Women might never cease to be blamed for woes that affect our families. I will cite only a few of the many incidences for which women are blamed. If a child accidentally tumbles on a hot pot and sustains bodily injuries, it is the mother’s fault.
A mother must watch over the child and guarantee its safety all the time. Should members of Village Health Teams (VHT’s) find household utensils clattered all over the place, the woman is dirty and lacks a sense of orderliness. A child is late for school; the mother did not prepare him/her early enough. Even the biblical Adam refused to take responsibility for his actions and used Eve as a scapegoat after he had eaten the forbidden fruit.
These examples and the argument herein are prompted by Daily Monitor’s February 20 article in which Dr Muhammad Mulongo; the Bulambuli District health officer (DHO) exclusively held women responsible for the rising cases of malnourished children.
I should possibly point out that Dr Mulongo’s thinking and utterances (mind you many men think and see things from Dr Mulongo’s biased gender lenses) are shaped and influenced by what may be called gender socialisation: the process through which we learn the gender norms of our societies that spell out standards and rules for what is appropriate for men’s and women’s behaviour.
Raised in a patriarchal society where the man is the boss and the woman a provider of services to be consumed by the boss and other family members, Dr Mulongo erroneously believes that the hearth is a woman’s place-a tool she will singly use to feed the mouths and hands under the roof.
In his scathing attack, Dr Mulongo divides his victims of blame into two categories, urban and rural women. He faults the former for being too busy to prepare their children decent and nutritious meals only to buy and pack them junk food as they herd them to school.
The later is deprecated for abandoning their children home and spending long hours digging and gathering firewood. They return home late after hunger has had a toll on the fragile and young bodies. Why in such circumstances wouldn’t a child who is supposed to be fed after every two hours be malnourished?
Mulongo wonders. It is on the heels of Dr Mulongo’s gender biased observations that implicate women for child malnutrition that we pose to ask: where are the fathers when the mothers are packing our children this food lacking in micro-nutrients or when they are digging under the scorching sun and collecting a few wood sticks to tinder a fire for the next meal? Do fathers also have a role to play in child health and nutrition?
Certainly, men should not be mere bystanders in matters of child nutrition and welfare. But alas, as mothers go about their business as articulated by Dr Mulongo, oftentimes men (especially rural ones) are either snoring in their beds struggling to recover from the effects of last night’s drinking or working on other people’s farms in exchange for wages which too often they do not commit to family survival.
These were some of the responses by the women that I spoke to in Kitgum District for a 2013 study that I conducted on Female Livelihoods in Post-War Societies.
In fact child malnutrition is likely to be higher in northern Uganda due to; war’s destructive impact on livelihoods and food security systems, women’s inaccessibility to land (read: The second tragedy for Acholi women, Daily Monitor November 7, 2014), lack of support from male spouses, and others.
The truth of the matter is ensuring that children are well-fed both for their physical and mental growth is not a simple task as it may seem.
This task involves many things but three are important. First, how available is the food within our environment i.e food supply? Second is food access. What is the household’s ability to obtain that food? Put in another way, does the household have the resources-physical, financial or others to enable it access the food wherever it is?
Third and very important, is food utilisation. How knowledgeable are the household members about the different food nutrients that they require and what is their ability to select, take-in and absorb the nutrients in the food?
Certainly, mobilising to ensure that the three components (and others not mentioned here) underlying an affordable child nutritional effort is beyond a mother’s hand.
This basically is the reason fathers need to take a very active and supportive role in child health if we are to wage a winnable war against child malnutrition.
The point I am trying to make here is that the health and well-being of our children requires a joint and collaborative action between the two parents where both are available, although I must add in passing that government has a very crucial role to play in this effort.
Finally, one important lesson that we draw from Dr Mulongo’s message is that paediatricians, dieticians, nutrition officers and other experts dealing in issues of child health and nutrition need to be oriented in basic gender training so that they are able to understand that issues of children do not only concern beings of the female sex but those of the opposite sex as well. This, I am optimistic might help such experts in administering therapeutic actions from a gender aware perspective.
Mr Asiimwe formerly worked as Field Monitor Assistant-Food and Nutrition Security; United Nations World Food Programme, Uganda Country Office. email@example.com