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Like mother, like child

India needs to save its women and children from malnutrition, or else it will have no right to call itself a rising super power or a great economy.

India must eradicate malnutrition in its vast female population to save its vast population of malnourished children

Last week, Kamala, my 65 year old neighbor, was hospitalized after she had sudden dizziness and showed signs of amnesia. An MRI scan revealed that Kamala had 4 blood clots on the left side of her brain. This surprised everyone around Kamala; nobody could recall her having a fall or a collision – the normal cause of a head injury. The doctors however had a different explanation: Kamala had acute anemia. A widow with no land or other valuable assets, Kamala was earlier a daily wage earner in a village for 20 years. For those twenty years, her daily diet was just a plate of rice and a spoon of yoghurt. With extremely low nutrition level, Kamala soon developed anemia and has been suffering from it since then.

Kamala represents the vast population of Indian women - over 53% to be precise, who are malnourished and suffer from related ailments such as low blood pressure and anemia.

This shocking fact was revealed when the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) released the India Human Development Report 2011, 3 months ago. According to the report, 55.3% of women aged 15-49 years suffer from anemia. In some northern Indian states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the percentage is nearly 60%. As feared by many, there are more malnourished and anemic women in marginalized communities than in other groups.

Poor nutrition and health in women has resulted in poor health in infants. The Human Development Report states, ‘A staggering 21.5% of babies in India are born with low birth weight, a problem that begins in the womb.’ Little wonder that India now has the largest number of malnourished children in the world.

This contrasts sharply with India’s performance in the economic sector. As per the Economic Outlook for 2011-12, released by the government of India in August 2011, India’s GDP growth rate for 2011-12 is 8.2% as compared to 8.5% registered last year. The high GDP growth makes India the second fastest growing major economy in the world and an emerging superpower.

The root cause of this continued malnutrition is not a sharp decline in food production either. According to the records of the Indian Agriculture Ministry, India’s current yearly food grain production is at 218 million tons, and is poised to cross 250 million tons by the end of 2012.

The main reason for malnutrition and anemia, as the UNDP rightly points out, is gender discrimination. The UNDP report says, ‘gender discrimination in India (and South Asia) is among the worst in the world. Even in 2011, adult female literacy was barely 65%, 10% behind the male literacy. Moreover, female labor participation rates are among the lowest in any developing region. Although the situation is changing among adolescent girls, for women in the reproductive age this combination of poor education and low labor force participation translates into low autonomy in the household.’

Clearly, malnutrition and poor health among women are directly linked to gender discrimination. Law makers must address this issue while giving women a legal right to access sufficient food and nutrition.

In December 2011, India introduced a draft law called the National Food Security Bill, which aims to provide cheaper food grains to the poor - estimated to be 63.5% of India's population. However, even this bill fails to answer the crucial question: what are the constituents of a nutritious diet? Without this being explained first, even if all the women of India get sufficient food, their nutrition intake will continue to be low.

It is, therefore, time for the government to show utmost seriousness in eradicating the twin evils of female malnutrition and gender discrimination in food distribution. To begin with, the government must expedite the public and political consultation on the National Food Security Bill, amend it accordingly and assess the nutrients provided to the beneficiaries before activating it. The current lackadaisical and ‘business as usual’ attitude will only worsen the situation, thus adding to the shame of a country that maintains over 8% GDP despite a global recession, but deprives half its female population of nourishment.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.


gabimucatta's picture

Well said!

Dear Stella

I strongly support your view. Economic growth cannot and should not be the only goal before India because a healthy population is the first and foremost asset of a country. Thank you for reminding us that.

Stella Paul's picture

Thank you!

It is unfortunate you know that my country has so much of political will when it comes to finance and business, but shows little of that in issues like female malnutrition. It is often discussed how, in next 50 years, we will have the biggest force of young people in the world, which will help us further to be a super power.But what the government is not noticing is that more than half of those young people will be unhealthy and sick!
We really need to change the scenario, and it has to begin now.

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

MaDube's picture


Right to the point and true. Stella It certainly makes no sense for such a growing economy to have such high malnutrition rates, unless of course the economic growth is benefiting a few and failing to cascade to the grassroots, which I believe is the case with India.

Well done you completed your assignment way ahead of time! I am still struggling, like always.


Stella Paul's picture

A few factor helped

Dear Rumbi

I was actually reading the report when the 3rd module started, so it helped a lot to have a topic ready on my hand.
However, two other facts helped: First, that midpoint skype call where I was able to discuss with Michelle (of Oped project) the issue a little. And 2ndly, this time my editorial midwife Pushpa was really quick in editing and also encouraged a lot to post the story.

I am sure you are struggling because the juggling acts that you (and all of us) do. And I am sure a powerful story is coming up. Btw, I have read nearly half of your chronicles (blog) and enjoying every single one!Thanks for introducing me to M'ma Zimbabwe!

As for me, I am very happy to be talking about women's nutrition - a subject I find very close to my heart. I am planning something bigger now on the same line - like a series or something. We lack neither money, nor the means; its just because we see it as a non-issue that our women suffer.

Much love!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

Cali gal Michelle's picture

Will read......

When my computer is ack and running. Can't wait!!!!

Let us Hope together-
aka: Cali gal


Stella Paul's picture

Good luck with your comp!

Dear Michelle

Its a bummer to have the computer sick. I can imagine you having a lot of works pending because of that. But hope it gets fixed soon. Good luck!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

usha kc's picture

Wow!! sisi,, you did great

Wow!! sisi,, you did great job by raising this issue.
you are always true and this time too:)

Stella Paul's picture

Thank you my lovely Boini!

It is, as you know, an important issue for all women, especially in our South Asia. It makes me very angry sometimes you know, but I am trying to channelize the anger in a creative way and World Pulse is giving us that chance.


Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

Ruun Abdi's picture

A must read piece!

A well written and informative post. Its always a joy to read your stories and this one is eye catching indeed! You really presented it well and yeah economic growth wont help if half of the society is weak and high malnutrition exists.


Stella Paul's picture

Thank you so much Ruun!

I always feel 50 times more stronger to hear from you Ruun. You are such a great motivator! Back on the subject, it is so depressing to see that gender discrimination is 'engrained' in every grain of food as well. But at least we are talking and its no more a non-issue. I can only hope to see the picture changing for better in future. Thank you so much again!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

Juliette Maughan's picture

Food security

Hi Stella,

As usual your articles always make people think about what they think they know.

From where I am sitting, the conflicting "worlds" that exist in India are problematic and important to tackle for India to grow as a country and a society.

Food security and nutrition are important topic areas to be discussed the world over. Here in Barbados it is certainly a very important topic. Whereas Kamala suffered from malnutrition, in our island the opposite occurs. There are high rates of diabetes and hypertension. Lifestyle diseases that have a little to do with choice, but a lot to do with education around growing your own food and incorporating more vegetables and fruits into the diet.

But I digress. If she is your neighbour how is it that you are able to survive as well? Do people grow their own produce? What does the community do now to avoid this happening again? 60+ years of poor nutrition will have very damaging effects. What are the solutions?

Thank you for sharing!


Stella Paul's picture

Thanks Juliette

Dear Juliette

Let me begin with the answer: The solution is to eradicate malnutrition. A stepping stone to that is giving women a legal right to have the nutrition that require. The govt has drafted a draft law that promises to give enough food to to all. In this Oped I have given my opinion - that the bill must also ensure that the food also has enough nutrients. We are not tackling hunger, but nutrition. So, mere food isn't enough. Once the law is on hand, the focus can shift on its proper implementation. There will still be a need to fight gender discrimination within families, but to give a woman a legal right to nutritious food is a good start and a sign towards being a good democracy.

In India we do not have equal distribution of wealth - the reason why there are people living below the poverty line and Kamala is one of them. She doesn't grow her own food - she has no land, but buys it. So the standard of her food is decided by her power to purchase. The new law, with the right amendments and right implementation, should be able to ensure that even with her low income, Kamala can get better quality food.

And now, I thank you for taking your time to read this. More importantly, thanks for sharing with me the information on women's health issues in Barbados. I am learning so much through these interactions! Thanks and stay blessed!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

Juliette Maughan's picture

So may things to consider

Thank you for your response Stella.

Kamala is one of many women that will surely suffer this fate if the gender inequalities do not come into balance. It is a grave injustice.

Thanks again for increasing my knowledge and awareness.


Celine's picture

Wow Stella! You have since

Wow Stella!

You have since posted your Op-ed to your journal. Congratulations. I love your writing, as usual!
Coincidentally, you presented an argument on an issue I am also passionate about. I am writing on hunger and devastating effects on women and children in my country. How minds work together.

Yes, India is listed with Nigeria, Pakistan and a few other countries under same category in one Global Hunger Index document. I love the way you link malnutrition to poor health and gender discrimination in India. Well done!

I hope our opinions through these writings will have impacts on decisions that will positively address this important issue, which play salient role in the health of women and children the world over.


Stella Paul's picture

Eagerly waiting!

Dear sister Celine

I am happy to know you are writing on a related subject. That makes me feel that we are voicing together now against common injustice that we face as women. I am eagerly waiting for your Oped.

For me, food is an emotional issue. In my childhood I have faced hunger and lack of food. I have seen how helpless my mother felt when there wasn't enough food for us. I have seen a pregnant friend dying because of malnutrition. Today, one of my closest friends is having trouble conceiving because she did not have enough nutrition during her formative years. A woman of 30+, she looks like a you see, there are so many personal reasons that makes me feel really strongly about food. To deny a woman the quality of food she requires is the worst form of gender injustice - its like slow killing. I always feel that everyone can do his/her bit to bring change.By writing, we are doing what we ought to do, both as women and as concerned humans. My best wishes to you. Love!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

amiesissoho's picture

Stella dear, This is another

Stella dear,

This is another important area of concern to uplift the status women. Together we can do something. While the government needs to take responsibility at national level, as individual neighbours we can share the little extra with those in need. Fast food company could give the extras to those who need it. Without promoting dependency, women like Kamala could have been protected from malnutrition by sharing the extra food rather than dumping it.

Thanks, the story was well researched too.


Stella Paul's picture

Thank you Amie!

Thanks so much dear Amie, for your observations and your thoughts. Our government has been taking steps to feed every mouth (a huge task as we are 1.7 billion population), but when it comes to women, we need more; the issue here is not hunger. Even Kamala never went hungry, she had 3 meals a day. But the issue is of enough nutrition. So, the government needs to move ahead of 'hunger eradication to 'malnourishment eradication'. And yes, as you suggest, individuals can do a lot too, both by sharing extra food and also sharing knowledge about govt schemes that can help. What I am doing here these days is inform people about herbs and leafy vegetables that can be grown freely, without any cost and can be consumed to get important vitamins and other nutrition. Thanks again Amie! Really appreciate your view!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

ikirimat's picture


You have done it again. Nutrition is such a critical issue that means a lot in having a healthy people, safe delivery, reduced birth defects... name it, yet little priority is given to it. Most households have food but do not know how to balance the diet.

In Uganda too households produce food but end up selling all forgetting about their own food requirements. its such a shame.

I think this was a good choice for an Op-ed.


Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."

Stella Paul's picture

Thank you Grace!

Dear Grace

Thanks, both for reading and commenting and also for giving this very valuable input about how most people in Uganda sell their produce. You know its this little exchanges of information that teaches me so much about the world! Thank you my friend!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

Okeny-Lucia's picture

Anaemia in this Century?

Stella and you would think that we are in the 15th Century.Simple ailments that need appear in our times seem to be biting us hard enough.
Am devastated that anemia seems to be killing the women in their reproductive age.The scenario is the same here in Kenya,I go to the antenatal clinics and you find one or two women having been diagnosed with low blood level.
You are very right this business as usual has killed many people waiting for proper health care.I just hope things do change.

Lucia Buyanza
Reproductive Health

Stella Paul's picture

Hope is good!

Dear Lucia
Your comment actually made me pause for a minute and think: are most of the issues we women face still medieval? And I could hear my head say 'yes'. Beating, slavery, denial of land rights, denial of food, nutrition, education....the list is endless and they have been here for centuries.
I think, its that hope that has driven us so far. Without that hope, we would lose the battle in a sec. So I thank for keeping hope in change. Much love! Have a great Valentine's Day!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

Monica Clarke's picture

Dear Stella Your writing is

Dear Stella

Your writing is just amazing. You are truly a journalist and I know that your future is a bright one. I read your articles with respect and this one in particular has brought home to me the real underlying issues which are the actual problems we have, which are covered up if not exposed by understanding writers like yourself. Your research is amazing. I wish I could shadow you for a few weeks one day.... who knows? From old admirer Aunt Monica

Monica Clarke, Writer & Storyteller, bringing human rights alive.
I wish you 'Nangamso', that is: May you continue to do the good work which you do so well.
(A blessing from my ancestors, the Khoikhoi, the first people of South Africa).

Stella Paul's picture

I feel shy

Dear Monica

When someone of your age, experience and stature says such compliments, I feel really shy. But in my heart, I do a little dance :) The truth is, it takes a great space in the heart to be so generous with words.

I have already told you how I feel connected to you. We should speak to each other more, outside our stories, so I can soak in some of your wisdom.
Until then, love and gratitude!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

Jan K Askin's picture

Like Mother Like Child

Dear Stella,

Facts can be powerful. But used in conjunction with clear, straightforward prose such as yours, they are powerfully convincing.

The inarguable facts about malnutrition in India cause one to ask: Where do we start?

We start with women like you using their voices to raise the cry of injustice and work constructively towards change.

Congratulations on writing a powerful op-ed.

Your sister,


Jan Askin

Stella Paul's picture

Oh wow!

That's such a beautiful way to put it all. Thank you so much Jan! You have just motivated me to do well in my next story!!! Thanks so very much!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

Leslie Stoupas's picture

Emphasis on Education

Hi Stella,

It is so important that you have put education together with nutrition, as without that, it is so difficult to make connections. Encouraging the education of women will contribute so much to the understanding of nutrition, as well as the economy behind food production. You are making a difference for so many women and children by bringing this issue to light. An inspiring and well-written piece!


Leslie Stoupas

Stella Paul's picture

Thank you so much!

Dear Leslie

Actually, communities do have their own traditional knowledge bank that provides for a lot - including nutrition needs. But with time and increased rate of migration, more and more families are breaking away and the structure of communities are forever changing. This puts on a woman the extra burden of doing it completely on her own. Traditionally, pregnant women in India women lived for 3-6 months with their mothers before and post delivery. The mothers would take care of the nutritional needs during the crucial period. Now, women live faraway, without that back up system. At this, education is a big tool for her to self help. Also, it helps in claiming her rights over wages,as well as the health schemes.

Thanks so much for reading through!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

Leslie Stoupas's picture

Thanks for clarifying that

Thanks for clarifying that point, Stella! No doubt there is still a lot of indigenous wisdom about food. With the disconnection form the land that so many experience, though, I imagine it gets harder and harder to apply. And, as so often is the case, it seems that it is the poor who suffer this loss the most. Community economies, markets and solidarity are so critical to the health of all, especially women and children; you really do a good job of making this point!


Leslie Stoupas

BlueSky's picture

Again: BRAVO!

Wonderfully written Stella. You are an obvious professional. Your point regarding malnutrition is powerfully made, as well as the link to gender discrimination. And when we realize that those statistics relate to a population of 1.7 billion - over 25% of the population in the prime of their life are anemic - it is hard to overstate the criticality of the issue. And when demonstrating that that 25% is most entirely the female slice of the population, it is time for India's leadership to be called to account.

You are doing your part, and doing it well. As another said: BRAVO!

Stella Paul's picture

Two of a kind

Dear BlueSky

I'm very seriously taken in by an old saying 'if you are alive, let others know.' And what other way to prove my existence than talking about what bothers me? I know this is what you are doing it as well - with aplomb! And that's what makes us two of a kind! Wonderful way to bond, isn't it?

The gravity of any problem in India - be that domestic violence or disableds' rights or malnourishment - lies in the simple fact that we are the world's second largest population (in a few years time, we will be No 1) and therefore what we have on hand is a huge, huge number of people. As you rightly said, its one quarter of the world's folks who are malnourished today. Ignore the issue and what you do is giving the middle finger to a big chunk of the world. So a change is something truly non-negotiable!

And now, er, I read that bit about a handsome brother and am utterly tempted :) Imagine having a sis-in-law with a loudspeaker of a voice! I will be the world's best supported woman ever :)

Love and hugs!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

BlueSky's picture

Two of a kind

Ha! Now I'm laughing. When you said: "Imagine having a sis-in-law with a loudspeaker of a voice!", I didn't know if your were talking about me, or you. Obviously we are Two of a Kind, dear sister.

Ofalla's picture

Way to go, Stella

Hi Stella,
I just read your amazing article and was struck by the statistics you present and the powerful impact of this great injustice to the people of India. If half the population suffers from malnutrition and anemia, then the other half suffers too. Even though 50% of people have enough (and often more than enough) they must pay the price of poverty and unemployment elsewhere. The fact that women are so adversely affected by malnutrition means that the infants born to them will also achieve less than their potential due to inter-uterine deprivation.
Your writing is strong and clear and well supported by research. Your writing is engaging and I was totally convinced of the accuracy of what you say. Keep writing, Stella, your passion for causes like this can be powerful agents for change.
Thanks for writing,

Stella Paul's picture

Yes, indeed!

Dear Ann

You have so rightly pointed out the fallout of the malnutrition on the 'other' 50%! Purely from the capitalistic/business point of view, poor nutrition and poor health also means poor labor force. So, if you are an employer, your employee - which is from the 'affected ' segment, is not able to contribute the expected way. So, ultimately, (and I am saying this, because right now my govt is focusing purely one economic growth) it does affect economy,and in turn, the entire population as well.

Thanks Ann, for reading and for the comment. Coming from someone like you who has decades of experience in the health sector, it is hugely valuable to me! I hope you also read my friend and fellow VoF Okency-Lucia's piece. Its on mental health. Since that is also your forte, your comment can be useful to Lucia as well.

Many, many thanks!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

noreens's picture

Good article, Stella! What

Good article, Stella! What struck me is that your neighbor was eating 3 meals a day of rice and yougurt - basically just filling her stomach - as I am sure is the case with many people in her situation. But shouldn't these women be given some form of proper nutritional education. As a vegetarian, I have suffered anemia, and it's a bad feeling. I can't imagine going through life like that. But it comes with education - what foods does the body really need.


Stella Paul's picture

You got it so right

Dear Noreens

You just got the core theme of the article so right! Our govt is working hard to combat hunger There is a scheme called 'public Distribution System or PDS. Under PDS, the govt gives every poor family rice, wheat flour, salt and sugar at subsidized rate. Now, while the govt feels satisfied, having 'fed' the poor, the truth is, they are still undernourished, simply because the food they eat mainly consist of a lot of carbohydrate.

Personally, Kamala was deprived of protein and other nutrients by her own relatives who think women are lesser beings. Kamala knows she needs vegetables and stuff. But she neither is a food grower, nor has the power to purchase. For this kind of poorest of the poor, its the govt that has to provide for and its the govt that needs to think of the nutrition requirement of a woman and a mother. The proposed food security law is a great opportunity to do that.

But education is also extremely important. Right now, our nutrition experts studying the looking at the Food security Bill and educating the govt about the need to include nutrients, which forgot the crucial issue. If the govt ensures the food provided under PDS is nutritious enough, women like Kamala will be much healthier.
Alongside,we need to continue gender education for those who willingly deny their female family members of nutritious food because they are women.

Many, many thanks for reading through and much love!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

Dear Stella,

I'm proud of your brilliant and poignant expression. The photo is apt and powerful - I hope it stirs the majority who are ignoring this and associated facts.

Continue the brave work! We must highlight the terrible realities of our land and strive to reduce suffering, right?


Stella Paul's picture

You are great

My dear Editor

I was able to finish this job only because you were there to help. Thanks for noticing the photo - I was quite proud of having clicked it. To me, photos are worth a million words! Coming back to the issue, yes, we have a beautiful country which is like moon - with a lot of scars (that hurts). If we can help heal even one of those scars, we can have a greater nation.

Thanks and lots and lots of love

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

Greengirl's picture

Great Weaver of Words!

Your piece is well woven as usual. I am not surprised too, at the subject you chose.

Did I ever mention to you that I tried out one of the recipes on your blog (whisperi........)?

I sincerely hope that someday, soon, you will find your writings will earn you a major decision making position in the Government of India. I bet you will turn your country's nutritional situation, right side up! No doubt too, It will surely be in favour of long deprived women and children.

I'll be on the look out.

Stella Paul's picture

And you do it again

Dear Olanike

You are a lovely person with so much love and encouragement.With such words, any person - especially a woman - can only be motivated to excel again and again! I give you back just as much love my dear sister! And your comment reminded me, I should be more regular with my Whispering blog :) Promise to bring you some good recipes soon that you won't regret trying. Until then, god bless you Olanike and god bless our bond as sisters!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

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