International Policy/United Nations

By Aiding Bangladesh Women, CARE Cuts Child Hunger

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The antipoverty group CARE finds in a March 8 report that investments in Bangladeshi women's health and social mobility correlated to a 28-percent drop in childhood malnutrition.

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--Women's empowerment is a popular mantra in international-development circles, linked to the premise that the most effective way to help an overall society is to invest in women.

But what does women's empowerment mean? How is it defined? Can we measure it?

How do providers of humanitarian aid support women's-empowerment projects?

CARE, the international antipoverty group based in Atlanta, joins the effort to answer such questions with a March 8 report on a multi-year project in Bangladesh that has produced an eye-popping correlation between women-focused spending and a 28-percent drop in childhood malnutrition or "stunting" during the study period of almost four years.

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Researchers defined empowerment as entrepreneurship opportunity, greater participation in children's education and more awareness of harmful and taboo topics as early marriage, dowry and violence against women. They made "interventions" in all these areas.

CARE called the project SHOUHARDO, which stands for Strengthening Household Ability to Respond to Development Opportunities and means "friendship" in Bangla.

Researchers targeted 400,000 households, each with an average size of five members, so the program affected about 2 million, said Faheem Khan, head of the program.

The lessons learned with SHOUHARDO are now being applied to a second phase, which will reach nearly 2 million more in Bangladesh by May 2015, said Khan. "If we are able to significantly reduce stunting, we are able to change a population for the better for the rest of their lives. The children will grow up more healthy and intelligent, enabling them to be more productive members of society."

The $126 million project involving over 1,500 staff members was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which last week announced a policy to close the gender gap in international development efforts. Under the new policy, Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg said women's interests would be integrated "into the very DNA of everything we do."

Khan hails that news, based on the findings of his own project.

"Our analysis clearly demonstrates there is a strong link between improving the nutritional status and the households overall well-being when women are empowered," said Khan. "It is the woman of the household who is the caretaker of the children; it is the woman who plays a critical role in what food types are grown around the house and bought from the market; it is the woman who plays a pivotal role in the cleanliness of the household members; all of which are vital for improving the nutritional and health status of all household members."

Khan would like to see SHOUHARDO replicated on a global scale. Spreading the word about this project's success, he said, can save resources that other projects might spend testing what this project has proven, he added.

CARE found that between February 2006 and November 2009, the period when the program was running, the percentage of stunted children in the study population fell from 56.1 percent to 40.4 percent.

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