Methods: This study is based on the Aga Khan Foundation, Afghanistan Food Security Survey, which collected health and nutrition information from over 5000 households from 31 enumeration areas in four provinces, Badakhshan, Baghlan, Bamyan, and Takhar, between March and Apr 2017, utilizing stratified randomized sampling. The outcome variables are the Household Food Insecurity and Access Scale and Food Consumption Score that measured the household dietary diversity. The variables of interest are the indicators of the gender development index: women's education level, employment status, whether a woman gave birth before the age of 18, and the number of children in the household. The control variables are other factors that are frequently mentioned in the literature, which are associated with household food security and dietary diversity, such as the demographic information of husbands, access to irrigated land, and household assets. Because the households are nested in the villages and the villages are nested in the districts, three-level multilevel logistic regression models were used to test the association between the women's empowerment indices and the household food security and dietary diversity.
Results: The multilevel logistic regression showed that both husband and wife could read was a significant factor and increased the probability of being food secured increased by 133%. If only the husband could read, the probability increased by 31%. Giving birth to the first child after 18 was a significant factor positively associated with both food security and dietary diversity. The number of children was significantly negatively associated with household food security: having one more child decreased household food security by 10%. To our surprise, neither women's education level nor men's education level was significantly associated with food security nor food consumption scores in the multilevel analysis.
Conclusions and Implications: Our findings confirmed the importance of women's roles in guarding food security in families. We found women's ability to read and write was associated with better household food security and dietary diversity, but not women's education level. Women's ability to read and write increased their probability to work in a non-farming job to increase their family's income. Our findings also revealed that merely putting girls in the schools is not sufficient. We found that higher rates of women who cannot read and write compared to men at every education level. Thus, improving the education quality is a key next step to empower women and further improve the food security and dietary diversity.