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From Policy to Action: Everyone has a role to play in empowering women and improving nutrition

  |   Empowering Women and Girls to Improve Nutrition, SUN in Practice

“Empowering women is critical to addressing all forms of malnutrition, it promotes social justice and human dignity to
humankind. This can be done in our lifetime, the time to ACT is NOW.”

Mr. Christopher Mweembe,

National Coordinator , Zimbabwe CSO SUN Alliance

Women’s empowerment for improved nutrition in Zimbabwe

Malnutrition in all its forms presents the greatest threat to human development, with far-reaching consequences. Currently one in every three children under the age of five years suffers from malnutrition in Zimbabwe. One way that the government and its partners are working to reverse this situation is by empowering women using various strategies.

Legal framework for women’s empowerment

The operational environment is guided by several policies and strategies supportive of women’s empowerment. The National Constitution and the National Gender Policy (2013-2017) are examples of key policy documents guiding stakeholders involved in empowering women. UN agencies, civil society, the private sector and donor community supported the government in formulating the National Food and Nutrition Policy of 2013 which prioritises interventions for women of reproductive age. The Maternal Protection Policy provides 3 months of maternity leave post-partum and allows working mothers an hour off-work during the baby’s first six months to promote breastfeeding. The National Nutrition Strategy (2014-2018) launched in 2015 promotes the implementation of evidence-based nutrition interventions with a gender lens.

Diverse role of stakeholders

The key players in empowering women include government ministries and departments, civil society, United Nations agencies, the donor community, the private sector and many others. Most often these stakeholders work together in supporting women with capacity-building trainings, supporting women to access finance through income saving and lending schemes and access to agricultural inputs. Other activities include dam construction and borehole rehabilitation which help communities, particularly women, to establish nutrition gardens. These diverse processes empower women to become income-earners, decisionmakers and agents of change thereby unchaining themselves from cultural, social, economic and political obstacles.

Each of these actors have a unique role to play. The donor community, which includes the European Union, Japan International Cooperation Agency, United States Agency for International Development and U.K. Department of International Development, provides funding for the United Nations (UN) agencies and civil society organisations who implement projects in collaboration with different government departments. At the same time, donors and implementing partners are adopting innovative and coordinated approaches of pooling resources together to leverage existing programmes to maximise greater impact. For example, the World Health Organisation and the other UN partners use pooled funds to support the government’s efforts to improve women’s health. UN agencies also help to build the technical capacity of government and civil society practitioners, who in turn lead the implementation of projects in communities with government and community based structures. This ensures sustainability of interventions after the projects are terminated.

The important role of village health workers

Through village health workers, the Ministry of Health and Child Care and UNICEF are implementing community infant and young child feeding interventions throughout the country. The aim is to empower mothers with children under the age of two with knowledge and skills that promote appropriate infant and young child feeding practices.
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Mindmore’s baby is among thousands of young children across Zimbabwe whose nutritional status is rapidly improving thanks to the village health workers and community infant and young child feeding programmes. It is a sign that Zimbabwe is making progress on reducing vulnerability among poor families and adequately nourishing the children of today to help drive future economic growth and productivity as adults.

‘My name is Mindmore Muuyandiyana. I am 24 years old. I live in Buwerimwe village in Manicaland Province in Zimbabwe. I am one of the village health workers in the village. I have two young children. I gave birth to my
first child and was not educated on exclusive breastfeeding. My child was always sick with diarrhoea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping and often cried at night. I spent most of my time at the clinic for medication. When I became a village health worker I was educated on infant and young child feeding practices
including the importance of exclusive breastfeeding. When I gave birth to my second child, I used the acquired
knowledge on infant and young child feeding practices. There is a great difference from my first child. I started breastfeeding my child soon after delivery. I gave her breast milk only for the first six months. My child is now seven months old and doing very well. I can now sleep because she is not often sick or crying like her older sister. My husband is now even more supportive ensuring that I have a variety of foods to feed the baby. I am so excited and have continued preaching the excellent gospel of proper infant and young child feeding practices in my village.’

Food security initiatives transform lives Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe in Mashonaland East

The Nyazhou Nutrition Garden Project comprises 60 villagers – half of which are women – who each own 26 vegetable beds. This is one of a number of projects that include a dam-rehabilitation being undertaken by World
Food Program and United Methodist Committee on Relief. Sekai Tembo, a 72 year old widow said the project had
completely changed her life.

“When my husband died, I had no choice but to carry on with life, though it was hard. I had no cattle, and you know the importance of draught animal power in our lives, but since I joined this project I now have two goats. Before, I used to do gardening but it would only sustain me and my family but now the produce is feeding me, my two grandchildren and I sell the surplus to surrounding villages. I get $15 dollars per week, which is $30 per month because the other two weeks the vegetables would be sprayed. Previously, it was hard to get hold of only $2,” she said.

This project is one of the examples of many other interventions aiming at improving household income,
food and nutrition security of vulnerable women in poor communities in Zimbabwe.

Women gain meaningful nutrition knowledge through community forums in Gatsi Village, Mutasa

The Peace Building and Capacity Development Foundation a member of the Zimbabwe CSO SUN Alliance started community forums where people meet and address their political or religious differences. Women form
the bulk of the community forums and have assumed leadership positions. Through these forums, women
have learnt about nutrition-sensitive agriculture. The community grows a wide range of crops which includes
beans, bananas, maize, nuts etc. They also produce milk and eggs and rear chickens and pigs. This makes the
community food secure. The community forums also offer a platform for trade among members of the community.
Together they have embarked on a water project for their fields. Living in an area that is abundant with water, they contributed money which they used to buy pipes for harnessing water from Mutarazi falls and connecting these to each household nutrition gardens.

Through these community forums women have also gained knowledge on the composition of a healthy diet. Therefore, their food production, processing and preparation now take the nutritional needs of their families into careful consideration. The community also takes time to educate each other on Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) practices and promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. They also
share information on introducing nutrient rich, diverse complementary foods at six months.

Key lessons

  • Comprehensive laws and policies set a strong found for programmes that empower women.
  • It is important for stakeholders in a country to understand their roles as they align behind a common results framework to address malnutrition in all its forms. Bringing in women from the start ensures that women and girls issues are considered at all levels. The coming together of donors, civil society, UN agencies
    and government is commendable and can help reach a wider population and achieve greater impact.
  • Mindmore’s story gives a loud and clear message that village health workers are key entry points for engaging communities as a central part of the solution to women’s empowerment. Food and nutrition programming targeted at empowering women should also involve men to help ensure they can play an active role in improving practices and changing behaviours.
  • The involvement of community based organizations are key ingredients to empowering women. They can play an important part in supporting community forums which are critical platforms for operationalizing a people-centered, multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral response to nutrition. By ensuring women are given the chance to engage and play leadership roles, these forums not only help women to attain the skills and knowledge they need to strengthen their livelihoods and earning potentials but also to understand the most nutritious ways to feed their families.

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