Today, No Wasted Lives observes International Women’s Day by applauding the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, and supporting the work that remains to be done. This year’s theme, Balance for Better, calls for a gender-balanced world where women are empowered and celebrated for their achievements.

No Wasted Lives envisions a world where no child suffers or dies from wasting. Its goal is to support the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target to reduce and maintain wasting to less than five per cent by 2025. In addition, No Wasted Lives supports the SDGs to end all forms of malnutrition, end preventable child deaths, and ensure health, progress, and opportunities for all children by 2030.

In homes, communities, health centres and hospitals around the world, women play a key role in efforts to combat wasting for the 50.5 million children who are affected by this deadly disease. By making the prevention and treatment of wasting in children an urgent development priority, No Wasted Lives and its partners are putting women at the centre of its work to scale up care and treatment programmes, and make the injustice of malnutrition a thing of the past. No Wasted Lives recognises that women must be healthy, nourished and not discriminated against, and have the tools to make the best decisions for themselves and their children.

Unequal power relations at the household and community level render women vulnerable to food insecurity. In nearly two thirds of countries, women are more likely than men to report insufficient access to nutritious food. When crises hit or food prices rise, women spend more time and energy to secure and process food to support their families, and often consume less nutritious food themselves, which puts them at risk for malnutrition, disease and other vulnerabilities.

“The health and well-being of a child, of an entire family, lies in the hands of women,” says Nabeeha Kazi Hutchins, Executive Director of No Wasted Lives.  “As we combat malnutrition in children, who are the most vulnerable members of society, we must also simultaneously drive efforts that reach women to support and nourish them. We believe that women are our most precious, front-line partners to achieve the end of wasting and all forms of malnutrition in children by 2030.”

In Africa and Asia, one in 10 mothers is underweight and globally 38 percent of pregnant women are anaemic. Maternal malnutrition not only affects the mother’s health, but also can have dramatic consequences for the health and nutritional status of their children: Maternal iron deficiency anaemia, for example, is associated with developmental delays and low birth weight in their children.

Zooming in on the Sahel region, which bears a significant share of wasting, 1.6 million children were expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition in 2018, a disease that makes children up to 11 times more likely to die than their well-nourished peers, and can have detrimental effects to their cognitive and physical development in the long term.

Allaye Tembely, Deputy Head of Action Against Hunger’s Kita Base in Mali, a No Wasted Lives Coalition founding member, says one of the key tools to fight malnutrition is “to give power to women.”

“We must give decision-making power to women so they can make choices about food for her family, and give economic opportunities to women so they can diversify the food in the family, for herself and for her children,” says Tembely. “If you give power to a woman she can fight against malnutrition effectively. In some households, even if the women know about nutrition, the man is still making decisions about what to eat, so this decision-making process needs to be shared with the women, and men need to be engaged to understand more about nutrition.”

No Wasted Lives partners, like Action Against Hunger, that are working directly with communities, know that there is a need to invest in and empower women.  When a well-nourished woman has the right knowledge and tools at her fingertips, and men are included in education efforts, the likelihood of having well-nourished children increases exponentially.

“People are changing in Mali,” says Tembely. “There are many exemplary men that are really making changes and supporting our efforts. Men are being encouraged to hold their children, and the men who didn’t want to do it before, now see how nice it is.”

Today is a day that we reiterate our commitment to the SDGs. Working together to empower women to have control of their own futures, and give men the tools to play their part, we can build a gender-balanced world, and accelerate action for children affected by wasting around the world.

Download a poster of the evidence on why women’s empowerment is key to scaling up treatment for children suffering from wasting here.

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Image: No Wasted Lives research project Hi-MAM is looking at how to empower women and give them the knowledge to prevent malnourished children from slipping further into severe acute malnutrition. This photo shows Lead Mothers after a training session in Sierra Leone. Find out more about the Hi-MAM study here, funded by No Wasted Lives Coalition member the innocent foundation. Copyright Natasha Lelijveld, Project Peanut Butter.