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.

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SHOUHARDO took on pregnant and lactating mothers with children under 2 years old, so the program benefited both fetal and infant health. Children were measured at the start and end of the program.

"Women who participated in the empowerment interventions were getting better antenatal care, eating more nutritious food and getting more rest during pregnancy," said Lisa Smith, a senior economist at TANGO International, the firm that was hired to evaluate the project. "They and their children also had better diets in terms of the variety of foods."

The project invested both in broad "empowerment" programs focused on employment, education and awareness as well as some direct investments in women's needs. Pregnant women, for instance, were provided regular rations of wheat, vegetable oil and yellow split peas. Researchers found significant synergies among interventions. Women who participated in both empowerment activities and direct nutritional-support programs saw a greater reduction in the stunting of their children than those who participated in only one.

The program targeted women and children from poor and extremely poor families. The women spent most of their time at home, with few contacts with the external world.

With a few months of enrolling in the program, women started to leave their homes to travel to markets to buy and sell goods. Women's influence over household decisions also increased. "Women, once they have a voice, they are the ones who determine what food or clothes should be bought," said Khan.

Khan also observed a positive change in male attitudes. "By the end of 2009, it was completely different. Men understood the importance of women contributing to the decision of the household," he said.

Detailed surveys conducted before, during and after the project, measured women's overall decision-making power within their households as increasing by 23 percent. That finding was based on such things as women developing more say over the use of household loans or savings, sale of major household assets and expenditures on members of the family and themselves. Women grew more active in local village courts too.

The project's number-crunching joins a growing list of tape measures in the women's empowerment tool kit, which already includes the Gender Parity Index and the Women's Empowerment in Agriculture Index.

Last November, the United Nations' statistics division and UN Women, launched the "Evidence and Data for Gender Equality Initiative," at a meeting in Busan, South Korea, to improve the availability and use of statistics on gender gaps in economic activity.

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Hajer Naili is a writer currently based in New York. She has worked for several radio stations and publications in France and North Africa and specializes in Middle East and North Africa.

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