Maxim Gorky’s quote – "All that is beautiful in person is from the sun and the mother’s milk" – is an apt one to recount on the occasion of Mother’s Day. There are but two days in a year when women are celebrated – on Mother’s Day and on March 8. While I am not complaining, it is true that just two days in a year are too little for women to be understood and cherished.
Women are different from men – I am simply making a case for recognising the many differences between the sexes. For instance, consider the difference in nutritional requirements. Women require more iron during childbearing years that commence in adolescence. They also require more protein and energy during the phases of pregnancy and lactation.
Alas, in India, women suffer from poorer nutrition than men. Malnutrition in women continues to be a challenge in India, explaining the high rate of maternal mortality. There could be many reasons for this but gender inequality is one of them. In many households in our country, women are still the last to eat, after feeding the entire family, and they make do with whatever is left over. Needless to say, gender inequality must be addressed not only so that women can live as respected and rightful citizens, but also for the sake of a healthy population.
Let’s look at the critical role that women can play in the well-being of the family. A patient of mine, a woman who came in with obesity and diabetes, made it a point to inculcate good eating habits in her children because she knew of the health risk that they had inherited from her. She transformed not only her own eating habits, but also those of her family and even those of her neighbours!
When it comes to the business of food, it is usually the women who take the lead--both in rural and urban India. Almost every aspect of the family meals – planning, procuring, preparing, storing and serving – is led by women. At each of these stages, there lies tremendous potential to improve the nutritional well-being of the family. Each one of us on a daily basis makes numerous food-related decisions and, in the case of the women in-charge, these decisions are many more in number.
In the current times, it is worthwhile to recount the lead taken by women who are at the forefront of fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Many of the countries that have flattened the curve effectively have been led by women. In India, Kerala’s Health Minister comes to mind, who has administered the lockdown with firmness but also compassion.
Alleviating the distress caused to the poor and ensuring the supply of meals have been an integral part of the plan to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. Kerala also has in place the exemplary Kudumbashree system, which encourages women to form self-help groups. This system has been an effective incubator for women entrepreneurs who are taking the lead to fight malnutrition that plagues women and children.
In countless ways, women play an important role in shaping the health and well-being of a nation. Not only should this contribution be recognised for what it is worth, but we should also do our part to enable them in every way that we can.
(The author is a nutrition therapist and wellness consultant.)