Women's empowerment rises thru' enhanced nutrition

women project-AmbikadpurWomen's decision-making power is related to improved nutritional status of women and children. Households with a female household-head have a better nutritional status than those of male-headed households. In rural Bangladesh, almost 40 percent of pre-school age children and non-pregnant women are chronically malnourished. The current data shows that on average the prevalence of child stunting (low height-for-age) was four percent lower and chronic energy deficiency (low weight-for-height) in women is three to eight percent lower in female-headed households than in male-headed households. The proportion of female-headed households in rural areas increased from two per cent in 1996 to six percent in 2005.

These findings are based on data analyses from the national data which were collected during the period 1996-2005 by the Nutritional Surveillance Project (NSP) of Helen Keller International; and the Institute of Public Health and Nutrition. This was revealed in the latest NSP bulletin entitled 'Female decision-making power and nutritional status in Bangladesh's socio-economic context'. Although the proportion of female-headed households in Bangladesh is very small their impressive performance in terms of nutritional status, despite the limitations of their socio-economic status, emphasises that female empowerment is essential for Bangladesh to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

The report recommends that health, nutrition and other development programmes should specifically target women, especially of poorer households. Such programmes should encourage true participatory decision-making within households and provide forums for discussions within women's social networks. Behavioural change and communication programmes should encourage communities and couples to make and take decisions together. The report calls for girl-children to be supported to continue their schooling for as long as possible and be given opportunities to practice their decision-making skills within their families and the community, which will prove to benefit future generations.

It is suggested that the private sector, the Government and the development partners need to create employment opportunities to reduce poverty and vulnerability and raise women's empowerment (Babul, P., Holiday, October 13, 2006).

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