Child Welfare in India Improves as Mothers Participate in Peer Support Groups

    08 April, 2014


    New research in India shows that children eat better when their mothers have more power, more education and are able to move about freely in the communities.

    Researchers found that women who joined a job skills training program sought more in control at home and in their families, and children of these women ate more rice and dairy foods.
    A program in southern India is called Mahila Samakhya. It brings women together to form local support groups. Researchers at the University of Illinois questioned if and how these groups effected the women's sense of themselves and their positions in the family.

    Kathy Baylis is an economist at the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois. She led the study.

    Ms Baylis says that before joining the peer groups, the women knew fewer than five other women who they were not related to. Ms Baylis adds that many of them did not know the possibilities for women in work and in family life.

    She reads some of the comments from these women that show this way of thinking: "Before I was in the peer group, I didn't know I could stand up to my husband. I didn't know I could work outside the home or work outside the farm. I didn't know women were doctors and lawyers, etc., etc."

    Experts say 40 percent of Indian children under age five suffer from underfeeding. But Ms Baylis says, involvement in the support groups, led the women to provide better foods for their children.
    Researchers visited the homes of those involved in the groups. They created a simple measuring process. They brought different size food bowls, and asked the mothers which size bowls they were using.

    "And instead of trying to get people to recall exact number of cups or etc. that they were feeding their kids, we went and asked how many of these size bowls did your different kids get fed of rice and of daal and of various dairy products," said Baylis.

    Researches confirmed that the children were eating better based on the size of bowl the mothers used. They found that girls especially started eating more.
    Ms Baylis says the women also began to resist physical abuse from their husbands. The women threatened to report the violence of these men unless they stopped. 
    The study is one of the first to show the effectiveness of Mahila Samakhya on female empowerment. The Indian central government established the program in 1995.

    A similar program in Bangladesh - SHOUHARDO has also had success. SHOUHARDO is the Bangla word for friendship. The non-profit organization CARE administer SHOUHARDO along with the Bangla government and US government's Food For Peace program.

    That's all from the Health Report. Stay tuned for more programme from VOA Learning English.