Friday, March 9, 2012

How cultural norms contribute to malnutrition

This week, I have been reading Richard K'Okul's book, Maternal and Child Health in Kenya. The book explores the different factors that contribute to malnutrition in the community. These range from bad policies to poverty, ignorance and cultural factors that influence maternal nutrition.

One of the factors that I found unnecessary and sad was the cultural norm in Western Kenya, whereby a young married woman is not allowed to cook for her family. Instead, she has to comply with her mother-in-law's wishes. If her mother-in-law doesn't feel like cooking, then even small babies are condemned to remain hungry until she is ready to cook.

To make matters worse, the food cooked may not necessarily be suitable for small children. In parts of Nyanza Province where polygyny is common, it is the senior wives who control the cooking. It is common to see very young women who are married to elderly men carrying small children with kwashiokor. When asked why they can't feed their child better, they give answers like, ' I have not been given food'.

The point of this little story is to point out that  the time has come for Africans to reexamine and restructure their cultures in order to survive. It doesn't matter how many highly educated specialists Africa produces, if we don't take care of the basic anomalies in our family dynamics: Malnutrition, disease and death will remain common among African children. Young African men must therefore play their part in condemning these practices, and African mothers must advocate more for the welfare of their children. Then Africa will take one step closer to joining the global community.

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