Women in India (and all over the world) have been historically discriminated against. However, the discrimination of women and girls in terms of intake of food and nutrition is disheartening, frightening and disturbing at the same time. In India, gender dynamics play a very important role in the distribution of nutrition among boys and girls. Being an inherently patriarchal and misogynist society, India feeds her daughters less than her sons and we need to accept this reality. Girl children are less breastfed than the boy children because of the psychological (or rather psychosocial) preference of sons over daughters (Fledderjohann et al. 2014).
From the very first day when a girl is born, she acquires a nutritional disadvantage for her “gender” and that is a breach of fundamental human rights. Even after women proving themselves in every field in India, our country is the only country in the world where young girls have worse under-five mortality than boys.
India is a country where patriarchy has its worst features. Sons, whom most of the Indians believe to be a blessing, a source of income and support for old age, are always preferred in every sense, beginning from education, nutrition to access to healthcare facilities. On the other hand, daughters are burdens and responsibilities for Indian parents, no matter how much a daughter proves herself to be “efficient”, she is treated like a “second class citizen” even in her home.
Women, the caregivers of family, cook and do all the essential household work. After feeding the male members, the female members are the last to eat their meals and thereby, get the least share of it which gives rise to unprecedented malnutrition among them such as anaemia and calcium deficiency that later become reasons for maternal death during childbirth (Premalatha et al., 2012). Boys and men have the first right to having the food of the house and in many families, the girl siblings are fed after the boy sibling gets the food (Aurino 2017). Protein-rich food such as milk, eggs, and chicken are given less to girls and women than men.
According to research conducted by social scientists, most unfortunate are the girls of India who reach puberty because while they reach puberty, their nutritional advantage starts declining while ironically, they require more nutrition during their adolescent period. The latest statistics of WHO (World Health Organization) states that nearly 165 million children under the age of five have stunted growth and girl children are vulnerable in the respective case. Moreover, adding to the injury, The Economist has also reported that every year, 100 million baby girls go missing in India which is quite alarming (Pillai and Ortiz-Rodriguez 2015).
Adult, middle-aged and elderly women also suffer from malnutrition, fatigue and low count of haemoglobin which are seldom taken care of due to the social structure, hierarchy, and stereotypes. Moreover, it is observed that women and girls do not even complain of less food than their male counterparts because of the inherent toxic patriarchal culture which they have been brought up with. They internalize the fact that they are “inferior” to men of the family and therefore, it is “comely” to eat less than the men.
Aren’t we, as Indians, committing a grave injustice towards our girl children and women? Every Indian, irrespective of gender, class, and caste, is entitled to receive fair treatment in terms of health and nutrition. Such an attitude is a breach not only of the constitution but also of the morals of the country. Healthy daughters become healthy and capable citizens of the country, healthy individuals and mothers. We, as Indians, cannot keep half of our population in such darkness. It is time to act promptly and break the shackles of patriarchy and emerge as a superpower in the future
Aurino, E., 2017. Do boys eat better than girls in India? Longitudinal evidence on dietary diversity and food consumption disparities among children and adolescents. Economics & Human Biology, 25, pp.99-111.
Fledderjohann, J., Agrawal, S., Vellakkal, S., Basu, S., Campbell, O., Doyle, P., Ebrahim, S. and Stuckler, D., 2014. Do girls have a nutritional disadvantage compared with boys? Statistical models of breastfeeding and food consumption inequalities among Indian siblings. PloS one, 9(9).
Pillai, V.K. and Ortiz-Rodriguez, J., 2015. Child malnutrition and gender preference in India: the role of culture.
Premalatha, T., Valarmathi, S., Srijayanth, P., Sundar, J.S. and Kalpana, S., 2012. Prevalence of anaemia and its associated factors among adolescent school girls in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. Epidemiology, 2(118), pp.1165-2161.