Women's status, state contexts and child undernutrition in low and middle income countries
Anangwe, Kathleen Ayako
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Past research has sought to explain the child undernutrition conundrum as a result of mainly household-level factors and morbidity while ignoring salient socio-structural determinants such as women s status and state contexts. However, in the past three decades women s status has improved socially, economically and politically, enabling them to realize their potential as partners in structuring social change. Similarly, low and middle income country contexts have within the same period experienced rapid socio-economic progress by taking advantage of globalization. This dissertation fills the gaps in literature and investigates the inconsistencies between these positive incidences and the current dismal state of children s nutrition. Apparently, 80 percent of the world s undernourished children reside in LMICs according to global estimates. The study examines two questions. First, to what extent is the improved status of women engendering pathways to diminish child undernutrition in LMICs? Second, why is child undernutrition prevalent in LMICs? Using a quantitatively constructed dataset of 139 LMICs drawn from existing reliable data sources including the World Bank, CIA, PARLINE and the Human Development Index, data are analyzed using Ordinary Least Squares Regression. Significant findings suggest that empowered women engender pathways through opportunities within social, political, and economic spaces to alleviate child undernutrition. However, gender disparities inhibit women from passing on these status benefits to their children. Thus, although women can alleviate child undernutrition, they require the support of an enabling social structure. As indicated by the findings, child undernutrition is exacerbated by structural regional inequalities and the prevalence of contaminated water more than by MNC penetration, trade deficits, and debt. Contrary to expectation, women s vulnerable employment has no observable effect on child undernutrition. Several policy recommendations emerge from this study. First, gender inequalities need to be consistently addressed to moderate structural socio-cultural contradictions. Second, research information should be shared to take advantage of modified theoretical perspectives and augment existing implementation designs. Third, regional cooperation in managing and improving natural resources such as water will cascade nutritional benefits to children. Finally, regional philanthropy directed at children s nutritional needs in the early years will diminish nutritional defects and accumulate advantages for adulthood.