Women’s empowerment interventions represent a key opportunity to improve nutrition-related outcomes. Still, cross-contextual evidence on the factors that cause poorer nutrition outcomes for women and girls and how women’s empowerment can improve nutrition outcomes is scant.
The objective was to rapidly synthesise the available evidence regarding the impacts of interventions that attempt to empower women and/or girls to access, participate in and take control of components of the food system.
We considered outcomes related to food security; food affordability and availability; dietary quality and adequacy; anthropometrics; iron, zinc, vitamin A, and iodine status; and measures of wellbeing. We also sought to understand factors affecting implementation and sustainability, including equity. We conducted a rapid evidence assessment, based on the systematic literature search of key academic databases and grey literature sources performed for the regular maintenance of the living Food System and Nutrition Evidence Gap Map. Impact evaluations and systematic reviews of impact evaluations that considered the women’s empowerment interventions in food systems and food security and nutrition outcomes were eligible for inclusion. We conducted an additional search for supplementary, contextual, qualitative data related to included studies.
Overall, women’s empowerment interventions improve nutrition-related outcomes, with the largest effects on food security and food affordability and availability. Diet quality and adequacy, anthropometrics, and well-being effects were smaller. Due to the limited number of included studies for anthropometric and well-being outcomes, these effects are inconclusive. Insights from the qualitative evidence suggest that women’s empowerment interventions best influenced nutritional outcomes when addressing characteristics of gender-transformative approaches, such as considering gender and social norms.
Policy-makers should consider improving women’s social capital so they can better control and decide how to feed their families. Qualitative evidence suggests that multi-component interventions seem to be more sustainable than single-focus interventions, in particular combining a livelihoods component with behavioural change communication.
Researchers should consider issues with inconsistent data and reporting, particularly relating to seasonal changes, social norms and time taken between rounds of data collection. Future studies on gender-transformative approaches should carefully considering contextual norms and avoiding stereotyping women into pre-decided roles which may perpetuate social norms.