KARACHI: The latest UN report on gender equality once again highlights how serious the problem is of malnutrition in Sindh where the health status of poor rural women is far worse than their counterparts in Nigeria.

Released two years after world leaders had adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the report — Turning Promises into Action: Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda — examines all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and shows their impact on the lives of women and girls. It highlights how the different dimensions of well-being and deprivation are deeply intertwined and suggests measures to tackle existing structural inequalities and turn promises into action.

Part of the report is ‘A four-country case study on the ‘furthest behind’, which analyses existing data in ways that make visible the inequality experienced by different groups of women.

The countries selected are: Colombia (South America), Nigeria (sub-Saharan Africa), Pakistan (Southern Asia) and the United States (North America).

According to the report, national rates of undernourished women and girls aged 18-49 hide important inequalities across and within countries. For instance, although Nigeria and Pakistan appear to have similar rates of undernourished women when comparing only the richest urban groups (4.2 and 4.0 per cent, respectively), outcomes differ dramatically when comparing some of the most disadvantaged groups.

“18.9pc of Fulani women (part of a large ethnic group in the Sahel and West Africa) from the poorest rural households in Nigeria are underweight, compared to 40.6pc among the poorest rural women from the Sindhi ethnic group in Pakistan,” it says.

Sindhi women and girls from the poorest households, the report says, fare far worse than any other group across all wealth quintiles and locations (within Pakistan) when it comes to malnutrition (proxied by a low body mass index).

Food insecurity

While women generally report greater food insecurity, the gender gaps vary significantly across countries. Gender differences, the report says, are greater than three percentage points and biased against women in nearly a quarter of the 141 countries sampled and against men in seven countries.

“In Albania, for instance, women were 7 percentage points less likely than men to say they struggled with regular access to food for themselves and their families. In Pakistan, however, food insecurity among women was a staggering 11 percentage points higher than that among men.

“Food insecurity results in poor health and decreased nutrient intake. This is a particular challenge for children as well as pregnant and lactating women, who often suffer from anaemia as a result. A leading cause of maternal mortality, anaemia was estimated to affect 29pc of women aged 15-49 globally in 2011. The figure is higher for pregnant women (38pc),” the report says.

Household-level deprivations are widespread in Pakistan: 63.3pc of all women and girls aged 15-49 lack access to clean cooking fuel.

Seraiki women and girls are the most deprived. While 85.2pc of them lack access, 17.8pc of Urdu-speaking women and girls do, making Seraiki women and girls almost 4.8 times as likely to be deprived of access to clean energy for cooking.

Inequality in education

Pakistan and Nigeria share similar stats on inequalities in access to education, the sector which is found to have some of the largest inequalities within a country in the study.

In Nigeria, 12.9pc of women in the richest urban households are education-poor (defined as having only completed six or less years of education) compared to 99.4pc of Fulani women from the poorest rural households and 98.6pc of Hausa women from the poorest rural households.

In Pakistan, 98.8pc of women from the poorest rural households are education-poor compared to 29.3pc of the richest urban dwellers. Disparities in education are also staggering in the case of the United States. Among the urban richest, only 4.1pc did not complete high school, compared to a national average of 10.3pc.

“The rate is much higher among Hispanic women in the poorest quintile at 38.3pc, who are the most disadvantaged,” the report says.

On access to drinking water, the report points out that 41pc of urban households have access to safely managed drinking water in Pakistan compared to 32pc of rural households; large differences also exist across income and ethnic groups.

“When safe drinking water is not available on premises, the burden of water collection and treatment largely falls on women and girls, who are forced to allocate significant amounts of time and limit their engagement in other activities such as paid work and education,” it says.

The data from the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) 2012-2013 was used for Colombia, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2018