Strength in numbers: Steering the ecosystem towards gender equality and empowerment to fight malnutrition
It is a long-known fact that multiple sectors and stakeholders must come together if we are serious about fighting all forms of malnutrition. This also rings true (perhaps even more so) for the fight against all forms of gender-based discrimination.
Since the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement was founded almost nine years ago, much effort has gone into making sure that more people, the right people, are sitting around the same table where decisions on nutrition are made – an approach that also is encapsulated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. And by the right people at the same table, we mean the country level and sub-national level, but also in our global governance structures and Networks. In the words of Helen Keller, "alone we can do so little, together we can do so much".
It has been said, that when a girl or boy reaches nine, they are poised for a transition as they are at the cusp of adolescence.
This can also be said for the SUN Movement, as we now know that without turning the needle on gender equality, chances are that we won’t be able to turn the needle on malnutrition, as they are intrinsically linked, and one often causes the other. But, just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an entire ecosystem to make sure a woman is empowered.
Since 2012, we have had a high-level Lead Group – comprising current or former Heads of State and other leaders from the array of partners engaged in the SUN Movement: civil society, international and UN organisations, donor agencies, businesses and foundations. What brings these changemakers together are their spheres of influence and commitment, both personal and professional, to spearhead the fight against malnutrition at the country level. Since 2012, although members have come and gone and 2019 will see a renewed composition, members of this group have been invited as they are the best fit to make sure the direction of the Movement is the right one for lasting human impact and development.
Each year, this group comes together on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly to discuss progress and bottlenecks. Ever since I assumed my role as Coordinator in 2016, I have enjoyed these meetings as core discussions on areas of concern for all countries and stakeholders. With Lead Group Chair, Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, who has encouraged all members to lead from where we stand, this approach is strongly emphasised. This time, the Lead Group committed to two areas essential to improve nutrition and all women, men and their families: putting in place sustainable food systems and ensuring gender equality and the socio-economic empowerment of girls and women.
It is encouraging to see the level of commitment from the Lead Group, as individuals, but also as leaders in their fields. Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International and the Honourable Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau of Canada, have rung the alarm for a call to action to be issued to all levels of the SUN Movement to scale up work to ensure that women and adolescent girls, everywhere, have the nutrients they need. This while also being considered and treated as equals in every area of life. Furthermore, adolescence represents a second critical window of opportunity (the first being a child’s first 1,000 days, from conception until they are about 2 years old) to ensure a well-nourished and happy future – the future we all want. This approach is also at the heart of UNICEF’s strategy, Canada’s approach to international development and Save the Children’s mandate – to leave no one behind.
Sometimes the ‘naming and shaming’ tool is used to garner traction. I am more in favour of ‘naming and faming’.
Save the Children plays an essential role, alongside other civil society actors, to advocate for empowerment and equality and ensure strengthened capacities, also at the grassroots level – where it counts the most – or during elections, to make gender equality a lasting priority. Canada has put in place, and acts on, the second-ever feminist International Assistance Policy. Other Lead Group members and their organisations have essential roles to play and are assuming well. Let me name a few. Martin Chungong, the Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, for instance, is an International Gender Champion, who has, successfully, fought for gender-sensitive parliaments and more female parliamentarians. Feike Sijbesma, the CEO and President of Royal DSM and Co-Chair of the SUN Business Network Advisory Group has pushed for more private sector actors scaling up maternity protection. His Excellency Jakaya Kikwete, the former President of Tanzania, has been an outspoken champion for girls’ education and linking well-educated girls and women with good nutrition, bringing in his own personal experience. The list goes on.
It is becoming clearer that it is no longer about what you can do to ensure gender equality, empowerment and good nutrition, but what you have to do. Let us not look to others, but let us be the change, and let us live this change. In the upcoming months, alongside Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Minister Bibeau and Nutrition International, our call to action is becoming stronger, as we move towards the Women Deliver Conference in Vancouver in June.
But I can already give you the key ‘takeaway’. You have a role to play, no matter who you are – in your own community, as a cultural or religious leader, as a politician, as a teacher, as a parent, brother, sister and as a friend. It is not enough to just believe in equality, it is time to act on equality. Be a role model – at home, at work, and everywhere in between!
This fight for what is right cannot and will not be won without you.