Women’s Contributions to Reducing Micronutrient Deficiencies
Summary of published research1
A number of agencies have adopted 'gender sensitive' policies, which aim to strengthen the role of women in controlling intervention resources in emergencies. The rationale for such policies is that empowerment of women will contribute to improved impact of the intervention. The findings of a recent study in non-emergency situations lend some support to this approach. (Ed)
The International Centre for Research on Women, with partners in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Peru and Thailand, implemented an intervention research programme to find ways to strengthen women's contributions to reducing micronutrient deficiencies. The trial interventions focused on:
- Improving women's skills and knowledge in food production, processing and preparation methods and feeding practices, to improve vitamin A intake in Ethiopia.
- Promoting the adoption of new varieties of beta-carotene-rich sweet potatoes by women farmers in Kenya and encouraging their consumption to improve vitamin A intake.
- Increasing women's access to, and utilisation of, a modified solar drying technology to increase year-round availability of vitamin A-rich foods in Tanzania.
- Strengthening women's skills in decisionmaking, problem solving and management to improve quality of services in Peruvian community kitchens and improve iron status of kitchen members and other consumers.
- Strengthening women's problem-solving and leadership skills to organise community-based interventions and so reduce vitamin A, iron and iodine deficiencies in rural Thailand.
All five country interventions achieved significant nutrition outcomes and succeeded in reaching their nutrition objectives in less than 18 months. The approaches appear to have achieved objectives in two specific ways - first in terms of entry point and second, in terms of decision- makers. The Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania studies began by addressing women's practical resource needs as they related to food production, care and feeding practices. The Thailand and Peru studies began by strengthening women's capabilities as problem solvers, decisionmakers and community leaders, followed by development of nutrition specific interventions that addressed women's practical resource needs.
The two approaches are described in the article as the 'power and technology pathway' and the 'technology' pathway. The entry point for the two-step power and technology pathway strengthens individual capabilities to solve problems, take decisions and lead their communities. This pathway merges with the 'technology' pathway when the decision-makers identify the practical resources needed to improve access to food, care and health and develop interventions based on that diagnosis. The author suggests that as individuals realise their power to make decisions, lay claim to resources and exercise freedom of choice, they may engage the very institutions that created and perpetuated differential power dynamics. Thus, the "power and technology" pathway will lead to more sustainable nutrition outcomes.
The Thailand and Peru studies took a total of 9 and 16 months respectively, while the other studies took between 9 and 18 months. Even more remarkable was the time needed for the nutrition- specific intervention in Peru, taking a mere four months to implement and demonstrate equivalently significant results. The authors suggest that the relative efficiency and effectiveness of the Peru and Thailand studies probably reflects 'who' made the decisions. In the Peru and Thailand cases, women applied their enhanced skills to make decisions about which problems they needed to address and how to solve them, including the types of resources they needed and means to access them. The development professionals served as facilitators and technical resources, not as the primary decision-makers. In contrast, the decision-makers in the other studies were the research team. While community members, including women, provided information to the technical specialists and participated in the intervention trials, their decisions were limited to the choice of whether or not to adopt a technology or modify a practice.
The authors state that although care must be given to drawing conclusions from this retrospective analysis, it should not be a surprise that investing in women's decision-making power and expanding their freedom of choice was an efficient and effective way to achieve results.
1Johnson-Welch, C (2002). Explaining nutrition outcomes of food-based interventions through an analysis of women's decision-making power. Ecology of Food and Nutrition, 41, pp 21-34, 2002.
Taken from Field Exchange Issue 20, November 2003