1 Billion Candles: A Call to Action for Women and Girls’ Nutrition

Address by MI President and CEO Joel Spicer at Women Deliver Conference

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I like to think of light as a metaphor to describe human potential, to describe the energy within us that drives us forward.

Imagine, if you will, that there is a lit candle within each and every one of us.

This strong internal flame represents what we have to offer to the world, the great things we can accomplish with our lives, and the good we can do around us as human beings.

Unfortunately, for 1 billion women and girls around the world ― that’s almost one out of every three women ― this unique and powerful inner light is made to flicker and fade because of malnutrition.

Why is that?

Malnutrition affects all kinds of people, all around the world – but women and girls are especially vulnerable.

They are all too often pushed down, held back – and kept at the bottom rungs of the economic and social ladder, where poverty, malnutrition and vulnerability combine in a vicious cycle.

In many places in the world today, even when there is food to share, women still eat last and they eat least – and the message that sends to girls is – they have less value than boys.

From a human standpoint – that’s a self-defeating message.

Some of the most powerful figures in my life that have shaped my values, what I believe in, what I fight for, and why I’m here with you today – are women. From my grandmother, Anne – to my mother, Hilary –  to my wife, Petra – and my daughter, Kate.

Without strong women – you cannot have strong men.

Yet, for millions of women and girls, malnutrition is a landslide on the road of life.

It blocks their access to health, education, opportunity and possibility.

It is an unjust and unnecessary tax on their potential, and the loss of that power and potential is preventing all of us from benefitting from their full light.

One billion women and girls? One billion candles-worth of full light – in a world that is sometimes pretty dark?  That’s an unacceptable and unaffordable loss for all of us – and something we have to change. Men and boys are an important part of the solution as well.

So this is much more than just improving the health and wellbeing of these women and girls – it’s also about unleashing a massive transformational force for creating good in the world – and one our entire planet desperately needs if we are going to move forward socially, economically and as a human family.

Let me tell you why:

Good nutrition is not only essential for survival – but also for the brain to fully develop.

When girls get the nutrition they need, they stay in school longer, learn more and they go on to earn more – and they spend more of that money on children, health, and education.

Education is a vaccine against poverty – but if you’re malnourished – your ability to learn is compromised before you even get through the front doors of a school.

Healthy and well-nourished mothers have safer pregnancies and make healthier babies because they are given the best start in life from the beginning.

And before women become mothers – they are girls and adolescent girls – and regardless of whether they go on to get pregnant, they have unique needs and vulnerabilities in terms of nutrition that have to be addressed.

When women and girls have knowledge, resources, and the power to choose – they make good choices. They make healthier choices. They become nutrition champions and forces of illumination that light up the people around them; their families, their communities, and societies.

If this is so obvious – why is this massive damage to human potential still happening?

Unfortunately, so far, the world has not made improving women and girls’ nutrition a priority.

Only one percent of development assistance globally is directed to nutrition, and only half of one percent of high burden country budgets are focused on domestic need.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that global targets focusing on women and girls’ nutrition are the most off track right now.

What is it going to take to end this neglect?

Well – it starts with conversations like these, at gatherings like these, and with people like us – letting the world know that we urgently need to tackle women’s nutrition NOW as a global priority.

Here are some things we can do:

  • If you are here as an advocate, a campaigner, or a journalist, raise your voice, and shine a light to increase awareness and demand greater investment in women and girls’ nutrition.
  • If you work for an organization delivering services to people – think about how nutrition can be integrated into your work. Are we missing opportunities to empower women and girls?
  • If you are a decision-maker at country level – think about how to put women and girls’ nutrition at the heart of planning, budgeting and action.
  • And, if you represent a donor – Thank you for your increasing focus on women and girls. That creates an opportunity. Now let’s take it up a notch and – with intention and determination – do everything we can to remove the brakes of malnutrition keeping women and girls back. They aren’t passive recipients of nutrition interventions but – at full power – women and girls are the main force, within a movement that will bring about the end of malnutrition once and for all.  It cannot be done without them. Ending malnutrition starts with women and girls.
If we put all of our voices together to drive this issue forward – we can help fundamentally change the status quo for women and girls.

We can reverse injustice, tackle a foundational women’s empowerment issue, and move towards a much better world.

That is the power of focusing on nutrition.

Imagine what would happen to our world if we could help light the full candle power of one billion women and girls through better nutrition.

Imagine a world where all women and girls are healthy, strong, and thriving.

I want to see that world – do you want to see that world?

Then let’s make it happen.

Let’s focus on Women’s Nutrition Now!

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