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Why is it Important For Women in this Rajasthan Village to Eat With Their Families?

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Rajasthan, July 24, 2017: When the women of this village sit down to eat, it is usually after the rest of the family had finished its meal — the men first, the children next and themselves last.

This is a common practice in many households, but among the rural poor it makes women and children — some of the weakest in the world — hungrier and sicklier, sparking a cascade of slow development, eventually implicated in holding back national economic progress.

A two-year-old project in Rajasthan used an unusual strategy to break this pattern among poor tribal communities in Sirohi and Banswara districts. Instead of simply increasing their food supply and access — the standard approach for dealing with malnutrition — it attempted to break the tradition of prioritising men’s needs first.

“We were advised to serve meals only after all the family members are seated so that everyone gets served equally and we discuss food,” said Rukmani, one of the project beneficiaries.

Behind this strategy of the Rajasthan Nutrition Project, launched in 2015, was a baseline survey of 403 women. It revealed that those with a lesser say in running their households were more likely to have less food for their children and were themselves vulnerable to malnutrition.

So, the Rajasthan campaign, executed by Freedom from Hunger India Trust and Grameen Foundation, both non-profit outfits, made women more health- and nutrition-aware and sensitised their husbands to gender equality.

“We chose to address intra-household food consumption disparity — the fact that in one household alone, the women and children could be food insecure while the men are food secure,” said Saraswathi Rao, CEO, Freedom From Hunger India Trust.

Over two years, the project has touched the lives of 30,000 people and among the 403 women who were sampled, more than doubled the number of women and children who always have enough to eat.

Before the intervention, 31 per cent women had reported that their husbands alone decided how much food to serve the family. After being told to make decisions jointly, no more than three per cent of men continued to take this call alone, while the number of couples making joint decisions increased from 12 to 19 per cent. Also, 53 per cent households reported eating more meals together as a family.

The project’s approach is significant in another respect. Economists have long wrestled with a problem often referred to as the India Enigma: Despite greater economic progress child health indicators fare worse than those of sub-Saharan African nations.

So, the solution does not appear to lie in increasing household food supply and access to food — as the government does through the Public Distribution System and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), respectively.

Interviews with the 403 women revealed who made household decisions about food, mobility and communication. This, in turn, was found to closely correlate with their own and their children’s food security.

Among the women who reported having greater autonomy, 39 per cent respondents and 42 per cent of their children had enough to eat. Only 12 per cent women with lower levels of autonomy and 17 per cent of their children reported having enough to eat.

The study revealed that any effort designed to improve food security and nutrition had to aim at improving women’s autonomy and decision-making within the household, said Kathleen Stack, Executive Vice President of the Grameen Foundation.

One of the project’s aims was to increase the food available for the sample set of women and children. This was measured by moving them up at least one point on a four-point scale.

Women were also encouraged to use the food distributed to pregnant and lactating women and young children under the ICDS. Some women had not used this service because they did not know of it, others because their families restricted their movements.

“We never knew that the Anganwadi provides children (aged 3 to 6 years) a free daily meal, a variety of meals like daliya (porridge) and khichdi (a rice and lentil preparation), and take home rations for infants,” said Meera, leader of a self-help group (SHG) involved in the project.

To improve their family’s nutrient intake, women were advised dietary diversity, especially to eat more fruit and vegetables. This was unthinkable for many of the tribal women, who had no money to buy extra food.

So seeds were sourced from local government agencies and then women were helped to create kitchen gardens; even those with limited water supply started using waste wash water to grow a few vegetables.

Women now reported consuming an average of three additional foods a day. Their intake of green leafy vegetables increased 344 per cent, their consumption of yellow/orange coloured veggies rose 940 per cent and their milk intake rose 70 per cent.

Nutrition tips the women took to implementing included guidelines such as “cook in an iron pot” and “make more nourishing rotis by mixing a couple of grains like wheat, corn and pearl millet instead of using only wheat” and “breastfeed your children in the first hour after birth”.

Among the 403 study participants were 21 pregnant women, an intentional inclusion to gauge how women’s autonomy affected breastfeeding.

When the women were first interviewed, it turned out that those with a say in their household finances were more likely to report exclusively breastfeeding their child for six months. Over the course of the engagement, the percentage of new mothers who breastfed infants within the first hour of birth increased from 47 per cent to 83 per cent.

“We found the methodology effective because it involves the community; making local women a part of the solution always works better than advocacy by an external agent,” Roli Singh, Secretary, Department of Women and Child Development, Rajasthan, told IndiaSpend.

At recent national and state level consultations in Delhi and Jaipur, Arun Panda, (then) Additional Secretary and Mission Director, National Rural Health Mission, released a policy brief and a technical guide based on the Rajasthan project.

“Simple and cost-effective solutions can easily be understood, adopted and sustained,” he said.

Back in Morthala, women’s lives have changed forever. Thanks to a small change in their mealtime routine. (IANS)

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Opinion: It’s High Time That we Stop Objectifying Women

Sex is wonderful, beautiful, marvelous- but only when it is right! Sex can also be destructive, terrible and boring. Sex is what you make it, not what it makes you

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From flatcars to Xerox machines, bikes to baby food, sex is the common marketing tool with the covert sexual invitation- purchase me!

Sex today has been clubbed with the thought of pleasure. Our society is more inclined on the sensual. ‘Think about feeling good’, ‘Do as you desire’, ‘Let yourself go in the flow’, ‘It’s your life!’, ‘I will do what I like’, it’s a free country and I can do anything I like’. The individual centric, pleasure seeking philosophy in which ‘self’ is given the number one position in all areas of life.

Therefore, we are led into the search for physical excitement as the answer to our aching emptiness. Sex is delightful but it can’t be a philosophy driving our lives. Why is it that the highest compliment is to be sexy? How come so many people devote hours imagining about sex? Why is the reality so altered from sexual expectation? Where do all these sexual feelings come from? How can such obvious attitudes be avoided?

So many questions! Now more than before sex is at the uppermost of the agenda and people require to be speaking openly and justly with the demands that are upraised.

We talk or hear about predominantly of a friend of ours who had experimented early with casual sex. He’d narrate stories of what happened with all kinds of partners –and of course was mostly admired for his sexual capabilities. He had moved from ‘falling in love’ to ‘having sex’ and soared from one bed to the subsequent like some sex-overwrought butterfly.

The sexual notions validated in films and TV shows provide an inaccurate and fraudulent view which has become established as normal acceptable behavior. It is exceedingly destructive to only view sexual relationship as the height of romantic love.

Raymond Chandler notion about alcohol holds true of sex: ‘Alcohol is like love: the first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that, you just take the girl’s clothes off’.

Opinion: It’s high time that we stop objectifying women.

One of the properties of the sexual revolution has been the use of women in particular as objects for sexual manipulation.

Terrible proof of the casual and superficial attitudes to sex which treats women as objects with which to satisfy desire, as a collection of body parts, as some kind of mechanical device to please your sexual urges.

Sexual objectification involves viewing and treating another person’s body as an object valued based on its sexual appeal, usually to the neglect of other aspects of the person, such as their thoughts, feelings, and desires.

If we look at the world of advertising, a new type of woman has been created for consumption of desires of the society because this woman (created by the advertising world) has no wrinkles, blemishes, or scars, and her skin is totally perfect. Her eyes are splendidly bright and her bounteous breasts and buttocks are defying the ‘law of gravity’. Her teeth are white beyond imagination, flawlessly straight, and appear unreal. The problem is that it is very hard to find this woman in the real world as they do not really exist. She is the outcome of many hours spent in the make-up chair and days of photo renovating.

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Then we have Jadavpur University professor, Kanak Sarkar who compared a virgin woman to a “sealed bottle” on a Facebook post. In his post, Sarkar said, “Are you willing to buy a broken seal while purchasing a bottle of cold drink or a packet of biscuits? A girl is born sealed from birth until it is opened. A virgin girl means many things accompanied with values, culture, and sexual hygiene. To most boys, virgin wife is like angel.”

Though he has been taken off duties but he later said it was intended for “fun” among a group of friends on social media and “not for public consumption”.

Modern men are programmed to view women as sexual objects which has led in part to the way men view women as objects at work. The extent of this reappeared in the year 2017-2018 with the birth of the #MeToo and TimesUp movements birthed by sexual harassment claims made against Hollywood’s Harvey Weinstein when American actress Ashley Judd passed her story to key news agencies. We have to move away from typical images of perfection by accepting “Photoshop-free,” women and celebrate the real-diverse women around us.

Gender inequality, sexual objectification, and sexist attitudes should become a remnant of the past. The worth of an individual, to any extent or aspect, should not be determined by their physical being.

By Anurag Paul

Writer | Photographer | Conversationalist | ex- Press Trust of India (PTI) & NewsGram | Connect on Facebook- Anurag Paul, Instagram- anuragpaulm or Email- anuragpaulm@outlook.com

Sex is wonderful, beautiful, marvelous- but only when it is right! Sex can also be destructive, terrible and boring. Sex is what you make it, not what it makes you.