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Watch | Women go hungry for the sake of their children

Dr Tracy Ledger is quoted in the Daily Maverick article, Many Mothers Going Hungry For the Sake Of Their Children, New Data Shows, on her work on food security and women.

Click the button below for the full article, watch her interview with eNCA news.

‘Burden usually falls on women

Food security expert Dr Tracy Ledger says while both parents suffer, the burden usually falls on women.

“Women have got the primary child care responsibility, including to put food on the table, even in non-women-headed households,” she says.

“Women tend to eat last, or not at all, they tend to give the most nutritious food to their children in order to protect them, and some women, in desperation, even trade sex for food at times. A woman is the first person to whom a hungry child turns to when looking for food,” she says. This essentially amounts to “women feeding children with their own bodies”.

This situation takes a massive toll on both the mental and physical health of adults, especially mothers.

A 2015 University of Pretoria study published in the medical journal Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, investigated factors related to depression in low-income mothers in South Africa.

It found that “the depressed women in this group of respondents frequently refer to the emotional distress caused by hungry children” where “mothers are interpellated to care for children, and more specifically, to make sure that children are not hungry, mean that the mothers of hungry children felt that they were not fulfilling their responsibilities and thus felt guilty and ashamed”.

“A vicious cycle of hunger, sadness and anxiety, shame, anger and anomie, aggression and withdrawal, negative judgement, and more shame, are thus maintained,” notes the study.

A silent burden

“As if things weren’t bad enough for poor black women anyway in this country,” says Ledger. “And this burden is largely silent and invisible. No-one sees the sacrifice or the long-term implications.”

She notes that non-communicable diseases like diabetes and obesity disproportionately affect black women and this is a result of “malnutrition” – eating poor quality food.

“Women often end up eating empty cheap calories from starches, carbohydrates and sugar, making sure the children get access to the little protein available in the household. The cheap protein women are able to afford such as chicken or eggs inevitably end up going to the children,” she says.’

Go to full article in Daily Maverick