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Open Access Women's empowerment and domestic violence: The role of sociocultural determinants in maternal and child undernutrition in tribal and rural communities in South India

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Background. Moderate malnutrition continues to affect 46% of children under five years of age and 47% of rural women in India. Women's lack of empowerment is believed to be an important factor in the persistent prevalence of malnutrition. In India, women's empowerment often varies by community, with tribes sometimes being the most progressive.

Objective. To explore the relationship between women's empowerment, maternal nutritional status, and the nutritional status of their children aged 6 to 24 months in rural and tribal communities.

Methods. This study in rural Karnataka, India, included tribal and rural subjects and used both qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection. Structured interviews with mothers were performed and anthropometric measurements were obtained for 820 mother–child pairs. The data were analyzed by multivariate and logistic regression.

Results. Some degree of malnutrition was seen in 83.5% of children and 72.4% of mothers in the sample. Biological variables explained most of the variance in nutritional status, followed by health-care seeking and women's empowerment variables; socioeconomic variables explained the least amount of variance. Women's empowerment variables were significantly associated with child nutrition and explained 5.6% of the variance in the sample. Maternal experience of psychological abuse and sexual coercion increased the risk of malnutrition in mothers and children. Domestic violence was experienced by 34% of mothers in the sample.

Conclusions. In addition to the known investments needed to reduce malnutrition, improving women's nutrition, promoting gender equality, empowering women, and ending violence against women could further reduce the prevalence of malnutrition in this segment of the Indian population.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2006

More about this publication?
  • Established in 1978, the Food and Nutrition Bulletin (FNB) is a peer-reviewed journal published quarterly by the Nevin Scrimshaw International Nutrition Foundation.

    The focus of the journal is to highlight original scientific articles on nutrition research, policy analyses, and state-of-the-art summaries relating to multidisciplinary efforts to alleviate the problems of hunger and malnutrition in the developing world.

    Food and Nutrition Bulletin's 2012 Impact Factor: 2.106

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