ActionAid The Gambia recommends amendments in Nutrition Bill 

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ActionAid The Gambia on Thursday made two recommendations to the Nutrition Bill 2023 for consideration by the National Assembly Select Committee on Health, Disaster, Humanitarian Relief and Refugees. The meeting was part of the committee’s consultation stage of the aforesaid Bill.

Fafa O. Cham, the head of programmes and policy for ActionAid The Gambia, said they believe the gender representation or composition of the National Nutrition Fund Committee does not seem to be gender sensitive.

“We acknowledge that the Board of Directors is very much considerate of gender, because it has clearly stated that you have representatives from the public, and one of them will be a woman and another a youth, which the National Nutrition Fund Committee lacks. So we think it is important that – let it also be gender sensitive, at least we have a representative of a woman and a youth also in that committee, let it be clearly stated,” he said.  

The other recommendation is the qualification of the Director-General. Cham said the bill states that the director general shall be a person who has qualification in food science, nutrition, public health, and has practised within the profession of food, nutrition, and public health for at least 10 years.

“Yes, the experience is mentioned, but we thought it is also important we have the academic qualification of the individual clearly stated, at least the minimum qualification. For example, BSc or BA, I think that would be very helpful. But if you leave it open, for us, it’s not quite helpful. I think that you need at least to set minimum academic qualification, so that whoever is doing the employment would use that as a clear yardstick,” he said.

Mr. Cham implored the national assembly to consider passing the bill in consideration of the above-mentioned recommendations and also use their oversight functions in the full implementation of the bill.

Nonetheless, Mr. Cham said they realised that the Bill has a lot of strengths. He said the Bill rightly emphasises the importance of ensuring adequate nutrition services that protect the rights of all individuals, particularly those in vulnerable groups within the Gambia.

“Access to proper nutrition is one of the most fundamental human rights, and this provision is a crucial step towards fulfilling the right,” he said.

Secondly, he said the bill draws inspiration from international conventions, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Aligning domestic legislation with international standards, Cham went on, is essential for upholding human rights and promoting equality, and demonstrates the Gambia’s commitment to international human rights principles related to women and children’s nutrition.

“The third observation is women’s access to nutrition. It aims to address women’s access to high-quality, safe and nutritious food, to ensuring household food security, and improve child nutrition outcomes, as well as address health deficiencies like anemia, through behavioural change communication to reduce maternal mortality and improve birth outcomes,” he said.

He further said the bill also focuses on improving the skills of women through education and improved initiatives, such as social and behavioural education, equipping them with necessary skills, particularly in entrepreneurship and life skills, to enhance their economic strengths and better provide for their families.

“Women, as we know, play a pivotal role in ensuring the nutritional well-being of families, and it is essential to empower them with resources and knowledge necessary to fulfill their roles effectively,” he said.

“Last, on the strength, is the focus on children. The Bill recognises the critical importance of the 100-day window of opportunity in shaping children’s life outcomes. Investing in nutritional well-being of children during this crucial period is key to overall development and future successes. It highlights the importance of early nutritional intervention.”

The deputy executive director of NaNA Malang N. Fofana said on the issue of qualification, they have a scheme of service and service load that clearly outline the requirement for all the positions in the office, including the Director General, and it clearly states the academic qualification and the experience of the individual. He commended Cham for raising the point which has been noted.

“On the issue of the composition of the Nutrition Fund Committee, the gender sensitivity and youth representation is also noted. There will be a guideline as to how to establish this committee, and in that guideline, this will also be taken into consideration,” he said.

NaNA director of Social and Behavioural Change Communication (SBCC) Abdou Aziz Ceesay agreed to the academic qualification recommendation because it makes sense.

“And like he (Mr. Fofana) said, there are certain positions in the agency. You cannot acquire the position if you don’t have the qualification. And it’s not only the Director General. Even to assume a position of Program Manager at the level of the National Nutrition Agency, you have to be a Master’s Degree Holder. And to be a Director also, you have to be a Master’s Degree Holder.

“So you can see that a Master’s Degree MSc holder starts from a Program Manager to a Director, then the DG. So those things are already well articulated and reflected in our scheme of service. If you acquire that, we can make that available to you,” he said.