Mothers in rural India with better peer network save kids from malnutrition
A new study from University of Illinois study found that mothers in rural India who participated in a program designed to educate and empower women, gained a network of peers that led to increased bargaining strength in the home, and significantly improved their children's consumption of rice and dairy.
"Prior to participating in Mahila Samakhya, which loosely translates to women of equal value, most of the participants reported regularly communicating with fewer than five women outside their families," U of I economist Kathy Baylis said.
"Some of the women initially said things like, 'I never knew anybody like me could work outside of the home' and 'I never knew anyone like me could stand up to her husband.' But after participating in the program, even if they didn't go out and use that vocational training in jobs, they felt that they had a little more right to say, 'No, I think this is how we should be spending our money in our household.' Women were exerting more of a say over household resources," she said.
In India, over 40 percent of children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition. This is despite the fact that per capita income has more than doubled since the mid-1990s and agricultural production is at an all-time high, with large buffer stocks of cereals in government granaries.
"There's evidence that if women have more bargaining power in the household, particularly in developing countries where cash is very tight, quite often more resources go toward the kids," Baylis said.
"So, to test that hypothesis, we went into homes with bowls and asked how many bowls this size of rice did your kids eat yesterday? Not only do we see evidence that more is going to kids, but more food is going to girls in particular, which is good because they tend to be the least powerful persons in the household. When times are tight, the girls' food is usually what's cut back," she said.
In the study, 487 women were surveyed from six of thirteen districts in Uttarakhand, four with the program and two without.
Baylis said that the study shows that women who are more empowered, educated, and mobile can actually change the village culture.
(Posted on 11-03-2014)