A conversation about women and nutrition

March 11, 2020

In celebration of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, Bread for the World speaks with Jordan Teague, senior international policy advisor at Bread for the Word Institute, about the state of women and nutrition.

Q. What is the state of women worldwide, as it pertains to nutrition?

A. Women around the world are more likely to be impacted by malnutrition, while at the same time also being the key to improving nutrition in many cases! Nearly one-third of women worldwide are affected by anemia, which is often a form of malnutrition – a prevalence that has been increasing since 2009. Malnutrition disproportionately affects women for a variety of reasons including their biological make-up, gender inequality in social status, poverty, and many others, meaning that it is especially important to both pay attention women’s nutrition as well as address the underlying reasons why they are more affected by malnutrition.

Q. What can the United States do to ensure that more women here and abroad get the proper nutrition they need for themselves and their children? What does the research tell us?

A. Nutrition services around the world, especially those focused on women, are underfunded, so the first thing the United States can do is to provide more foreign assistance funding to countries experiencing a high burden of malnutrition to scale up and improve their nutrition programs. A focus on adolescent girls’ nutrition is a great start, too; if teenage girls learn about proper nutrition in schools and are given the right resources to attain that nutrition, they can grow up to be women who are more empowered to improve their own nutrition and that of their children.

Feed the Future is one example of a United States initiative that is empowering women to improve food security and nutrition for themselves and their families. Since 2011, Feed the Future has helped 2.6 million women gain access to credit for their farming businesses, which helps increase their agricultural production and incomes.

In the United States, finances are also a major barrier to better nutrition for women and their families. Raising the minimum wage, and eliminating sub-wages like the tipped wage, would increase the purchasing power of people earning these wages – and women represent a disproportionate amount of people earning this wage. The United States should also increase the benefit level for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Almost every household exhausts their benefits before the end of the month. Increasing the amount of benefits in addition to adding benefits specifically to purchase fruits and vegetables would go a long way to improving the nutrition of women and children in this country.

Q. How can Bread for the World contribute to the work?

A. The political will to end malnutrition is half the battle, and that is where Bread for the World is focused. For the second year in a row, Bread for the World’s main advocacy campaign is focused on maternal and child nutrition. We are building nutrition champions in Congress, engaging with key officials at the Department of State and USAID, and helping create coalitions of people who are committed to seeing an end to malnutrition. We will keep pushing for more funding for nutrition, more effective nutrition programs, and higher prioritization of nutrition in the development and humanitarian agenda.

Q. In March, both Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day are celebrated. Why should society care about highlighting and celebrating the history and accomplishments of women? Why are women so crucial to the success of a society?

A. You don’t really need me to tell you how awesome women are, but I’ll happily oblige! Women are approximately half the worldwide population, so that’s reason enough to elevate their history and accomplishments. It’s widely recognized that women have a collaborative leadership style, and their conflict resolution skills are sorely needed in our world today. Development practitioners agree that a household budget in the hands of a woman is typically spent to improve the health and well-being of all family members.

Q. You have traveled to other countries to see first-hand how nutrition programs are helping women and their families. Describe one of your trips. What lessons did you learn?

A. I had the privilege of traveling to Nepal in 2018 to visit U.S. global food security, nutrition, and agriculture programs. The visit that stood out to me the most was our visit with Ekata, a women farmers’ group in southwestern Nepal. This group of smallholder female farmers received training through Feed the Future on financial management, working with agricultural traders, and growing nutritious local vegetables. As a result, their farming operations have grown. In addition to feeding their families more vegetables, they now sell crops to market for profit, strengthening the local economy and generating household income. The group’s chairwoman, Tara Gaywali, told me the training has helped them feel more empowered and has helped them access assistance (such as loans) that had previously been difficult to attain. I was struck by the notion that this relatively simple assistance program could make such a difference in the lives of women in this rural area of Nepal.

Jordan Teague is senior international policy advisor at Bread for the World Institute.

Development practitioners agree that a household budget in the hands of a woman is typically spent to improve the health and well-being of all family members.

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