key to achieve those objectives.

Studies show that we can measure women’s empowerment in various extents and combinations. Malhotra, Schuler, and Boender (2002) lay out the various dimensions along which women can be empowered (economic, sociocultural, familial and interpersonal, legal, political, and psychological) and also the different levels at which empowerment can occur: the household and community, as well as national, regional, and global.

Women’s empowerment is considered crucial for improving nutrition outcomes. Since women are often primary caregivers, they can influence their children’s nutrition indirectly through their own nutritional status as well as directly through childcare practices (Bhagowalia et al. 2012; Smith et al. 2003a). Several studies (using direct and indirect measures of female empowerment) have demonstrated the important associations between women’s empowerment dimensions and their own nutrition as well as that of their children. For example, in Pakistan, women’s intra-household status (measured by age at first marriage, percentage age difference between woman and spouse, difference between woman’s and spouse’s years of education, woman’s income, and unearned income from remittances) was positively associated with food security among their children (Guha-Khasnobis and Hazarika 2006).

It is necessary for all of us to understand the link between women’s economic empowerment and nutrition. All policy makers and humanitarian workers aiming to improve nutrition should make women’s economic empowerment a corner stone of their strategies. Various options to empower women’s economic empowerment are cash transfer, agricultural programs, and microfinance. Pakistan needs to pay more attention to this because it has to fight extreme kind of malnutrition. Global Nutrition Report says that only 43 to 48 per cent children under five are growing healthy, while the rest are suffering from malnutrition.

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