Women's Needs are Always Last Priority
As Shirin Khatun gives the finishing touches to the ingredients in the cooking pot, she awaits her husband's arrival with the fresh batch of rice harvest from the field. As soon as he arrives after a laborious day, Shirin gets ready to prepare the threshing floor. After the customary sieving and winnowing of the husks, Shirin does not stop till she completes the processes of parboiling, sun drying and finally storing the rice grains. Besides her routine domestic work, Shirin, like many other women in the villages, is actively involved in agricultural production.
Douglas Broderick, Country Representative, WFP is seen giving speech in the FSJN seminar titled: Food Security and Women along with (from left to right) Reaz Ahmad, Convener, FSJN; Lalita Bhattacharjee, Nutritionist (NFPCSP) FAO; Nasimun Ara Haq, President, Bangladesh Nari Sangbadik Kendra; and Kawser Rahman (far left), Deputy Chief Reporter, The Daily Janakantha.
In fact, women in rural Bangladesh are in general, responsible for most of the agricultural work in the homestead. They do the home gardening and take part in farm activities from the selection of seeds and harvesting to the storing of crops. Despite women's crucial role in agriculture, the traditional social norms deprive Bangladeshi women of equitable economic opportunities and access to resources.
History of the so-called development of mankind is often marked with the role of men and their nature of hunting, for sport or for food. The traditional hegemonies have the male species forever basking under the century-old title of being the provider and the protector of women and their households. However, the act of gathering food, or the core need to nurse, feed, protect and satisfy the members of the family by the women have always been ignored, to the extent that these women at times would stay hungry.
This ancient act continues even today. Recently, at a seminar on Food Security and Women, held at the National Press Club, speakers stressed on promoting food security and nutrition for women in the country. According to them, the rate of food insecurity and malnutrition remains high among women although the overall food security situation has shown improvement across the world. Organised by Food Security Journalists Network (FSJN), representatives Doughlas Broderick from World Food Programme (WFP), Lalita Bhattacharjee, nutritionist from FAO, Nasimun Ara Huq, President of Bangladesh Nari Sangbadik Kendra and Reaz Ahmed, the Convenor of FSJN spoke about how most of the women suffer from malnutrition, especially in the rural areas of the country.
According to the World Food Summit, food security would exist when all people at all times have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, which would meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. However, Reaz Ahmed says that at least 25% of the population in Bangladesh do not have access to the minimum food requirement measured at 1800 kilocalories per person per day. “In a country with a population of at least 10 million, 25% happens to be a big number,” he says. “Food intake, as is common knowledge in Bangladesh, has a lot to do with gender bias in the families. Most females in households do not get the proper food intake as required.” He says that nowadays, most poor children, both male and female go to school. “They receive, more or less, an equal amount of attention from their teachers and have to bear an equal amount of burden as well.”
A representative of the National Food Policy and Capacity Strengthening Programme (NFPCSP), Nasser Farid says that the Food Ministry may provide the actual statistics regarding the food intake in the villages but it does not bring out the salient features regarding the roles of men and women in farming and agriculture. One enjoys the colourful pictures of men working hard on the fields on calendars, says Ahmed. “However, we do not look beyond the pictures and notice the women who take care of the post-production or in this case farming activities. In fact, they even preserve the seeds for the next harvest year.”
According to Sustainable Development Dimensions, working on gender and development in Asia, in many cases such clearly demarcated gender divisions of labour do not apply. The traditional gender relations with women's involvement in post-harvest work and men's in fieldwork have not remained static over time. Due to extreme poverty and a food crisis, social norms and traditions are changing and women are appearing in the field as well. About 60-70% of women from landless and near-landless households work as agricultural wage labourers, whereas women from larger farms do not participate in field activities. In the Grameen Krishi Foundation working areas in North-West Bangladesh, women equally share all tasks in rice production, even the presumably male task of irrigation.
The speakers further spoke about the women's poor physical and socio-economic condition in spite of their contribution to food production. According to a research done by Bhattacharjee, the prevalence of anaemia has increased amongst the women of the rural areas, over the last decade.
Special Programme for Food security (SPFS), which is now ongoing in several developing countries, including Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos and Sri Lanka, points towards social mobilisation for food security mechanisms. Women can be trained in crop and horticulture production, post-harvest operations, raising poultry and small livestock, fisheries production, food processing and other multi-sectoral approach to promote food security. “Technologies can be transferred to On farm water management,” says Bhattacharjee. “These women can also be included in various micro-credit schemes and be educated in nutrition.”
Over the years, several steps were taken to improve the condition of the poor in the country and bring them up from below the poverty line. But such efforts have always turned out to be fruitless since the women or the nurturers of the family have always been taken for granted and thus, never give a second thought. In Mahatma Gandhi's words, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual; if you educate a woman, you educate a family.”
(R) thedailystar.net 2007