From the time a woman is born until when she dies, she plays a significant role in life, especially in the household. She brings forth life, nurtures, provides nutrition and ensures the smooth running of the household. Taking all her duties in the family into consideration, it is safe to say that the place of a woman cannot be displaced. The functions of a woman are not restricted to her immediate family, she is also a force to reckon with in the society as she brings about growth and development. Despite all her efforts, she is faced with challenges such as poverty, malnutrition, lack of education and healthcare.
When we talk about malnutrition, no gender or age is spared, and in Nigeria, there is a prevalence of undernutrition in women aged 15 to 49. These women suffer from undernutrition if their diets do not provide them with adequate quantity and quality of food and if they cannot fully utilize the food they eat, due to illness.
Women empowerment is important to eliminate malnutrition; and since it has been established that women are fundamental to development, it is therefore relevant to bring them up to speed on issues concerning malnutrition and how they can help break the cycle.
It was with this thought in mind that the recent Protein Challenge Webinar, themed: ‘Empowering Women to Break the Cycle of Malnutrition in Nigeria’ brought together experts in the medical and nutrition sectors to discuss women empowerment and the role it plays in ending malnutrition in Nigeria. Here are the reasons why women empowerment is a major strategy to end malnutrition in Nigeria.
Women empowerment will reduce poverty, improve national economic performance and nutrition.
Women lead and participate in decision making at all levels of life. In their homes, they are domestic implementers, they make decisions which include food choices for members of their household and this determines the nutrition status of their families. In Nigeria where men have more power and more access to resources, women are left with poor decision-making powers. Statistics reveal that female-headed households (which constitute about 16 per cent of total households in Nigeria) usually have lower poverty levels, higher education and higher income. This proves that empowering women will reduce poverty, improve economic performance and help in the fight against malnutrition in Nigeria.
Women Empowerment will lead to proper Nutrition Education
Proper nutrition education is important to health and well-being. Empowering women who are the key decision makers in their homes, on proper nutrition, is a step towards eliminating malnutrition. Teaching them that protein foods go beyond beans, fish and meat is very necessary. They also need to know that a lot of the whole grains and legumes from our local markets are packed with proteins – soybeans, wara (local cheese), egusi (pumpkin seeds),okpa (steamed Bambara nut pudding), ukwa (African breadfruit porridge), fura (millet dough balls) and groundnuts. Also, women must learn proper cooking methods such as not overcooking vegetables, or washing them before cutting, to avoid loss of valuable nutrients and to maintain good hygienic conditions.
Women Empowerment Will Promote Awareness on Nutrition
It is assumed that once a woman is adequately educated on a particular concept, other members of her family will follow suit. The same approach should be taken with regards to nutrition. Nutritional policies need to be targeted at women of all communities. Maternal literacy encouraging proper nutrition during pregnancy and exclusive breastfeeding of babies for the first 1000 days of life are some of the information women need to know. In addition, awareness programs simplified in local dialects will encourage more woman-to-woman spread of information.
In conclusion, women in every part of the country should be enlightened on the need to eat healthy, protein rich-foods and to implement home gardening to provide nutritious foods for their families. They also need to be encouraged to work, support their families and improve their purchasing power. When we remove malnutrition from our society, we would have removed poverty, violence and under development.