Women as Drivers of Change in Malnutrition


Malnutrition is a complex and pervasive global health crisis. While food aid remains crucial for populations in crisis and famine conditions, longer term solutions are vital for ending chronic and acute malnutrition in communities that may be politically stable, but remain food insecure and nutrient depraved. People, not rations or food supplements, will solve malnutrition; and women are the change-makers on the frontlines of this battle.

 

Women are the primary caregivers in most societies, including Rwanda, and thus bear the primary responsibility of rearing children to successful adulthood. When families are food insecure, women are more likely to bear the burden of malnutrition to ensure male heads of home are better nourished. Malnourished mothers, especially those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, often unintentionally manifest cycles of generational malnutrition through delivering low birth weight children, exacerbated later when children lack adequate food intake.

Nyirantezimama Apollinarie, recent graduate of GHI’s health center program in Musanze, and her daughter Nyauisaba Ada Toddey. “She smiles and plays with other children now. This was not always happening before GHI,” Apollinarie said of Toddey.

 

When women are empowered to take charge of their children’s nutrition, long-term solutions become feasible through everyday care. Studies show when women control a family’s finances, a higher percentage of family income goes towards nutritious food and health care. In one study conducted in the Côte D’Ivoire, it was found that when men were given the option to choose agricultural inputs, they consistently cultivated “pleasure” crops such as coffee, cacao, and pineapples, while women chose diverse, high-yielding crops such as coconuts, plantains, and vegetables. When the men’s crops yielded well, much of the income was spent on alcohol or tobacco. When the women’s crops fared better, more money went to education and food, particularly meat. “Consumption of vegetables is much more strongly related to female crop income,” wrote Dr. Duflo in the summary of the 2004 study, noting the link between households where women are empowered to make decisions around resource allocation and consumption of nutrient-diverse diets. As a result, children are often healthier when food and agricultural decisions are made by mothers.

Our partners at the ADC Masoro Kate Spade factory in Masoro, located just outside of Kigali. GHI administered nutrition curriculum and has helped start a garden for the factory workers.

 

Gardens for Health International (GHI) works within this framework, believing that when equipped with the right tools, all mothers can help their children lead healthy, successful lives. GHI works directly targets primary caregivers, meaning we work largely with mothers whose children have been identified as acutely or chronically malnourished by a local Community Health Worker during growth monitoring campaigns. Our trainings are built for mothers. In addition to lessons on nutrition and malnutrition, they include topics,  including lessons on breastfeeding, family planning, and recognizing intimate partner violence. Through our integrated an integrated approach of health and agriculture trainings, our graduates learn sustainable methods to produce and consume healthy foods, ensuring children are meeting their nutritional requirements and keep nutritious food in their children’s diets.

Enrollment for GHI’s Antenatal Care Program at Nyacyonga Health Center in Gasabo District.

79% of women in low income (“developing”) countries rely on agriculture as their primary form of income. Globally, so do 48% of women who are active in income generation. By empowering women to take charge of their family’s crop choice and spending power, children are more likely to grow up in food-secure circumstances. If complemented with a practical education in healthcare, mothers around the world could begin to set their children on a path to better health. GHI believes that women can change the world, and that education empowers them to do so.

 

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