Eggs in Mid-Day Meals, Anganwadis Will Ensure Nutrition -- and Gender Parity -Kanika Sharma

--TheWire.in

Provision of eggs will ensure that girls and boys eat nutritious food in equal amounts and in unison, thereby upending the patriarchal norm of women eating last and least in the household.

In an episode called “aam ka batwaara” (dividing the mango), Meena, a fictional character created by UNICEF in the 1990s, observed the unequal division of nutritious food in her household. It was Meena who climbed the tree and plucked the mango, but her mother gave a bigger portion to her younger brother Raju.

When Meena complained that her brother got more, her mother said casually, “Ise to jyada milta hi hai (he always gets more)”. Her grandmother added, “Jaanti nahi, aisa toh hota hi hai (don’t you know, this happens)”.

Unequal nutrition within households

Household division of nutritious food continues to be gender-biased in India. There is consistent evidence that most girls and women eat last and least. A qualitative study in rural north Bihar found that boys and men of a household were always the first ones to eat, were more likely to get larger portions of foods like pulses, eggs and meats, and sweets, and were more likely to have their own separate plates.

On the other hand, girls and women always ate after the men, took leftover portions, and often shared plates with children or other women which entailed an overall lesser intake of food.

Similar findings have been reported in other survey research. The SARI survey and the India Human Development Survey found that between 40-60% of rural women reported that men eat food first in their households. The latest round of the National Family and Health Survey has found that nationally, men are more likely to consume milk, curd and fruits, and are less likely to abstain from eating meat, fish and eggs than women.

Gender-equal nutrition outside the household

Given the persistent inequality of nutrition, interventions outside the household are as important as changing the gender-bias from within. The provision of hot cooked mid-day meals, nutritious food and take-home rations to children, students, teenage girls and pregnant women in government-run anganwadis and schools is a crucial element of nutritional support to girls and women across rural parts of India.

The food given in these programmes to girls and women is officially theirs, which they can eat without worry or guilt. They don’t have to necessarily perform productive and reproductive labour in exchange for food, a transaction that is deeply rooted in the gender division of labour and access to food within the household. Access and freedom to nutrition outside the household provided by government programmes are, by most measures, a concrete step towards gender equality.

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TheWire.in, 19 July, 2019, https://thewire.in/health/eggs-mid-day-meals-anganwadi-nutrition-gender-parity

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