“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”
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.