Women empowerment has been identified as one of the major keys to ending malnutrition in Nigeria. This call was made at the recent Protein Challenge webinar where stakeholders noted that peace, security and humanitarian action were shaped by women’s leadership and participation. The webinar, which had the theme: ‘Empowering Women to Break the Cycle of Malnutrition in Nigeria’ featured experts in the medical and nutrition sectors.
Delivering her keynote address, Ibiyemi Olayiwola, Professor of Human Nutrition at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, said that when women are economically empowered, it leads to the advancement of the health, education and economic security of their families.
She said: “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 all Nigerians. Women empowerment will reduce poverty, improve national economic performance and nutrition.”
Professor Olayiwola also revealed that female-headed households (which constitute about 16 per cent of total households in Nigeria) usually have lower poverty levels, higher education and higher income.
One of the panelists, Dr. Adepeju Adeniran, a clinical physician and public health expert, stated that protein malnutrition can be expensive to both individuals and society. She revealed that protein-energy malnutrition in children has been linked to a higher risk of non-communicable diseases in adulthood, loss of direct and indirect income, acute illnesses and failure to reach absolute growth potential.
Adeniran noted that because women are the domestic implementers in the homes, the choices they make determine the nutrition status of their families. She said: “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.”
Mrs. Josephine Mensah Chukwunweike, a nutritionist, who was also a panelist, encouraged women to work and obtain money to support their families. She urged women to 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), etc. Also, women must learn to prepare their food in such a way that they are sure about the hygienic conditions”.
She urged women to eat adequately and breastfeed exclusively, noting that healthy complementary foods should be introduced in the right proportion to children, after exclusive breastfeeding.
The webinar was moderated by Mrs. Lilian Ekong, a professional cuisine chef and CEO, Lily’s Chops.