When discussing inequalities in our society, the gender gap looms large. It stands as one of the most significant challenges alongside economic disparities. Gender bias affects women in various aspects of their lives, from education to career opportunities, and even health and nutrition.
This often-overlooked aspect of gender inequality profoundly influences nutritional well-being. Gender bias in health and nutrition is a pervasive issue that affects a substantial portion of the world’s population.
Gender bias is the preferential treatment given to one gender over the other. According to a 2020 United Nations report, nearly 90% of people exhibit some form of bias against women, and this bias extends to their nutritional intake.
In many traditional societies, including India, women often compromise their food intake. Male children in the household are provided with more nutritious meals, as they are expected to grow up and support the family. Additionally, societal taboos related to pregnancy and menstruation result in various restrictions on women’s food intake, leading to overall nutritional deficiencies that disproportionately affect women.
Research published in 2016 in the National Library of Medicine revealed that more tribal women in India suffered from undernutrition compared to men. Approximately 13.6% of women experienced severe undernutrition, compared to 9.6% of men. These trends were consistent in overall nutrition levels as well.
Globally, 150 million more women face food insecurity than men, with women in more than two-thirds of countries experiencing greater food insecurity. This glaring discrepancy serves as strong evidence of gender bias in health and nutrition.
Gender bias in health and nutrition is a pressing issue in India, mirroring global trends. It has been identified through various indicators, including BMI index, malnourishment rates, and adult food consumption.
This pattern of female malnutrition and gender bias in health is evident in other metrics too. In India, child mortality is higher among girls than boys, in contrast to the global trend. The consequences of malnutrition are more severe for girls in India, leading to generational undernourishment.
The country has the highest number of undernourished adult women among developing nations. These undernourished women give birth to undernourished children, perpetuating a cycle of malnutrition. Research also indicates that gender bias in health and nutrition begins to manifest in Indian households when boys reach the age of 15.
Women constitute half of the world’s population and have faced gender bias and missed opportunities for centuries. While progress is being made, there is still much work to be done in bridging the gender gap.
The impact of gender bias in health and nutrition extends beyond individual growth and development; it leads to increased mortality and intergenerational undernourishment.
To address this problem, a two-pronged approach is needed. First, raising awareness about the severe consequences of gender bias on women is crucial. Simultaneously, societal taboos related to pregnancy and menstruation must be dismantled. Household biases need to be identified and rectified. It should be understood that women require as much nutrition as men, and even more when they are pregnant.
Additionally, policy-level interventions are essential, both at the national and international levels. Ensuring equal access to nutrition for both genders is a key step towards the overall betterment of society.
This can be achieved through various means, including promoting education for women, fostering entrepreneurship, empowering women, investing in research on the nutrition gap, and more.
Creating inclusive workplaces and livelihood opportunities for women and transgender individuals, along with measures to ensure financial inclusion, economic empowerment, and protection from violence, should be the primary objectives of policies and programs.