What dimensions of women’s empowerment matter most for child nutrition?

Evidence using nationally representative data from Bangladesh

Child malnutrition rates in Bangladesh continue to remain among the highest in the world. This Asian enigma of persistent malnutrition despite growth in the overall economy is often attributed to the low status of women. It is against this backdrop of higher economic growth and stagnating malnutrition rates that this paper examines the role played by women’s empowerment and endowments in relation to childhood malnutrition in Bangladesh.

We use data from the 2007 Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey to examine the relationship between women’s status and nutrition in Bangladesh using indicators of empowerment such as mobility, decisionmaking power, and attitudes toward verbal and physical abuse. We also examine the role of variables reflecting maternal education and height, in relation to child nutrition. All models control for age and sex of the child, household wealth, and region. Results from logit models indicate that both a greater degree of women’s empowerment and greater maternal endowments are associated with better long-term nutritional status of children. Attitudes toward domestic violence have an effect on child stunting and mobility; participation in decisionmaking is an important influence on dietary diversity. Consistent with previous studies, maternal height and maternal schooling decrease the probability of stunting, and maternal schooling is positively associated with dietary diversity. While these are not immediate measures of empowerment, they are positively associated with child nutritional outcomes and reflect prior investments in women and girls. Our findings merit further research and attention to inform the design and implementation of interventions. Specific research needs that emerge from these analyses relate to types of individual and community interventions that can reduce prevalence of violence and empower women to achieve better health and well-being outcomes, and to policy actions, including legal reform and efforts to build community support for women’s empowerment. Additional research needs relate to exploring ways in which investments to improve the nutritional and educational status of girls before they become mothers can be strengthened and sustained.

Bhagowalia, Priya
Menon, Purnima
Quisumbing, Agnes R.
Soundararajan, Vidhya
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International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
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