Putting the Seqota Declaration into action: Fostering gender equality in nutrition at the district level in Ethiopia
Ethiopia, an exemplar in stunting reduction, joined the SUN Movement in 2012 and announced the Seqota Declaration in 2015, which is a high-level commitment to end childhood stunting and undernutrition by 2030. Nutrition International, a key SUN Movement partner, has worked to foster gender equality in nutrition in Ethiopia, as part of a project aiming to strengthen the capacity to put this ground-breaking Declaration to life. Gender inequality is both a cause and effect of malnutrition, hunger, and poverty, however, these policy areas are tackled separately at country and global levels. Nutrition International’s technical assistance in Ethiopia is a concrete example of how countries can incorporate gender equality and ensure its integration across all nutrition interventions and inspire others to act.
The Seqota Declaration commits to eradicating the underlying causes of chronic undernutrition and ending stunting among children under 2 years by 2030 and has been endorsed and embedded into Ethiopia’s National Growth and Transformation Plan, making it among the country’s highest-level commitments. The Declaration has ten far-reaching strategic objectives (SDSOs) that aim to improve health, nutritional status, and gender equality, among others, while strengthening multi-sectoral coordination and spurring innovation. Among these, SDSO 8 focuses on improving nutrition status of pregnant and lactating women and children through the Productive Safety Net Program interventions and SDSO 9 deals with improving gender equity, women’s empowerment and child protection. Though a financial analysis of the Ethiopia fiscal year (EFY) 2011 and EFY 2012 showed that both SO 8 and 9 are under-funded and need more attention.
Since 2017, Nutrition International’s Nutrition Technical Assistance Mechanism (NTEAM), through the Technical Assistance for Nutrition (TAN) project, funded with UK aid from the UK Government, has supported the Government of Ethiopia in their delivery of these ambitious commitments, privileging empowerment and sustainability, especially that of a Program Delivery Unit (PDU). The PDU is tasked with coordinating the multi-sectoral implementation of the Declaration. From 2018 – 2020, NTEAM’s support has directly responded to needs identified by the Government of Ethiopia and partners, for a routine system to track budgets, funding, and expenditures for nutrition, across sectors at district or woreda, regional and federal levels.
An integral element of this work has been working with the Government to better incorporate gender equality into nutritional outcomes and to provide gender mainstreaming guidelines for nutrition at the sub-national, woreda level, in Declaration implementation.
In 2019, a gender analysis – looking specifically of the woredas of Amhara and Tigray – was conducted to identify missed opportunities for including gender equality considerations. The gender analysis was conducted using the WHO Gender Assessment Tool, with two main objectives: the first, to identify opportunities for incorporating a gender lens in the development of tools and resources as part of the TA, and the second, to identify capacity gaps among woreda officials who would be using these tools and resources and additional capacity needs. This unveiled consensus for the need to integrate gender equality in Seqota Declaration activities, among woreda staff. However, the practical know-how on adequately mainstreaming gender into nutrition activities of regional nutrition plans was found to be lacking.
This led to a participatory ‘bottom-up’ approach to ensure local ownership and accountability, and sustainability, going forward, in the development of a guideline and a checklist for woreda officials. The development of guidelines on gender mainstreaming in nutrition offer practical, concrete, and implementable strategies for woreda officials to ensure gender equality considerations are addressed meaningfully in their nutrition work to achieve the commitments of the Declaration and to guide staff in monitoring and evaluation (M&E) and gender equality results. The guidelines offered proposed minimum gender sensitive indicators as well as recommendations for participatory monitoring and interpreting age and sex disaggregated data to ensure that M&E is gender responsive. Examples of the gender sensitive indicators include the number of pregnant women receiving Iron-Folic Acid (IFA) supplements for at least 90 days; the number of girls and boys aged 6-59 months receiving Vitamin A Supplement (VAS); the percentage of men and women benefitting from nutritional behaviour change interventions; and the number of pregnant and lactating women considered for soft conditional support. The guidelines were also tailored to incorporate existing national policy documents and implementation plans pertaining to gender equality and nutrition, including the the SD, the SD Implementation Plan and the SD Investment Plan. The guidelines aim to build upon these documents, reinforcing existing synergies and gender equality pieces already existent in policy documentation, and aim to ensure they cohere with and do not conflict with policies which have already been set out by the Government.
In early 2020, a checklist was developed to guide the integration of gender equality in resource allocation and planning for nutrition. In particular, NTEAM ensured that awareness was raised among woreda officials about funding the gender specific SDSOs in response to the financial analysis which showed little allocation of resources for SDSO 8 and 9. For the first time in the Declaration implementation, gender-based resource allocation became an integral part of woreda level resource allocation because of Nutrition International’s technical assistance. The checklist incorporates questions and tools to guide the user to ask the right questions to ensure gender equality is integrated at all levels and stages of the project cycle. For example the checklist poses questions aimed to assess greater participation of women, girls, boys and men; to improve understanding of the needs of different groups in the community; to improve targeting of those with the greatest needs; gender-responsive resource allocation; and equal benefits for all beneficiaries, amongst other questions. The importance of conducting annual financial analysis of SDSO resource allocation was also raised as a means to help the region and woredas set realistic targets for the SDSOs and allocate rational budgets to achieve those targets.
To ensure uptake, trainings were provided to the woreda officials on both the gender checklist and guideline. The checklist was translated into local languages – Amharic and Tigraeyne – and distributed to woreda officials and Regional Program Delivery Units of each regional state. Since then, Woreda officials have stressed that the guidelines and checklist have helped staff gain a common understanding on gender equality, but also the importance of harmonised tools for training and assessment. For the SUN Movement and its countries, these guidelines, the checklist, and the approach incorporating existing national policy documents and implementation plans pertaining to gender and nutrition can prove a useful tool for those who wish to integrate existing national-level policy commitments (on both nutrition and gender equality) into their nutrition plans and their rollout at the sub-national level. They can serve to make real governmental gender-related commitments in the context of nutrition planning and programming at sub-national level and move nutrition programmes from being gender responsive to gender transformative, for the future we want.
Looking ahead, referencing the gender checklist during quarterly review meetings and budget planning sessions going forward will ensure the materials developed are still useful and continue to be used. This bodes well for the success of the Seqota Declaration’s ambitious goal: an Ethiopia free from child undernutrition and stunting by 2030.