ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN – Women parliamentarians representing national and provincial assemblies in Pakistan vowed their commitment to improving nutrition in the country ― especially for women and girls ― during a roundtable discussion organized by the Micronutrient Initiative (MI) on September 6.
An opportunity for female leaders to discuss the urgent need and opportunities to scale up nutrition for women and girls in Pakistan, the roundtable aimed at achieving common ground on how to move forward on addressing the issue, including the legislation and resources required. MI President and CEO Joel Spicer and Vice President of Programs and Technical Services Mark Fryars ― who were in Pakistan for the launch of the Food Fortification Programme (FFP) ― as well as Dr Naseer Nizamani, Country Director, and Dr Tausif Janjua, FFP Technical Director, joined the parliamentarians for the discussion.
With the current high levels of micronutrient deficiencies among women and young children in Pakistan, the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to addressing malnutrition, and recognized the importance of prioritizing women and girls’ nutrition. More than half of all women in Pakistan are anaemic, which exposes them to more risks during pregnancy ― and can also affect the health of their babies. One-third of children in Pakistan also suffer from anaemia, hindering their growth and making them more vulnerable to disease.
“Our government is committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and we are among the first few countries to set up a SDG secretariat to monitor progress and tackle roadblocks,” said Marriyum Aurangzeb, Parliamentary Secretary Ministry of Interior & Narcotics Control and chairperson, National Parliamentary Task Force on SDGs. “As parliamentarians, we can play an important role in ensuring that the right steps are taken to strengthen nutrition programs. However, there is a need to sensitize Parliamentarians on the human and economic impact of malnutrition among women and girls,” she added.
In order to address this issue, Ms Aurangzeb suggested the formation of a special malnutrition unit within the SDG secretariat. “We need to identify nutrition champions who can ensure malnutrition receives the priority it deserves at the national as well as the provincial levels,” she said.
Dr. Farzana Nazir, Member Provincial Assembly of Punjab and convener of the Parliamentary Caucus on Women, said malnutrition was solvable and the Punjab government worked closely with MI on a number of initiatives to deliver improved nutrition to vulnerable women and girls.
For Provincial Assembly Member Punjab Fatima Fareeha, malnutrition can be prevented by empowering women and girls and with concerted efforts.
Speaking on the role of men in families, Ms Aurangzeb said it was crucial to educate men on the nutritional needs of women and adolescent girls. “If men are sensitized, they will ensure their wives and daughters get adequate nutrition. Men need to be involved in this dialogue both at the policy as well as the household level,” she said, adding that legislation was being put in place to increase maternity leave from three to six months in Pakistan.
MI believes that, in order to achieve real change, nutrition champions are needed at all levels – and is pleased to count these strong Pakistani female leaders amongst these champions.