With a child dying from malnutrition every 11 seconds, the recent Nutrition for Growth Summit
could not have come at a more urgent time. The Summit – a global event to accelerate progress on malnutrition -- resulted in more than 300 nutrition commitments, including $27 billion in new financial investments from governments, NGOs and companies. Taken together with the preceding United Nations Food System Summit commitments, the key take-away is that nutrition and food security have gained significant new momentum at the midway point of the Decade of Action for Nutrition
Another positive note was the growing number of commitments made towards health systems investments. This emphasis on the fundamental need for a health system strengthening approach to delivering essential nutrition actions offered one concrete pathway on how to reduce malnutrition. The United Nations Global Action Plan
to eliminate wasting, and its operational launch, also clearly had a significant impact on commitments. Many of the participating countries spoke to their investments in this process, giving hope that the alarming increases in child wasting
, the most immediate and life-threatening form of malnutrition, may be reversed through more focused action. World Vision itself made significant commitments
to address wasting, focusing both on prevention and expanding treatment.
Unfortunately, more is needed. One particular shortcoming was on the prioritization of gender equality. Even before the pandemic, women and girls were more likely to be malnourished, making up 60 per cent of the world’s people living with chronic hunger. Now, COVID-19, conflict and climate change have unleashed a growing malnutrition crisis which is directly robbing women and girls of the right to equality and good nutrition. The devastating impacts of malnutrition, combined with increases in sexual and gender-based violence, are changing the trajectories of their lives forever, often including unplanned pregnancies that wreak havoc on young bodies and perpetuate cycles of malnutrition, poverty and inequality.
In addition to commiting to scale up and promote the Gender-Transformative Framework for Nutrition
, World Vision advocated extensively about the need to ensure commitments were gender-transformative. Unfortunately, these actions have been largely absent from the commitments made at the Summit – gender equality was not even mentioned in the final Tokyo Compact on Global Nutrition for Growth, which has been endorsed by 212 stakeholders. This is a perilous shortcoming of strategic investments, as gender inequality presents one of the single greatest barriers to nutrition progress.
Gender inequality prevents women from exercising agency and decision making on their own and their family's nutrition and health outcomes, with ripple effects extending across many facets of women and girls’ lives, restricting livelihood, education and growth opportunities. While I was encouraged that during the Food System Summit approximately one-third of the government statements referenced gender equality, the N4G summit commitment makers have missed this critical investment.
Canada, however, stood out with a strong prioritization of women and girls.
“We are committed to improving nutrition for the world’s poorest and most marginalized—especially women and girls—by ensuring better access to nutritious food and services,” said Canada’s Minister of International Development, The Honourable Harjit Sajjan. “The strategic importance of focusing on women and girls cannot be underestimated. In many countries, women plant the food, work the fields, harvest the crops, and cook the meals. Yet, far too often, they are the ones who eat last and eat the least.”
Nutrition investments need to focus on changing conditions so women and girls can recognize and act on their own power and take the lead as transformational change agents to improve their own nutrition. This entails women and girls, in partnership with male allies and other power holders, actively engaging in identifying and addressing barriers that limit their decision-making power and resource control.
The next Nutrition for Growth Summit is scheduled to be held in France in 2024, and I am really hoping global leaders will stop insisting that women adapt to systems which continue to hold them back. I hope these leaders will step up and create commitments that address the unequal power dynamics and discriminatory normative behaviours, which continue to disadvantage women and put them at a higher risk of malnutrition.