In a bid to combat the pervasive issue of malnutrition among women and girls, the Nigeria Governors’ Wives Forum has called for their active involvement in decision-making processes related to nutrition. The forum, led by its chairperson, Mrs. Maryam Mairo Tambuwal made this appeal during a one-day National Conference on Women in Power held in Abuja.
Malnutrition remains a pressing concern globally, with women suffering from at least 60 per cent of the world’s cases and being twice as likely to experience malnutrition compared to men. Alarmingly, more than one billion women worldwide face some form of malnutrition. Recognising this gender equality issue, the forum seeks to address the disparities and ensure that women and girls are given equal opportunities for adequate nutrition.
Tambuwal emphasised the importance of accountability in the utilization of funds allocated for nutrition. She stressed the need for proper disbursement at the state level and expressed the commitment of the governor’s wives to act as role models in ensuring children’s access to good nutrition. Collaboration and partnerships among relevant ministries and agencies were also encouraged to promote optimal nutrition practices at the state level.
The Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen supported these efforts and advocated for an extension of paid maternity leave to six months for both private and public sector employees. She emphasised the critical role of exclusive breastfeeding during the first 1000 days, from pregnancy to two years of age, in promoting healthy development for children. Breastfeeding contributes to child’s brain development, increased intelligence, and lifelong productivity. Therefore, providing breastfeeding rooms, on-site creches, and flexible work options can help establish baby-friendly workplaces and empower women to prioritize optimal nutrition for themselves and their families.
The minister also highlighted the federal government’s commitment to improving nutrition indices in the country through various initiatives. The Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs is one of the key sectors implementing the Accelerating Nutrition Results in Nigeria (ANRIN) project, supported by the World Bank. This initiative aims to enhance the utilisation of quality, cost-effective and high-impact nutrition services for pregnant and lactating women, adolescent girls and children under five.
A senior lecturer at the department of internal medicine, Faculty of Clinical Sciences, University of Calabar, Dr. Mbang Kooffreh-Ada shed light on the underlying factors contributing to undernutrition in women and girls. Socioeconomic and dietary issues often result in poor nutritional intake, particularly in rural areas. Negative social and cultural norms further impede women and girls from accessing proper nutrition. Kooffreh-Ada emphasised that addressing these challenges is crucial since malnutrition remains a leading cause of death in children under five years old.
To drive home the urgency of the situation, Kooffreh-Ada shared statistics indicating the current state of nutrition in Nigeria. She revealed that only 56 per cent of women aged 15-49 have minimally adequate dietary diversity, and the prevalence of anaemia among women in the same age group is 29 per cent. Furthermore, 7 per cent of women are underweight and 11 per cent are overweight or obese. Girls are particularly vulnerable, with higher rates of stunting (38 per cent) and wasting (7.7 per cent) compared to boys.
These alarming figures underscore the need for immediate action to address the nutrition crisis in Nigeria, focusing specifically on women and girls. Improving their nutritional status can have profound positive effects on their health, education and economic outcomes, ultimately contributing to national development. Adequate nutrition can reduce the risk of anaemia, stunting, and other health complications, thereby improving productivity and labour force participation among women and girls.
In conclusion, the Nigeria Governors’ Wives Forum’s call for the inclusion of women and girls in decision-making regarding nutrition reflects a crucial step toward combating malnutrition and promoting gender equality. By prioritising accountability, collaboration, and partnerships and recognising the significance of breastfeeding and maternity leave, policymakers can pave the way for a healthier future. Addressing the underlying socio-economic and cultural factors that perpetuate malnutrition is equally important to ensure the well-being and development of women and girls across the country.