Malnutrition–including undernutrition, overweight and obesity, and micronutrient deficiencies–disproportionately affects women and girls, with over 1 billion women globally experiencing at least one form of malnutrition and is the single largest cause of death among women. Though due to biological factors, women and girls are more vulnerable to certain forms of malnutrition, such as anaemia, several economic, social and cultural factors contribute to gender inequalities that limit access to optimal nutrition for women and girls.
Women are often those most affected by the negative consequences of undernutrition. About half of all pregnant women in developing countries are anaemic, which contributes up to 20 per cent of all maternal deaths. Malnutrition for women and girls is an issue of equity, as well as poverty since women and girls are twice more likely to suffer from malnutrition than men and boys. In many developing countries, women and girls traditionally eat last and have lower-quality food, often leading to poorer nutritional intake.
At the same time, women are front-runners in the fight against malnutrition. Supporting women to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of a child’s life, and to continue breastfeeding along with adequate complementary foods until at least age 2, is the best nutrition intervention for mothers and their babies. Empowering women to have greater control over household income is key, as they are more likely to prioritize spending on nutritious foods thereby improving nutrition for the entire family.
There are several links between empowering women and improving nutrition. A lot more still needs to be done to understand those links and address the specific nutritional problems of women and girls. The barriers for women in accessing adequate diets are numerous and cover social, cultural and regulatory barriers, lack of supportive work environment, and limited access to factors of production, poverty, and poor policy implementation among others.
To overcome those barriers and improve Women and Girl’s Nutrition in Nigeria, CS-SUNN with support from FHI Solutions is looking to accelerate progress on Women and Girl’s Nutrition. FHI Solutions define Women’s and girls’ Nutrition as ‘meeting daily macro- and micro-nutrient requirements from a healthy diet that builds immunity and protects against disease and all forms of malnutrition. Supported by the availability of and access to nutritious foods and health services, gender equity and increased empowerment, income earning potential, and decision-making ability, girls’ and women’s nutrition impacts her ability to flourish across all stages of life, making it foundational for her health, development, prosperity, and for thriving communities.
Findings from Alive & Thrive’s formative research on Women and Girls’ Nutrition show Nigeria has policies, commitments, and a governance architecture in place to advance nutrition and address it through a multisectoral approach but do not clearly link nutrition and development, but for the most part, do not address how gender equity and nutrition are interlinked.
According to Toyin Adewale-Gabriel, Senior Technical Advisor of Alive & Thrive ‘a lot remains to be done as evidenced by the National Assembly’s rejection in March 2022 of five gender equality bills that sought to alter the constitution and establish affirmative actions for women in governance and political representation. It is evident that the National Assembly did not consider the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), in arriving at their decision to kill the bills on the floor of the house. The findings further show that the health and nutrition sectors focus on maternal nutrition and health, and children under five, with little attention to the specific needs of adolescent girls. The exception is the national policy on adolescent health and development, beyond a framework for adolescent sexual and reproductive health and services, which paves the way for collaborating with the education sector to eliminate harmful social norms affecting girls.
THE WOMEN AND GIRLS NUTRITION PROJECT:
The Women’s Nutrition Project draws upon the expertise of three centres of excellence at FHI Solutions through the Alive & Thrive (A&T), Intake and 1,000 Days initiatives to co-curate and champion an Action Agenda to prioritize and accelerate policy and finance commitments to women and girls’ nutrition at global, regional and country levels, including the Southeast Asia region and Ethiopia, India and Nigeria. The Action Agenda puts forth a call to action on healthy diets, care, gender equity, and a multi-system enabling environment as key action areas with shortcomings that are holding back progress on women’s and girls’ nutrition.
CS-SUNN is currently implementing the Women and Girls Nutrition project with support from FHI Solutions. As an effective national organization operationalizing best principles for nutrition advocacy with an influential advocacy network and strong partnerships (with relevant state and non-state actors), CS-SUNN is the advocacy partner to support the definition and roll-out of policy advocacy initiatives that are based on country-level priorities to advance the Action Agenda for Women and Girls nutrition in Nigeria.
THE NATIONAL ADVOCACY WORKSHOP
‘I feel delighted to be here and for the National Council on Women Societies (NCWS) to be represented. Malnutrition has been an issue in Nigeria and I commend CS-SUNN for what they are doing we will leverage our spread in Nigeria, to step down all we have learnt for our women. Whatever is coming out here will get down to the grassroots through NCWS. We will translate to our women and girls because some of them act out of ignorance. There is another thing we are taking out from here, you don’t need so much money to have a balanced diet and you must not be rich too, some little but nourishing foods we have in our environment guarantee a balanced diet, so that information is key for us in NCWS’ said Emedolibe Nnenna, Programmes Officer of the NCWS at the just concluded National Advocacy Workshop on Women and Girl’s Nutrition in Abuja.
Bringing together over 50 stakeholders (Civil Society Organizations, development partners, Ministries, Departments and Agencies, research institutions and academia) experienced in supporting advocacy campaigns in a hybrid workshop organized by CS-SUNN, participants sought to create specific advocacy asks to improve the policy environment and increase financial commitment in support of women’s and girls’ nutrition in Nigeria.
The two days’ intensive workshop revealed the state of Women and Girls’ Nutrition in Nigeria with facilitated discussions/breakout sessions for participants to identify the problem, what needs to change for healthy diets, access to quality nutrition and health care, gender equity, and enabling environment including advocacy goal and objectives for the project. CS-SUNN Executive Secretary, Sunday Okoronkwo guided participants using the problem tree analysis to identify the Advocacy issues, goals and objectives that will accelerate progress on women and girls nutrition.
Please follow the link to watch the brainstorming session video by participants on advocacy goals for women and girls’ nutrition in Nigeria https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxPQIPYP9JE&t=6s
Participants shared their thoughts on the outcomes of the workshop. Dr Maimuna Aliyu, Vice President North Nutrition Society of Nigeria said ‘This is very interesting. I appreciate the effort of CS-SUNN in introducing this programme, it will go a long way in tackling the challenge of women’s nutrition. I am a teacher and a lecturer and I will pass the information gathered here to my students as we go for fieldwork in communities to carry out nutrition programmes, I will use most of the knowledge I have obtained in this workshop. It is important to prioritize women’s nutrition because a woman’s body is a multi-task person; she thinks about the family, home, and relations and carries babies so you have to nurture that body to be able to carry out these tasks, without proper nutrition how do you think that women or girl can survive? ‘If you train a girl child, you are training a nation, so this workshop is very imperative. This workshop has equipped me with relevant data on girls’ and women’s nutrition that I will use in practical teaching and webinars which I coordinate for the academic and research network including my engagements in research and other programmes’ added Dr Anthony Oko-Isu, a lecturer with the Alex Ekwueme University Enugu who is also the National Public Relations Officer of the Scaling Up Nutrition in Nigeria Academic Research Network.
The National Advocacy Workshop identified the non-empowerment of Women and Girls to access quality nutrition in Nigeria as a key impediment to accelerating progress on Women and Girl’s Nutrition. Participants advocate improved access to quality education for the girl child, higher level of income among women and girls and inclusion of women in decision-making in Nigeria to advance Women and Girls’ nutrition.