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‘She Can Eat Later’: Are Women Denied Basic Nutrition In Families?

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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.

Patriarchy Is Dominating Yet Another Space: Girls Are Ill-Fed

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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