A common misconception is that enough food on the plate means proper nutrition. Recently, food quality has become a topic of debate, all of which show that women and children in India are the most nutritionally vulnerable. This is evident from the prevalence of malnutrition among women and adolescent girls.
One of the causes of nutritional deficiencies is micronutrient deficiencies – a sharp decrease in the intake of micronutrients such as iron, folic acid and zinc. Micronutrient malnutrition can have multiple causes, among them gender disparity, which is exacerbated by social, economic and political factors.
Cultural factors include gender norms that lead to lower intake of nutritious foods by women. Add to this a patriarchal society that results in the unfair distribution of food, which makes women eat last and least. The pandemic has increased the amount of unpaid work in the form of childcare and housework, resulting in women neglecting self-care.
Economic factors include the challenges women face with regard to access to food. Despite being a primary caregiver, women often lack financial independence or an equal say in spending decisions. Dr. Rajan Sankar, MD and CEO of Partnerships for Nutrition says, “Women are often the last beneficiaries in a family when things go well and the first to be sacrificed when things go wrong. Paying attention and addressing gender bias in women’s nutrition is a must-breaker The intergenerational cycle of malnutrition”.
In the case of a pregnant woman, the diet should include fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and dairy products. Increased financial dependence means that there is no guarantee that their nutritional needs will be met. Women’s inability to access public infrastructure and health services also hampers them. This is why women need more support from the government in the form of flexible working hours and nurseries for working mothers. They also need women-oriented health services such as prenatal care. Initiatives directed at addressing the social, cultural and economic challenges facing women will go a long way in ensuring food security at the household and national levels. There are many solutions that can be explored and expanded.
Share the community with Gram Bradhans (Village chiefs) and local leaders can encourage more equitable social practices that ensure that women do not end up eating less. Promoting women’s membership in credit and service cooperatives can enhance the financial independence of women in the rural sector. In Andhra Pradesh, for example, about 7,500 women farmers work collectively in groups of 25 to 30 each, on approximately 425 hectares of dry land in 250 villages.
Dr. Sheila Fair, Director of the Center for Nutrition and Development for Public Health, says, “For a well-nourished future generation, we need to invest in the root causes of breaking the life cycle of malnutrition. Besides ensuring diverse food and nutrients intake and access to appropriate health services, there is a need to prevent marriage Adolescent girls and pregnancy, ensuring girls complete their secondary school education, women are economically empowered, and equipped to make self-care and family decisions. Both direct and indirect interventions to improve women’s nutrition must be high on the development agenda.”
Policy makers need to make concerted efforts to increase women’s access to public health infrastructure, promote awareness, and make all stakeholders aware of the vital role that nutrition plays in the lives of women and future generations.
The opinions expressed are personal