By Adekunle Yusuf

One of the best ways to end malnutrition in Nigeria is women empowerment.

This was the submission of medical and nutrition experts at the Protein Challenge webinar, which had the theme: “Empowering women to break the cycle of malnutrition in Nigeria.”

In his keynote address, Ibiyemi Olayiwola, a professor of Human Nutrition at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, explained that countries that witness tremendous advancement in health, education and economic security at the family levels are countries that have designed ways of empowering women economically. Therefore, the country benefits when women are economically empowered, she stressed.

“Women are fundamental to development. In Nigeria, there is overconcentration of power in the hands of men, including greater access to the resources of the country. For this reason, women are left with poor decision-making powers in their homes. Women empowerment benefits the nation, especially in terms of the nutritional status of Nigerians. Women empowerment will reduce poverty and improve national economic performance and nutrition,” Olayiwola said.

The human nutritionists also explained that good nutrition assists in poverty reduction, leading to improved national economic performance and nutrition. “When women are economically empowered, it advances the health, education and economic security of their families and women and girls live a life free from violence. Women empowerment benefits the nation, especially in the nutritional status of all Nigerians.

“Peace and security and humanitarian action are shaped by women’s leadership and participation. More than 350,000 women die from preventable complications related to pregnancy and childbirth each year, according to the UN. Indeed, empowerment of women is necessary where there is inequality in access to resources because power has been gendered in Nigeria.

“In Nigeria, there is over-concentration of power in the hands of men,” she noted.

According to her, female-headed households, which she said constituted about 16 per cent of total households in the country, usually have lower poverty levels, higher education and higher income. While explaining that malnutrition could lead to various illnesses if there is no appropriate care, she listed stages of malnutrition, saying it starts even before a woman conceives if she is not economically empowered enough to eat balanced diets.

“You may have immunity for many conditions but not for malnutrition. If your nutrition is bad, there will be a problem of under-nutrition and over-nutrition. If you have a child that is already malnourished from birth, that cycle may continue,” she said.

Dr. Adepeju Adeniran, a clinical physician and public health expert, who said protein malnutrition could be expensive to both individuals and society, explained that there is a nexus between protein-energy malnutrition in children and higher risk of non-communicable diseases in adulthood, loss of direct and indirect income and acute illnesses.

She described women as domestic implementers in the homes because the choices they make determine the nutrition status of their families. “The choices they make are determined by literacy, income and available choices, adding up to ‘bargain shopping’ which is getting the most value for household feeding,” she said.

Another nutritionist, Mrs. Josephine Mensah Chukwunweike, said women should work to earn money to support their families, stressing that women should be more adventurous in preparing family meals.

She said: “It is important to look beyond beans, meat and fish as the only proteins available in Nigeria. Many of our whole grains and legumes are packed with proteins – soybeans, groundnuts, wara (local cheese), egusi (pumpkin seeds), okpa (steamed Bambara nut pudding), ukwa (African breadfruit porridge), an others. Also, women must learn to prepare their food in such a way that they are sure about the hygienic conditions.”

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