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Navigating The Gender Nutrition Frontier

A Personal Reflection on a Training Experience in Vietnam by Kansiime Ruth Praise As I reflect on the transformative journey through “Closing the Gender Nutrition Gap” training organized by the Scaling Up Nutrition Civil Society Network (SUN CSN) in collaboration with Vietnam Civil Society Alliance (CSA), a spectrum of experiences, insights, and cultural immersions flood […]


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A Pakistani Perspective by Kaleem Ullah

I recently had the privilege of participating in a transformative learning visit to Viet Nam from January 8th to 12th, 2024, where twelve participants from Africa, Latin America, and Asia embarked on a transformative learning visit. The course, consisting of a Global Webinar Series on Closing the Gender Nutrition Gap and an in-person visit of 5 days, was designed and implemented by the SUN CSA Viet Nam.

In the heart of this endeavor was the commitment to close the gender nutrition gap, a cause close to my heart. Over the course of five enriching days, I, along with fellow participants delved into the intricate tapestry of Viet Nam’s approach to nutrition, gender empowerment, and community resilience.

In the vibrant city of Hanoi, the half-day session on Day 1 (08-01-24), hosted by the National Institute of Nutrition, unfolded with a series of insightful presentations and discussions. Ms. Huynh Nam Phuong, the Director of Training and Research at the National Institute of Nutrition, set the stage with an introduction, paving the way for a comprehensive exploration of strategies to close the gender nutrition gap. Following this, Mr. Tran Thanh Duong, the Director General of the National Institute of Nutrition, delivered an opening remark, highlighting the importance of the initiative. Welcoming the participants, Mr. Seán Farrell Sir, the Deputy Ambassador of Ireland to Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, emphasized the global significance of collaborative efforts in nutrition. The subsequent presentations by Ms. Huynh Nam Phuong and Ms. Do Hong Phuong delved into the nutritional situation of women and girls in Vietnam, as well as the country’s involvement in the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement. The session concluded with a stimulating discussion and reflection on the unique country-specific context. 

During the second half of Day 1, we visited  the National Assembly, a symbol of the country’s governance and political structure. Here, we had the privilege of exploring the historic National Assembly and paying respects at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Following this, our focus shifted to a crucial presentation on equitable nutrition financing for ethnic minorities. Mr. Trieu Van Binh, Deputy Director General of the National Assembly Office of Ethnic Affairs, led the session, providing profound insights into the importance of resource allocation for marginalized communities. Engaging in a vibrant question-and-answer session, we delved deeper into the intricacies of equitable financing. Personally, my action area was centered around understanding and implementing equitable financing to close the gender nutrition gap for girls and women. Drawing from the enlightening series of webinars, I emphasized the pivotal role of political will in driving successful efforts to address gender disparities in nutrition. This involves not only the development of robust policies but also their effective implementation and the allocation of resources necessary to create positive change for women and girls. The Vietnamese approach, as gleaned from this session, highlighted a comprehensive strategy with a specific focus on the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement and equitable nutrition financing, recognizing the significance of targeted resource allocation for marginalized communities.

On the second day, the participants embarked on a four-hour journey to Quyet Thang commune, located in the picturesque hill station of Lac Son District, Hoa Binh. Here, the focus was on observing a social behavior change activity facilitated by the nutrition club. The members of this club, primarily consisting of pregnant and lactating mothers, shared their valuable experiences in operating the nutrition club model. The day also included a visit to a household, offering firsthand observations of the positive impacts of the nutrition club model on the community. In the second half of the day, the participants engaged in discussions at the Center of Disease Control and District Health Center, delving into the intricacies of nutrition-related issues and participating in a Q&A session. The Nutrition Club model emerged as a commendable approach for community engagement and behavior change, playing a significant role in contributing to the reduction of the stunting rate in Vietnam.

On Day 3 of the transformative learning visit, participants first visited the Alive & Thrive office, immersing themselves in the organization’s mission and initiatives. The visit provided an opportunity to witness the practical implementation of strategies discussed during previous sessions. Subsequently, the group departed for the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs in Vietnam, where a comprehensive presentation unfolded on maternity protection policies aimed at advancing the nutrition of women and girls. A representative from the Ministry shared valuable insights, emphasizing the pivotal role these policies play in fostering nutritional well-being. This session not only deepened the understanding of the participants but also served as a platform for fruitful discussions, contributing to the broader theme of multidimensional approaches. The day concluded with an appreciation remark from Nazgol Kafai, the Senior Impact and Evidence Advisor at SUN CSN Secretariat, marking the culmination of an enriching session that furthered networking, collaboration, and knowledge exchange among the diverse group of participants.

After departing for Tue Vien Organic Farm, situated in the picturesque Tue Vien Garden, Long Bien, we had divided into groups and my group actively participated in the Salad Bowl Competition. Ms. Pham Thi Ngoc Bich, a member of SUN CSA Vietnam, set the stage for the subsequent session. During the presentation, Ms. Nguyen Thi Phuong Lien, the founder of Tue Vien, shared insights into the Farm to Table organic farming business model, emphasizing women-led social enterprises. The afternoon was dedicated to immersing ourselves in permaculture organic farming techniques, providing a hands-on experience that further enriched our understanding of sustainable agricultural practices. As the day unfolded, I found myself appreciating the intricate balance between traditional wisdom and modern innovation in promoting nutrition-sensitive agriculture. This learning journey has been a profound experience, broadening my perspective on the intersectionality of women’s empowerment, organic farming, and nutrition, leaving an indelible mark on my commitment to fostering positive change in nutrition-related challenges.

Departing from Quang Ninh, the participants experienced a picturesque lunch with a view of HaLong Bay, setting the stage for an insightful visit to Quang Ninh Hospital for Women and Children. The session began with a warm welcome from the Hospital Director, followed by a series of informative presentations. Head of Neonatal Department, shared a video and presentation on the Human Milk Bank, emphasizing its crucial role for small and sick babies. We delved into another presentation by the Head of Nutrition Department, focusing on the Center of Excellence for Breastfeeding and the social franchised Little Sun nutrition counseling clinic. Subsequently, engaging discussions took place, paving the way for an eye-opening visit to the Human Milk Bank, where participants had the opportunity to meet donating mothers and volunteers. The establishment and development of the Human Milk Bank exemplify a commendable commitment to fostering the well-being of infants, showcasing an invaluable initiative that significantly contributes to the health and nutrition of vulnerable newborn. This was followed by visits to the social franchised Little Sun nutrition counseling clinic, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and the Kangaroo Mother Care Unit, providing firsthand insights into the facilities supporting optimal nutrition for infants. The day concluded with a rich understanding of the pivotal role these institutions play in promoting maternal and infant health in the region.

On the last day, participants gathered at the National Institute of Nutrition for a series of impactful activities. The session began with a thoughtful recap of the learning visits through a photo presentation, led by a representative from the SUN delegation. Subsequently, a group discussion on Closing Gender Nutrition Gap Action Planning took place, fostering collaborative insights and ideas. The highlight of the day was a presentation on the action plans addressing the gender nutrition gap, where I had the privilege of presenting my proposed initiative on “Equitable financing for ethnic minorities of Pakistan. A session to revisit goal setting and conduct a post-training assessment was facilitated. The event concluded on a high note with appreciation remarks from Nazgol Kafai, Senior Impact and Evidence Advisor at the SUN CSN Secretariat, and a closing remark by Mr. Seán Farrell Sir, the Deputy Ambassador of Ireland to Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, marking the successful culmination of the impactful learning visit.

In reflection, this learning visit to Vietnam has been an exceptionally effective and engaging training experience, standing out as one of the most impactful encounters in my professional journey. The program’s timing, relevance, and emphasis on real-world experiences made it particularly compelling. I embarked on this training with the dual purpose of enhancing my awareness of nutrition-sensitive programs and initiatives globally while contributing my own experiences to the collective learning environment. The motivation behind my participation took a more profound turn as I now find myself driven by a sincere commitment to the successful implementation of my action plan, with the unwavering support of SUN-CSA Pakistan. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Nazgol Kafai-Golahmady, the Senior Impact and Evidence Advisor at SUN, for imparting invaluable insights into bridging the gender nutrition gap. Special commendation goes to Ms. Vu Hoang Duong, East Asia Pacific Regional Technical Specialist at Alive & Thrive, for her dedicated work that has inspired and enlightened us throughout this journey. Kudos to the government and people of Vietnam for their unwavering commitment to this cause, making this learning visit a truly enriching and transformative experience.

Kaleemullah is a passionate human rights activist committed to closing the nutrition gap for girls and women. Holding a Master’s degree in Economics with a Gold Medal from Bahauddin Zakaria University Multan, he currently serves as head of program at the Social Youth Council of Patriots (SYCOP) Pakistan. He has been honored with the “Human Rights Defender” award during the 150th celebration of the Lahore High Court Pakistan. Additionally, he has been recognized as a Global Citizen by UNESCO and APCEIU for my recommendations on achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #4.