A common misconception is that enough food on the plate means good nutrition. Diet quality has become a topic of discussion lately, which shows that women and children in India are the most nutritionally vulnerable. This is evident in the prevalence of malnutrition among women and adolescent girls.
One of the causes of undernutrition is micronutrient deficiency – an extremely low intake of micronutrients such as iron, folate and zinc. Micronutrient malnutrition can have multiple causes, including gender disparity, which is exacerbated by social, economic and political factors.
Cultural factors include gender norms that lead to low consumption of nutritious foods by women. Add to that a patriarchal society that results in an inequitable distribution of food, making women eat last, and least. The pandemic has led to an increase in the amount of unpaid work in the form of childcare and household chores, leading women to neglect personal care.
Economic factors include the challenges women face in terms of access to food. Despite being the primary caregivers, women often lack financial independence or equal say in spending decisions. Dr. Rajan Sankar, Managing Director and CEO of Partnerships for Nutrition, says, “Women are often the last to benefit in a household when things are going well and the first to be sacrificed when things are going badly. Addressing and addressing gender biases in women’s nutrition is critical to breaking the cycle of intergenerational malnutrition. »
In the case of pregnant women, the diet should include fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and dairy products. Increased financial dependence means there is no guarantee that their nutritional needs will be met. Women are also hampered by the lack of access to public infrastructure and health services. 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-centred health services, such as antenatal care. Initiatives to address the social, cultural and economic challenges of women will go a long way towards ensuring food security at both household and national levels. There are several solutions that can be explored and scaled.
Community engagement with gram pradhans (village chiefs) and local leaders could encourage more equitable social practices that ensure women don’t end up eating the least. Increasing women’s membership in credit and service cooperatives could promote greater financial independence for women in the rural sector. In Andhra Pradesh, for example, about 7,500 women farmers cultivate collectively in groups of 25 to 30 each, on about 425 hectares of dry land in 250 villages.
Dr Sheila Vir, Director of the Public Health Nutrition and Development Centre, says: “For a well-nourished future generation, we need to invest in the underlying causes to break the life cycle of malnutrition. In addition to ensuring a diversified food and nutritional intake and access to appropriate health services, it is necessary to prevent adolescent marriage and conception, to ensure that girls complete secondary school, that women are economically empowered and equipped to make decisions about their personal and family care. Direct and indirect interventions to improve women’s nutrition need to be placed high on the development agenda.
Concerted efforts should be made by policymakers to increase women’s access to public health infrastructure, promote awareness and raise awareness among all stakeholders of the vital role nutrition plays in the lives of women and future generations. .
Opinions expressed are personal
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