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Food equity within the household
In many parts of the world, men and boys eat before women and girls.
This exacerbates malnutrition in several ways:
- males may actually have more than they need, depriving the females adequate nutrition.
- men, the economic decision-makers, are not going hungry, so they don't feel the same need to change their economic position.
Aside from order of eating, there may be conscious decisions to give women and girls less. In rural Bangladesh, for example, as a matter of tradition, women feed their daughters differently to their sons, giving them less food in total and less protein in particular.
This happens regardless of the economic status of household. This is partly due to the perceived status difference in sons and daughters.
In a wealthy country where gender imbalances are still very high, it would be unlikely that one would find a malnourished woman or girls in a wealthy household. This practice may still be considered undesirable from a perspective of equity, and particularly from a feminist perspective, but is perhaps not a serious public health issue.[verification needed]
Culture and sensitivity
Even aside from the implications for malnutrition, many would consider this a repugnant practice. This begs questions of cultural norms in development. If we conclude that a practice is objectively unjust, we may conclude that the normal need for respecting and allowing the existing culture may have to be compromised.
However, it should be noted that sensitivity becomes more important in dealing with the individuals who have grown up with the practice, and have a blind spot to it. It is essential not to be judgemental or "superior".
Needless to say, there is always a danger of "cultural imperialism" when a foreign worker tries to change local practices. For this reason it is generally preferable to have local workers do this kind of work. It is also essential to continually reexamine our motives, analysis and practices.
- Comment: I remember reading about an African father taking his child (daughter I guess) to a health center. He was well-fed, she was malnourished. I think they explained to him the importance of the females getting a fair share, and he could see that this novel idea actually made sense. (Feel free to replace this with a more suitable reference or quote.) --Chriswaterguy · talk 10:21, 16 October 2007 (PDT)
- Free lunches and malnutrition - blog post - see discussion in comments.