Tackling child malnutrition by empowering women

A meeting of a women’s group supported by the Shouhardo programme

Give a monthly gift

Our Shouhardo project was designed to reduce child malnutrition in an area of northern Bangladesh that is home to more than 2 million of the country’s poorest people.

And we achieved it: the project reduced stunting (a measure of the shortfall in a child’s growth due to malnutrition) by nearly a third.

But we didn’t do it by handing out food or helping farmers to increase agricultural production (although we did those things as well).

We did it by empowering women.

If we are able to significantly reduce stunting, we are able to change a population for the better for the rest of their lives – Faheem Khan, CARE’s head of the Shouhardo programme

We supported the creation of women’s groups to confront early marriage, violence against women and limits on women’s mobility. We helped women to start up businesses – making their families, and communities as a whole, more prosperous. We supported them to participate in decisions about their children’s education, and to have a say in reshaping community institutions such as schools and village councils.

At the beginning of the project, less than a quarter of women had a say in decisions about buying or selling household assets such as land, livestock and crops, or the use of loans and savings. By the end, nearly half of the women did. And their priorities, which often included nutritious foods and school supplies for their children, were no longer being brushed aside.

A great indicator of a household’s well-being is whether the woman has at least an equal say – Faheem Khan

Everyone in the community could see the benefits: their children were growing stronger and taller. And independent analysis of the data showed that women’s empowerment was the single biggest contributor to the reduction in stunting when compared to the project’s other interventions, even those that included the direct provision of food to mothers.

Crucially, the Shouhardo project reduced child malnutrition by striking at the very roots of poverty: gender inequality and women’s lack of power to make decisions and lift themselves, and their families, out of poverty.

A woman in Bangladesh shows off a land title

Panchu Banu shows off the title to the farmland she owns with her husband. Joint ownership of land by wives and husband, promoted by Shouhardo, has helped bolster women’s decision-making power. Banu, for instance, convinced her husband that they should continue to send their son to school instead of leaving school to work.