Journal Article
22 May 2014
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Women’s empowerment and child nutritional status in South Asia: a synthesis of the literature

Maternal & Child Nutrition Kenda Cunningham, Marie Ruel, Elaine Ferguso...+2 more
Maternal & Child Nutrition
Kenda Cunningham, Marie Ruel, Elaine Ferguson, and Ricardo Uauy
South-East Asian Region
20 mins
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What you'll learn
Evaluating the link between women's empowerment and child nutritional status in South Asia
  • Women’s empowerment is associated with child nutritional status but this relationship varies across three different domains of empowerment
  • Additional research is needed using rigorous and standardised methods
  • The three domains covered in the paper include: control of resources and autonomy; social support; and workload and time.

 

What works and doesn't work
More evidence is required
Although evidence shows that women’s empowerment is generally associated with child anthropometry and that different domains affect children’s nutrition differently, findings are mixed and are yet to be systematically reviewed. There is a need for additional research using consistent concepts and indicators for women's empowerment and rigorous and standardised methods for analysis and evaluation of the relationship of women's empowerment to child nutritional status.
A woman carries water home on her head in Jaipur, India.

A mixed picture emerges regarding whether and how women’s empowerment is linked to child nutritional outcomes in South Asia. Some of the inconsistencies in findings between individual studies may be due to population or context‐specific factors; for instance, a broader location and larger age range may mask population heterogeneity and prevent identifying some associations that other, more focused studies find.

Key Takeaways
1
Control of resources and autonomy impacts
Control of resources and autonomy impacts
‘Control of resources and autonomy’ relates to women's status in the household compared with other members in aspects such as control over income, access to resources, and decision‐making power.
2
‘Social support’ may influence childcare practices and in turn child nutrition
‘Social support’ may influence childcare practices and in turn child nutrition
However, the studies are limited, and the relationship is complex. Although involvement in social support networks or community activities may provide opportunities for women to gain knowledge and skills, some studies show that social obligations may be negatively associated with a child nutritional status. This is possibly due to trade‐offs in workload and time for childcare, and/or the poor quality of childcare substitutes.
3
Workload and time has been shown to impact child nutrition
Workload and time has been shown to impact child nutrition
The direct effect of ‘workload and time,’ which mostly focused on maternal employment outside the home, on child nutrition may be affected by trade‐offs between increased income (and control over income) and time for childcare, and by the quality of alternate childcare providers.
4
More funding and research needed
More funding and research needed
Funding should be directed to researching on the different levels of women’s autonomy, control and decision-making power, and how these impact child nutrition on a more global scale to confirm correlations so that effective policies and programmes can be implemented.

Given that younger children are more dependent on their mothers, they may be more likely to benefit from a mother who is empowered and able to take the right decisions regarding child feeding, care and health care seeking, which is consistent with the well‐documented window of opportunity for improving nutrition, i.e., during pregnancy and the first two years of a child’s life.

A family of four hold bunches of bananas in Phillipines.

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    Affiliations
    1. Kenda Cunningham, Department of Population Health, Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
    2. Marie Ruel, Poverty, Health, and Nutrition Division, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC, USA
    3. Elaine Ferguson, Department of Population Health, Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
    4. Ricardo Uauy, Department of Population Health, Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
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