WOMEN’S FORUM SPECIAL REPORTS
An ongoing series of articles highlighting upcoming topics and topical outcomes from Women’s Forum events around the world
Women's Forum Italy: Interview
Interview with Ana Gerlin Hernandez Måbeck, Nutritionist, International Committee of the Red Cross:"We need to invest in nutritional awareness, education and promotion"
Ana Gerlin Hernandez Måbeck is a nutritionist who has worked for the last fifteen years with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in prisons, hospitals, communities affected by conflict worldwide. During her last assignment, she was the Coordinator of all relief/livelihood programs of the ICRC in South Sudan. She is speaker on the theme "Empowering women, ending hunger?" at the Women's Forum Italy.
Women's Forum: Women are playing a crucial role in sustainable development. What are the main issues they are facing?
"I have had the privilege to meet and, at times, live close to children, elderly, women, men, combatants, from Guatemala, Colombia, Congo, Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea Conakry, Côte d’Ivoire, Haiti, Honduras, Afghanistan, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, the Occupied Palestinian Territory (Hebron) and many other places. Some of them have never seen peace. Looking back, many of the women I met were simply remarkable, sacrificing their own needs to meet those of their children, families and communities. The day-to-day of most of these women centered on surviving today, with little or no time to plan ahead.
As women often have the triple burden of productive, reproductive and social roles, they tend to have little or no time to attend to their own needs. This has negative repercussions not only for the women but entire families and communities. Typically, women have limited access to land, information, education, credit, technology, and decision-making forums. Not having access to nutritional awareness or the means to satisfy these needs is a core issue. The nutritional needs of women are generally greater due to their reproductive and productive roles. When these needs are not met, malnutrition occurs.
Malnutrition in women, especially those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, can set up a cycle of deprivation that increases the likelihood of low birth weight, child mortality, malnourished offspring, disease, health care costs, poor cognitive capacity and low work productivity. Moreover, if children are malnourished, they carry with them higher risks of obesity and chronic diseases, the so-called double burden of malnutrition. Personally, I consider this situation as a disgrace as this affects not only the family and future generations, but also the world!
A significant number of women around the world today have little or no influence or participation in matters that affect their sustainability or that of their families. Not because they do not want to but because they lack the awareness and because they cannot afford to. This is a strong call to us who are aware and have the resources to see beyond mere survival."
Women's Forum: What are the solutions to these issues?
"We need to invest in nutritional awareness, education and promotion. Nutrition is the very subject that pertains to all, at all times and relates directly and substantially to most things that matter for human beings; the environment, natural resources, culture and economy. Therefore, nutrition awareness promotion is not only influential but also effective.
Knowledge per se is useless when skills and material resources are not there to materialize changes and to progress. Economic growth and social policies which promote better nutrition, health care and education have a proven record of having a positive long-term impact on the situation of women, and consequently on communities at large. Governments and large transnationals should deepen their engagement in these matters, as the benefits will be many.
States, organizations, corporations and individuals who are aware of these matters and who can afford to promote them have a moral as well as long-term economic responsibility to strive for behaviors that promote sustainability.
Poor and uneducated women and families who are merely trying to survive may be far too influenced by inappropriate practices, misleading media messages or feeding options that may not be convenient nor affordable for them. For example, food companies and alike should promote good nutrition practices including breastfeeding during the first months of life of a newborn.
At the ICRC, we promote and support breastfeeding particularly in the middle of crisis when water, environmental and hygienic conditions turn even more precarious and when options and conditions limit options for mothers feeding their babies. Cultural and feeding practices are taken into consideration in this attempt (it means that we also adapt to people realities, feeding patterns, customs and the sustainability of good feeding practice attempt."
Women's Forum: Why is the Red Cross partnering with the Women's Forum Italy?
"The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is the largest humanitarian network in the world with more than 13 million volunteers, members and staff who interact on a daily basis with the populations described above. Within this Movement, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has a specific mandate focused on conflict.
We at the ICRC have a mandate and a mission to assist and protect those affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence. Moreover, we have the ethical obligation to influence in fora that could affect the situation of those most affected, which often includes women and children. Our work includes day-to-day work in the field, close to their homes, farms, animals, and realities. There we support their efforts in restoring and strengthening their livelihoods. Our role is not limited to the critical periods of crisis only but also relates to prevention.
To be effective and to work in line with our mandate, we must also voice their priorities and concerns at different levels and in different platforms where global issues are discussed and from where changes can occur. We feel that our homework would be incomplete if we do not establish this dialogue and promote the principles and values we strive for. We think the Women’s Forum Italy is relevant as it is putting people at its center and revolves around relevant subjects of their concern."