Author: Sam Chivers

Why new dads should take parental leave – lessons from my father

In the early 1990’s, my dad joined the first cohort of men to take part in Canada’s newly minted paternity leave program, a step so novel that it inspired a full-page newspaper spread and the now cringe-inducing moniker, “Mr. Mom.” Mr. Mom, aka Gordon Kent, took 6 months off work to stay home with me, while my mom returned to work. Now, 3 decades later, I’m fighting to grant the same opportunity to dads across the United States.

Despite strong bipartisan support for parental leave, the United States remains the only high-income country that doesn’t mandate any paid parental leave. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that only about a quarter of employees in the private sector workforce have access to paid family leave and 1 in 4 women return to work within 2 weeks of giving birth. For fathers, the numbers are even bleaker: fewer than 5 percent of American fathers take 2 or more weeks of leave.

Programs and policies that allow men to spend more time caring for their young children have numerous benefits for nutrition, child development, and women’s empowerment. After taking parental leave, men tend to share more equally in household labor even after they return to work. The skills men gain during their time at home have important impacts on both their children and their partners. Paternity leave is correlated with improved breastfeeding rates, better psychological health for children, reductions to the “motherhood penalty”, and new mothers who are significantly less likely to face physical and mental health complications. At a societal level, the knock-on effects of paternity leave can facilitate economic growth, shift gender norms, and help level the playing field for working mothers.

When I asked my dad why he chose to take paternity leave, he said that not staying home with his first child (and a second daughter when she came along) never entered his mind. As he put it, “how could I miss such an opportunity when I was so lucky to have it offered?” My father recalls our time together being “exhilarating, exhausting, and sublime.” While holding his baby, he says the last thing on his mind was whether he was falling behind at work.

For individual dads, the experience can be life changing. Research has shown that spending time looking after a baby rewires fathers’ brains to make them better caregivers. The more time they spend, the more their brain adapts. Paternity leave is key to giving dads the time to bond more deeply with their children in ways that will impact their relationship both immediately and in the years to come.

Equally important are the ways in which men’s involvement in childcare and other household tasks can alleviate the care burden that is often placed disproportionally on women. As my dad wrote at the time, “even though I’m on parental leave, it should really be classified as educational leave. I’m seeing first-hand a world traditionally dominated by women.” For him, the experience gave him both an appreciation for the challenges of caring for a family and the skills he needed to contribute more to household work. 

When my dad wrote about his time staying home with me, he closed his article by noting that “Emma probably won’t remember our time together, but it’s something I’ll cherish forever.” In that he’s partially right – I don’t remember our time together per se. But I believe it laid the foundation for a life-long closeness between us and that it created the bond with my dad that I value so deeply today.

The author, Emma, smiles as her dad embraces her and her baby son

Making strides towards nutrition and gender equality in Nigeria

By Lilian Okafor, CS-SUNN

In Nigeria, malnutrition not only affects individuals, but also stunts economic growth and human development. The Women and Girls’ Nutrition Project is a collaborative effort implemented by the Civil Society-Scaling Up Nutrition in Nigeria (CS-SUNN), in partnership with FHI360, Alive & Thrive, 1,000 Days, and Intake, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The project aims to empower women and girls to achieve optimal nutrition and stand as crucial pillars for progress.

The project partnered with federal Ministries, Departments, and Agencies relevant to nutrition to develop a cross-cutting Action Agenda for women and girls’ nutrition in Nigeria that delivers healthy diets, care, gender equality, and a multi-system enabling environment as priorities for a thriving female from girlhood. These include:

  • Support the nutrition department of the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development to develop national guidelines on women and girls’ empowerment for optimal nutrition by September 2024.
  • Secure commitments of Federal Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) relevant to nutrition (Ministry of Health, Ministry of Women Affairs & Social Development, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development) to increase the number of women in decision-making positions by at least 10% by 2024.
  • Increase gender equity in the access and utilization of public economic empowerment schemes by at least 10% nationally by 2024.
  • Increase awareness of professionals at the federal level, who have the potential to become champions, on the benefits of girls staying in school beyond basic education and the impact on nutrition outcomes.

Milestones Achieved:

The journey towards this transformative vision has been marked by a series of significant milestones:

  • National Workshop on Women and Girls Nutrition: Leveraging momentum towards the pursuit of gender-inclusive nutrition, the National Workshop on Women and Girls Nutrition proved a pivotal event, uniting stakeholders from across Nigeria in a shared mission. Over two days, a dynamic blend of in-person and online participation brought together 167 virtual attendees with 30 enthusiastic on-site participants. Through a diverse array of activities spanning presentations, group discussions, and brainstorming sessions, participants collaborated to create an advocacy goal and four strategic objectives tailored to Nigeria’s unique context. Following this workshop, the coalition then agreed crafted a comprehensive advocacy strategy delineating actionable pathways towards achieving project objectives and engaging stakeholders across key sectors.
  • National Guideline for Women and Girl’s Nutrition for Optimal Nutrition: CS-SUNN successfully achieved the primary objective of the Women Nutrition Project by supporting the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development to develop a National Guideline on Women and Girls’ Empowerment for Optimal Nutrition. This involved convening a crucial gathering of nutrition stakeholders, including government ministries, agencies, and partners, to review and shape the guidelines content and framework. The resulting guideline, spanning six key sections, addresses critical aspects of empowerment principles, program initiatives, policies, coordination mechanisms, and implementation strategies. The Guidelines were recently validated and has been adopted by the  key stakeholders including the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, representing a key step towards empowering women and girls nationwide. It will be launched before the end of 2024.
  • Women In Power Conference: In May, the coalition hosted the Women in Power Conference for Nutrition, convening women from various spheres of society, including governor’s wives and accomplished professionals. The conference served as a platform to spotlight the pivotal roles women play in driving advancements in women and girls’ nutrition at the state level. Encouragingly, there is strong enthusiasm to establish this conference as an annual fixture in Nigeria, serving as a forum to evaluate the progress and commitments made by governor’s wives in advancing the nutrition agenda.
Governors’ Wives at the maiden Women in Power Conference for Nutrition
  • Media Engagement: Leveraging the power of media, CS-SUNN organized media roundtable sessions to raise awareness, secure media support, and promote discussion on policy actions required on women and girls’ nutrition. The events garnered extensive coverage across prominent media, amplifying the discourse on this critical issue. With series of social media campaigns like; Women and Girl’s Nutrition: Why it Matters, gender equity in accessing public economic empowerment schemes, alongside the importance of girl-child education beyond basic schooling, CS-SUNN elevated awareness and advocacies for empowering women. Collaborating with partners such as Bridge Connect, wcyheIN, and Womenadvocate and leveraging visually appealing social cards and hashtags like #NutritionTuesday, #Nutri4Women, and #Nutri4Girls, trackable metrics underscored the campaigns’ impact, with significant reach and engagement rates observed across platforms.
Media roundtable hosted by CS-SUNN
  • Community Empowerment: Recognizing the importance of grassroots engagement, community town hall meetings were conducted to mobilize support from and empower local leaders. These interactions fostered commitments by community leaders to set up committees headed by cabinet members to sensitize households within their communities on the need to empower women and the girl child through access to quality education and livelihood support.

Looking Ahead

The Women and Girls’ Nutrition Project stands as a testament to the power of collaboration, innovation, and determination. Building on the momentum generated, the project will drive lasting change by: addressing cultural barriers through community involvement; educating mothers on the importance of girl-child education; introducing media study circles to deepen media coverage on women’s nutrition; and shifting an advocacy focus to implementation, ensuring that advocacy efforts translate into tangible policy changes and action.

Through concerted efforts and unwavering commitment, we move closer to a future where every woman and girl in Nigeria has the opportunity to thrive and to contribute to a healthier, more prosperous nation.

1,000 Days Statement on FY24 Minibus

Washington, D.C., March 25, 2024 –  Last Friday, Congress passed a fiscal year (FY) 2024 minibus spending bill, which includes funding for some key U.S. foreign assistance accounts that combat malnutrition. We applaud the passage of this bipartisan bill, while recognizing there is still work to be done to ensure all families have a happy and healthy first 1,000 days.

1,000 Days was grateful to see a modest increase to the Nutrition Account, but was dismayed that overall State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs funding levels fell short of FY23 levels. For the first time in history, annual deaths of children under 5 have dropped below 5 million, a staggering decrease from 1990 when nearly 13 million children under 5 died each year. While we celebrate this incredible progress, now is not the time to take our foot off the gas. Globally, there is still 1 child death every 6 seconds and nearly 1 in 4 children worldwide has had their growth stunted by malnutrition. U.S. global leadership has reached families across the world with low-cost, quality, and effective health services and continued commitment is needed to end preventable maternal and child deaths.

“Malnutrition is still the greatest threat to child survival worldwide. U.S. investments support delivery of cost-effective, proven, life-saving services in countries around the world and maintaining that investment is crucial”

Solianna Meaza, Acting Initiative Director, 1,000 Days

We look forward to working with the Administration and colleagues in Congress to strengthen our FY25 appropriations with stronger global investments, including:

  • $300 million in the Global Nutrition Subaccount;
  • $1.15 billion for Maternal and Child Health, including $340 million for Gavi; and
  • New and additional funding to support the United States’ flagship food security program, Feed the Future.

From Food Security to Nutrition Security: Bridging the Gap for a Healthier World

Photo: K. Trautmann via Flickr

“Fighting global food insecurity means more than feeding the world – it also means nourishing the world. Calories alone are insufficient to increase individuals’ well-being, fuel economic growth and build resilient, prosperous communities.”

2023 Feed the Future Snapshot

After more than 3 years of worst-case scenario hunger headlines, this year’s plateau in global food insecurity was, relatively, a breath of fresh air. Global hunger remained relatively unchanged this year, and we saw the gender gap in food insecurity, which got worse during the pandemic, decrease by 37%.

But despite these positive-seeming signs, we are not yet out of the woods. Global food insecurity remains far worse than it was in 2019, with 122 million more people facing hunger in 2022 than in 2019. Ongoing conflict, as well as climate and economic shocks, threaten to tip the scales and send food insecurity numbers surging again. In this crisis, it is easy to view the quality of calories as less important than the quantity, but there are millions of vulnerable people who cannot sustain themselves on calories alone. Experts estimate that over half of preschool-aged children and two-thirds of non-pregnant women of reproductive age worldwide have micronutrient deficiencies. Even if we fed every hungry person today, millions of women and children would still be malnourished, jeopardizing their wellbeing and limiting countries’ overall potential and growth. As we focus on the monumental task of addressing these sky-high rates of global hunger, we must ensure achieving nutrition security is a fundamental component of our food security strategy.

Nutrition security means making sure people not only have enough to eat, but that they have sufficient nutrients to ensure they are not malnourished. It means moving beyond solutions focused merely on providing hungry people with starchy staples that may be able to sustain life but are insufficient to meet their nutritional needs. It means ensuring people have access to diverse diets that include fruits, vegetables, legumes, and animal-sourced foods. When healthy diets are unavailable, it means providing stop-gap nutrition interventions, like specialized food supplements and fortified foods, and screening and treating severely malnourished children promptly with ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTF).

Nutrition is often sidelined as a secondary component of food security efforts, but for vulnerable groups, it is often the difference between life and death or a barrier to a child developing to their full potential. The most vulnerable of these groups are children in the 1000-day window between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday for whom even a short bout of malnutrition can cause lifelong physical and cognitive consequences leading them to perform less well in school and earn less as adults. We also know that in times of food insecurity, women often bear the brunt of the hunger burdens for their families, eating last and least to help food stretch further. We must ensure these women get the nutrition care they need, both for their own sakes and because malnourished mothers often give birth to malnourished babies, perpetuating an inter-generational cycle of malnutrition.

To build true food security, we must draw from models that build resilience across vulnerable communities. One such model is the U.S. Department of State’s Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils (VACS) which focuses on developing climate-resilient varieties of nutritious, indigenous crops with the potential to diversify diets and reduce rates of malnutrition. Similarly, initiatives that strengthen and embed nutrition interventions into national health systems build community resilience to food shocks by ensuring nutrition care continues even when food availability diminishes.

In the coming years, the world will face numerous threats to global food security, the most serious of which is likely the growing threat climate change poses to the quantity and quality of food that is available. Increasingly frequent climate shocks will make crops harder to grow and livestock harder to raise which will ultimately decrease food supply and incomes for agricultural workers. The food that does grow will be less nutritionally dense. In the face of these challenges, we will need to take concrete steps to shore up global food security. Clear plans to address malnutrition along with hunger will be key to any successful strategy.

Improving the Health of Ourselves and Our Nation

By Minerva Delgado, Director of Coalitions & Advocacy at the Alliance to End Hunger

March is National Nutrition Month. While the first impression we may get from hearing this is interpreting it as a challenge that seems simple and straightforward, the truth is that we as Americans are not great at nutritious eating.   

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), through its Healthy Eating Index reports,…“average diets in the U.S. do not conform to dietary recommendations.” The CDC reports that only small percentages of American adults consume the suggested amounts of fruits (12%) and vegetables (10%) daily. Poor nutrition can contribute to illness and death. Poor diets have been associated with nearly half of deaths from cardiometabolic diseases in the United States.

Developing healthier eating habits, while important, can be really challenging. These challenges are only further compounded for low-income families. Low-income households face additional challenges and tend to have fewer resources, less time for food preparation, and less access to healthy foods. Federal nutrition programs provide an opportunity to mitigate these challenges and support healthier diets.

The USDA defines nutrition security as consistent and equitable access to health, safe, affordable foods essential to optimal health and well-being. Nutrition security has become an important goal of federal nutrition programs alongside the long-standing goal of food security. We know that nutrition and food security are intertwined – a person cannot achieve nutrition security if they are food insecure. Unfortunately, food insecurity has been increasing.  Food insecurity increased sharply in 2022 across all populations. Across our country, an estimated 44 million people, including 13 million children, were living in food-insecure households.

Fortunately, most food-insecure households can turn to federal nutrition programs. These programs form a necessary food safety net, providing access to food and improving nutrition, health, household finances, academic outcomes for children and productivity for adults. They also have broad societal impacts such as supporting farmers and retailers, reducing healthcare costs and increasing gross domestic product.

Two key programs are the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

SNAP is the largest federal nutrition program, with over 42 million people receiving a monthly shopping credit to be used at approved retailers including grocery stores, farmers markets, and online shopping. The size of the benefit depends on a variety of criteria, such as income and household size, and was recently raised to an average of approximately $5.45 per person per day.  This bump in the SNAP benefit was the result of a reevaluation of the Thrifty Food Plan, the basis of the SNAP benefit amount.

While the benefit is modest, it has a huge impact on program participants. SNAP helps families stretch their food budgets, putting nutritious foods within reach.  As reported by Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “SNAP improves food security, offers benefits that enable families to purchase healthier diets, and frees up resources that can be used for health-promoting activities and needed medical care.” 

According to USDA, SNAP reduces the rate of food insecurity among participants by at least 30%, particularly among young children and the most food insecure families.  Participation in SNAP lays the foundation for greater nutrition security among participants. 

WIC differs from SNAP in specifically focusing on “nutritionally at-risk” mothers and children. In addition to offering health screenings and breastfeeding support, WIC families receive vouchers for foods meant to maximize healthy birth outcomes and child development.

WIC has demonstrated multiple nutrition and health benefits, including: decreasing fetal deaths and infant mortality; improving the growth of nutritionally at-risk infants and children; and significantly improving children’s diets. Children enrolled in WIC are more likely to have a regular source of medical care and up-to-date immunizations. WIC also prepares children for school by improving intellectual development.

National Nutrition Month is an opportunity to highlight the tremendous importance of these programs as we strive to improve the nation’s nutrition and health. It was great to see Congress recently invest an additional $1 billion in WIC to address growing need for this vital program.  Now Congress has another opportunity to help struggling families through continued protection of and investment in SNAP. We have the opportunity to use this month of action to not only look inwardly at our own nutritional choices, but also more broadly at what will make our nation as a whole healthier.

This IWD, #InvestInWomen by Closing the Gender Nutrition Gap

Around the world, more than a billion adolescent girls and women suffer from undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and/or anemia. Malnutrition is robbing women of their earnings and energy, adolescent girls of their educational opportunities, and young girls of the chance to grow up to reach their full potential. Without tackling malnutrition, we will never reach gender equality.

The Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Summit is a global pledging moment that brings together governments, philanthropies, businesses, and NGOs to accelerate progress against malnutrition. The next N4G Summit will take place in early 2025 in Paris, France and will be a critical opportunity to spotlight women and girls’ nutrition.

This International Women’s Day, we are calling on governments and donors to prioritize women and girls’ futures by investing in closing the gender nutrition gap at N4G 2025.

Here are five key nutrition issues threatening women and girls, and some concrete solutions governments and donors can pledge to scale at the next N4G summit:

1. Women and adolescent girls face unequal burdens of micronutrient deficiencies, especially anemia.

Anemia is the number one threat to the long-term health of adolescent girls and afflicts almost one-third of women of reproductive age. Progress against anemia lags other nutrition achievements, and only one country (Guatemala) is on track to meet the globally agreed 2030 target on anemia. Meanwhile, deficiencies in vitamin and mineral status, particularly of folate, iron, vitamin A, and zinc, affect 67% of all women of reproductive age (WRA) worldwide. Micronutrient deficiencies can be life-threatening and cause extreme fatigue and poor concentration, hindering learning potential, educational attainment, and productivity. By scaling interventions that target anemia, we can cure millions of women and girls of this debilitating condition.

    Here are two actions that can help: 

    • Fortify staple foods with essential nutrients to prevent, reduce, and control micronutrient deficiencies at the population level.
    • Supply all pregnant women with multiple micronutrient supplements (MMS) with a focus on increasing adherence through improving availability combined with nutrition counseling in ANC services and mid and mass media communications.

    2. Climate change poses a disproportionate threat to women’s nutrition and food security.

    Climate change is increasing extreme weather events like heat waves, droughts, and floods, which impact food quantity, quality, and diversity. These climate shocks will put growing stress on food and nutrition security in the years to come. The food that does grow will be less nutritionally dense, which can lead to deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals. Women are most likely to bear the brunt of this climate-related food insecurity. Not only are women more susceptible to micronutrient deficiencies, but women and girls are more likely to reduce their food intake and eat last and least in their households. Additionally, poorer regions and disadvantaged adolescent girls and women already bear the brunt of undernutrition and anemia and will be least equipped to respond to the climate impacts likely to hit many of these same regions the hardest. By investing in strategies to build resilience to climate-related malnutrition, we can mitigate some of these effects.  

      Here are two actions that can help: 

      • Promote long-term, climate-resilient food and nutrition security and protect the livelihoods of woman farmers by developing diverse, climate-resilient crop varieties. Contribute to initiatives like the Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils (VACS) Multi-Donor Fund hosted by IFAD.
      • Expand conditional cash transfers (CCTs) targeted to women to allow for greater flexibility in the face of humanitarian emergencies like natural disasters.

      3. Every year, millions of girls miss out on the opportunity to grow, learn, and earn to their full potential because of malnutrition they experience in early childhood.

        As we strive to address inequities in adult women’s nutrition, we must keep in mind the life-changing impact good nutrition can have on young girls today. Girls who are well-nourished are healthier, more productive, and more likely to finish and excel in school, be economically independent, and have healthy babies. Targeted nutrition interventions are a cost-effective way to give girls today a bright future and boost their chances of overcoming poverty and reaching their educational goals.  

        Here are three actions that can help: 

        • Protect large-scale Vitamin A supplementation to prevent vision problems, illness, and death.
        • Ensure children and their parents have access to quality nutrition counseling to promote dietary diversity and the consumption of animal-sourced foods.
        • Expand access to specialized foods (eg. RUTF and SQ-LNS) to prevent and treat child wasting 

        4. Women who choose to breastfeed often face workplace barriers and lack the support they need to be successful.

        Breastfeeding provides numerous benefits to both mothers and their babies. Breastfeeding gives all children the healthiest start in life and promotes cognitive development and acts as a baby’s first vaccine, providing critical protection from disease and death. It also reduces the burden of childhood and maternal illness, lowering health care costs, creating healthier families, and strengthening the development of nations. Family-friendly workplace policies promote gender equity and women’s economic participation, while strengthening the economy. By giving women the information and space they need to breastfeed successfully, they can be empowered to make an informed choice about how to feed their children.  

        Here are three actions that can help: 

        • Enact and promote adequate paid family leave, including maternity and parental leave, and breastfeeding breaks for women who chose to breastfeed.
        • Support breastfeeding mothers with one-to-one and group breastfeeding counseling.
        • Promote greater male engagement in infant and young child feeding (IYCF) to lessen the care burden for mothers.

        5. Commitments made at large pledging moments often lack accountability mechanisms.  

        Large pledging moments are critical for raising the profile of nutrition interventions, but they can only be truly successful if governments, philanthropies, businesses, and NGOs are held accountable for the commitments they make. This accountability requires commitment makers to invest in clear, quality data on spending, outputs, and outcomes.

        Here are three actions that can help:

        • Invest in strong nutrition data systems that ensure routine collection of data on girls and women to support effective policies and programs and to advocate for nutrition investment across sectors.
        • Improve accountability by tracking how global and national actors are currently investing in nutrition data and information systems.
        • Invest in global nutrition financing tracking system to improve coordination, resource mobilization, and resource allocation and regularly track progress on commitments made in the Nutrition Accountability Framework.

        Uniting to close the Gender Nutrition Gap

        Happy #March4Nutrition!

        As part of 1,000 Days’ annual #March4Nutrition campaign and alongside the Commission on the Status of Women, we’re excited to announce The Gender Nutrition Gap will be hosting an X (formerly Twitter) Chat on Wednesday, March 13th at 9:00 ET/14:00 CET.

        To participate, please create answers to our predetermined questions and be ready to tweet during the specified event time. Make sure your answers are posted either by a retweet or as a reply to the question. Be sure to include the hashtags #March4Nutrition and #GenderNutritionGap so your answers don’t get lost!

        See you on X!

        Find all the questions we’ll be asking and some suggested social media here!

        You can find the Gender Nutrition Gap on XLinkedIn and Instagram, and on our website.

        The highlight of our year: #March4Nutrition

        March is National Nutrition Month! Developed by our friends and colleagues at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, every March we work to amplify the importance of nutrition for families in the first 1,000 days: the time between pregnancy and a baby’s second birthday.

        Throughout pregnancy, infancy and beyond, families need good nutrition, breastfeeding support, and nurturing care in order to thrive. Decades of research has shown that nutrition plays a foundational role in a child’s development and her country’s ability to prosper.

        We invite you to follow #March4Nutrition on FacebookInstagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter all month long and join the conversation. Every week in March, we’ll dive deep into a new theme and explore how nutrition lays the foundation for brighter, healthier futures.

        Week 1 March 4-10: Thriving families – What if … families had access to quality nutrition services before, during and after pregnancy?  

        Week 2 March 11-17: Women’s nutrition and gender equity – What if … nutrition was seen as a key piece of achieving gender equity?  

        Week 3 March 18-24: Nutrition & food (in)security – What if … families had access to safe, affordable and nutritious foods? 

        Week 4 March 25-31: What we can do? – What if … our work could support moms, babies, and families in the United States and around the world to access nutritious food?

        At 1,000 Days, we believe that every family, everywhere deserves the opportunity to have a healthy 1,000-day window and beyond – and that starts with access to good nutrition.

        Join us this month as we #March4Nutrition for moms and babies!

        Find the social media toolkit here.