To celebrate International Women's Day we spoke to Youth Leader for Nutrition Barsha Bhattarai to find out her thoughts on malnutrition in Nepal, why malnutrition is an issue for women, and who inspires her to do the work she does.
Barsha is campaigning for greater investment in adolescent nutrition, an area which has until now been largely neglected. She also organises community theatre to help communities understand complicated nutrition issues, and currently works at NTAG (Nepali Technical Assistance Group) where she provides counselling on nutrition to mothers.
Why did you become a Youth Leader for Nutrition (YL4N)?
Because nutrition is the foundation of life! Malnutrition is currently a serious public health problem. This is especially in true less economically developed countries like Nepal, where, for example, 41% of women are anaemic. Moreover, 10% of children under 5 children are wasted, and 36% of under 5 children are stunted.
As part of a commitment to the Global Goals, Nepal made a promise to end all forms of malnutrition by 2030. We have made some progress, but nowhere near enough because it’s not a political priority. We have to convince our leaders that malnutrition is directly linked with overall socio-economic development.
Malnutrition is a multi-sectoral issue and we need to mobilise more young people so that they can have more say in all levels of decision-making. Being a part of YL4N means I can help influence decision makers and leaders, and make sure that they formulate and implement nutrition-centric policies and programmes. It’s not just up to the experts to advocate for nutrition - everyone has a voice.
Today is International Women's Day. Why does this matter to nutrition?
Improving the nutritional status of women and girls around the world is key to building stronger and more equitable societies. Evidence shows that if a woman is empowered, she can manage nutritional needs for herself better, and for her family as well. On the flip side, good nutrition can also unlock women’s potential by improving their overall health and wellbeing. The Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, has encouraged us this International Women’s day to ‘think equal, build smart, innovate for change’. If we can provide equal opportunities to all people, including at the decision-making level, it will definitely help to improve the nutritional status of women and children.
Iron deficiency anemia is a World Health Assembly target that we are off track to meet - why does this matter?
The WHA target is to reduce anaemia in women of a reproductive age by 50% between 2012 and 2025. But actually the rate has risen and now over one in every three women worldwide are anaemic. It has a variety of causes but around half of cases are caused by iron deficiency.
Iron deficiency anaemia is a vital micronutrient deficiency, caused by a lack of iron in the body. In Nepal, 41% of women are anaemic, but this figure rises to 46% of breastfeeding women and the same figure for pregnant women. This is a serious public health problem. We are still far behind the WHA target, and in Nepal the prevalence of anaemia among women is actually increasing (up from 39% in 2011 to 41% in 2016).
This matters because anaemia is good marker for nutrition inequality. It impairs health and well being in women and makes pregnancy more dangerous for the woman as well as lowering a woman’s productivity and ability to live a normal life. Anaemia can also lead to complications for a newborn, including low birthweight which can push a child into a cycle of undernutrition. Women who are stronger and healthier, and who are also better informed about nutrition, can flourish and make better choices that benefit their own needs as well as the needs of their families.
What do you want to see change?
Women and girls are the engines of development, but too many of those engines are being held back. I would love to see women empowered and in decision-making positions with good overall health and nutritional status. I also want to see international commitments such as the Global Goals translated into to concrete actions. Good health, and equal participation are a vital part of women’s rights.
Can you tell us about a woman who inspires you and why?
My source of inspiration is my Mum because of her decision-making and sense of empowerment. She is a teacher by profession but also has been involved in empowering other women and social justice campaigning. She is my guide, and has taught me that a woman can do anything a man can do!