Stakeholders affirm Nutrition Bill will empower women

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By Momodou Jarju

Officials from the National Nutrition Agency (NaNA) and the Office of the Vice President have affirmed to the National Assembly Select Committee on Health, Disaster, Humanitarian Relief and Refugees that the Nutrition Bill 2023 will empower women in The Gambia.

The stakeholders met with the aforementioned select committee Monday to begin the consultation stage of the nutrition bill which made provisions to ensure adequate nutrition services that protect the rights of the people, especially those in The Gambia.

The stakeholders’ affirmation came in response to a question raised by Foni Brefet lawmaker and member of the aforesaid committee Hon. Amie Colley. Lawmaker Colley quizzed them to detail what other benefits the bill entails for Gambian women apart from improving malnutrition and child health.

The deputy executive director of NaNA Malang N. Fofana said women in the country ought to have adequate access to high quality, safe and nutritious food available and distributed to them, and the aforesaid bill is promoting access to food security for them.

“It also improves the skills of women compared to men, by using social and behavioral education to inform, educate and empower women to be able to take up entrepreneurship or life skills that will yield them more income and their families. So there is a lot for women in this bill,” he explained.

Speaking further, Fofana said the bill also seeks to address health deficiencies that affect women, including maternal mortality.

 “Most of the maternal deaths, the underlying cause of maternal death is anemia. Most women die when they are giving birth because they lose a lot of blood. If you are anemic and you lose a lot of blood, your chance of dying is high. So this bill is trying to address those kinds of deficiencies.

Photo: Hon. Amie Colley, who asked the question, is a member of Foni Brefet. © Image culled from The Gambia National Assembly website.

NaNA official Bakary Jallow noted that anemia is high in the country, especially among women of childbearing age. Anemia is a problem of not having enough healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues, according to Mayo Clinic.

Thus, Mr Jallow said the nutrition bill will help address the anemia high rate in the country.    

“So having this social and behavioral communication on combating malnutrition and deficiency will definitely reduce the number of women who suffer from anemia. And that will also help in reducing the low birth rate of women, which is also another critical aspect as far as malnutrition and health is concerned,” he said.

NaNA director of Social and Behavioural Change Communication (SBCC) Abdou Aziz Ceesay informed the select committee that the bill takes a lot from the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC). He said the bill will empower women once they are well nourished.

“We talk about the 1,000-day window of opportunity. This is from the day the woman becomes pregnant until she delivers. And then the child lives up to two years. That period is 1,000. If you want to develop a nation, that’s when you need to introduce the bill. This bill will give us that leverage to empower women,” Mr Ceesay said.

“Eventually, if you look at who is responsible for food and nutrition, even at the household level, in most cases it is the woman. So providing them with adequate nutrition, they will be able to carry out their productive, their reproductive, and their other responsibilities.”

Foni Brefet lawmaker Hon. Colley further quizzed the stakeholders whether once the bill is passed they will sensitise and/or educate women, especially those pregnant about the type of food they’re supposed to eat.

They responded in the positive. Director Ceesay disclosed that they have a strategy of social and behavioural communication and have structures at central, regional and community levels. According to him, they also have the tools to operationalise that strategy.

 “And of course you are right, women suffer a lot when it comes to taking care of their kids. Like when they are pregnant… They have difficulty in booking their pregnancy within the first trimester, simply because there are some external factors that influence the decision of the woman to book the pregnancy within the first three months, which is very critical for the woman and the child. So SBCC will tackle that,” he explained.

The deputy permanent secretary at the Office of the Vice President Ousman Ceesay said the Food Act 2005 was not adequate to fully regulate nutrition issues in the country, which necessitated the making of the nutrition bill.  

“That was the basis of having a stand-alone nutrition bill…So that when it comes into force now, this will regulate the entire [nutrition issues in the country], and link it to the international convention that they are talking about,” Mr Ceesay added.

Meanwhile, the Nutrition Bill 2023 is driven from the Food Act 2005.  It was tabled before the plenary for its first and second reading where it was referred to the health committee for scrutiny, and report back to plenary for consideration thereafter.