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Why is a Nutritionist Presenting at #WEEForum2017? Uncovering the Link Between Gender and Nutrition

by on May 11, 2017  |  posted in Women's Economic Empowerment  |  0 Comments

This blog is published as part of the 2017 WEE Global Learning Forum Blog Series.

Browsing through the list of panelists presenting at the upcoming WEE Global Learning Forum in Bangkok, I realize that my profile would be a perfect fit for the game “pick who doesn’t belong.” I am a nutritionist – and apart from being a woman, I would not dare claim to be a gender expert. So, what am I doing chairing a learning session at the WEE Forum?

Gender and Nutrition: The Missing Link

From my perspective, gender experts and nutritionists are missing out on potential synergies as we continue to silo our activities. That’s why I’m excited to be part of a peer learning session at the WEE Forum titled, Livestock, Women, and Nutrition: Overcoming Social Barriers to Engagement. For this session, we are bringing together three fabulous gender experts who will present their work on integrating women into livestock value chains. The projects they will talk about from Burkina Faso, Uganda, and Bangladesh, are not simply looking to improve women’s empowerment in these value chains, but also to achieve improvements in nutrition.

Many of the learnings to be shared on overcoming social barriers that limit women’s participation closely relate to the work of nutritionists in bringing about behavioral change around nutrition, particularly within households. Gender dynamics that dictate who controls income or makes food purchases directly impact how and who consumes nutritious food in the household. Yet, most of the work being done within market systems and agriculture projects focuses separately on what can we achieve within the spheres of women’s empowerment and nutrition without bringing these two groups together.

Women’s Empowerment: A Pathway to Nutrition

In nutrition, we talk about the agriculture to nutrition pathways. These are the steps we believe must be completed for agricultural projects to have an impact on nutrition—how agriculture can move from improving household assets and livelihoods to achieving positive nutrition outcomes.

One of the three main pathways is women’s empowerment. Women play a vital role in allocating household resources, particularly those concerning nutrition and health, and are also the primary caregivers for children. At the same time, women are often excluded from making household decisions that can have a significant impact on the nature of food a household grows and consumes as well as how food is distributed among household members.

So, when market systems projects look at women’s empowerment issues such as their access to productive resources (i.e., inputs) or role in making household decisions, without thinking about nutrition outcomes, they are missing out on easy nutrition wins.

The good news is that all we need is a shift in our focus or slight adaption to what we’re doing and create synergies. For example, when working with an agro-dealer who supplies seeds to women, why not also make sure women have access to and knowledge about the best high-yielding varieties to boost incomes or nutritious seeds, such as iron-rich beans or vitamin A maize? And returning to livestock, when training households on joint decision-making and budgets, why not include messages targeted around the household’s consumption of animal source foods such as eggs or milk?

The opportunities are there; we just need to start talking more about them. I’m glad the WEE Forum organizers took a chance on this nutritionist. And I look forward to hearing from other participants on how they see gender experts and nutritionists working together even more closely to achieve greater impact in the communities we serve.

Hannah Guedenet, Director of Nutrition Programs for Agribusiness Systems International (ASI), brings 10 years of experience working in international development and on the integration of agriculture and nutrition. She has a Master’s in Public Health with a focus in nutrition and behavior change communications from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She currently manages ASI’s portfolio of nutrition-sensitive agriculture projects, including a BMGF-funded poultry, nutrition, and women’s empowerment project in Burkina Faso and the AgResults Zambia Biofortified Maize Pilot, testing the introduction of provitamin A maize meal into markets with the goal of improving nutrition.

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