“In many coun­tries, women eat last in the fam­ily, re­duc­ing their chances of get­ting the right nutri­tion. Ma­ter­nity and breast­feed­ing pro­vi­sions are also weak, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for women to nurse their chil­dren”

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Right now, a stag­ger­ing 1.6 bil­lion peo­ple world­wide suf­fer from anaemia, a con­di­tion strongly con­nected to iron de­fi­ciency – and one of the symp­toms of a global nutri­tion cri­sis that dis­pro­por­tion­ally af­fects women. In­deed, anaemia af­flicts twice as many women as men – nearly one in three women and girls world­wide – and con­trib­utes to one-fifth of all ma­ter­nal deaths.

In 2012, the World Health As­sem­bly en­dorsed a tar­get to re­duce the rate of anaemia by 50% by 2025. But, at the cur­rent rate of progress, this tar­get will not be reached un­til 2124. De­spite hard-won gains for women, we re­main a cen­tury be­hind sched­ule on an is­sue that is key to their health and de­vel­op­ment – and to that of their chil­dren.

But there is hope. If we in­vest in bet­ter nutri­tion now, we can en­sure a brighter fu­ture for girls and women ev­ery­where – for the next hun­dred years and be­yond.

We can no longer treat gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion and mal­nu­tri­tion as sep­a­rate is­sues. The two are in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked; they re­in­force each an­other in a pat­tern that touches women at ev­ery stage of their lives. Mal­nu­tri­tion – in all of its forms – is both a cause and an ef­fect of the pro­found power im­bal­ance be­tween men and women.

Gen­der in­equal­ity be­gins in the womb. Ev­ery year, 16 mil­lion ado­les­cent girls give birth, most in low- and mid­dle- in­come coun­tries. If a mother lives in an area where stunt­ing rates are high and she is in her mid-teens, her child is more likely to be stunted – and thus more sus­cep­ti­ble to dis­ease and largely ir­re­versible cog­ni­tive un­der­de­vel­op­ment, ad­versely af­fect­ing their abil­ity to ben­e­fit from ed­u­ca­tion and reach their full po­ten­tial.

Th­ese chil­dren will usu­ally go on to earn less, which in­creases their like­li­hood of liv­ing in poverty, be­ing mal­nour­ished, and, as a re­sult, fac­ing a higher risk of de­vel­op­ing chronic dis­eases such as di­a­betes and hy­per­ten­sion later in life. And, given the so­ci­etal and eco­nomic bi­ases against women in most coun­tries, th­ese early life cir­cum­stances place girls at an even more se­vere dis­ad­van­tage. The cy­cle then re­peats it­self; th­ese dis­em­pow­ered and mal­nour­ished women give birth to stunted ba­bies, per­pet­u­at­ing the cy­cle of in­equal­ity.

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