Date: Mon, 19 Oct 98 11:14:58 CDT
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: PHILIPPINES: In Tough Times, Mothers Go Hungry
Article: 45656
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

/** headlines: 151.0 **/
** Topic: PHILIPPINES: In Tough Times, Mothers Go Hungry **
** Written 11:12 PM Oct 18, 1998 by mmason in cdp:headlines **

/* Written 4:11 PM Oct 14, 1998 by in ips.english */
/* ---------- DEVELOPMENT BULLETIN-PHILIPPINES: I ---------- */

In tough times, mothers go hungry

By Vinia Datinguinoo, IPS, 11 October 1998

BONGDO, Philippines, Oct 7 (IPS)—The rains have come finally to this mountain village in central Philippines, but it will be some time before families sit down to a meal other than watery corn porridge.

That is because the cracked soil that yielded little during the El Nino drought may take some time to recover. This means people here will still be hungry, as in past months.

Indeed, hunger is a familiar feeling here in Bongdo, some 80 kilometres from Cebu City in the Visayas, where the situation has gone from bad to worse with even less food to go around. And the mothers have been having it toughest.

Life has been hard, says Josefina Flores, a 40-year-old mother of six, who had been praying for rain. But there must be something that my husband and children could eat. If there's any left, then that's what I eat.

Bongdo is among the areas declared in a state of calamity by the Cebu City Council because of the drought, which has stretched the usual three-month dry season to more than nine months. Until now, people can still see clear across fields where rows and rows of cornstalks should be obstructing their view.

Thus, thin corn porridge has become a staple for Bongdo's 400 families. On very bad days, they make do with edible leaves boiled in water with salt. On worse days, there is only salt.

Nutrition experts say mothers have been having it worst because culture dictates they eat last—and often risk eating nothing at all.

This is a practice not unique to Bongdo. If the viand is fish, then the mother usually gets to eat whatever is left clinging on the bones, says nutrition anthropologist Catherine Castaneda, who did a 1994 study on how food is distributed in Filipino dining tables.

Her explanation goes thus: The father should have something, because he is the breadwinner, according to traditional belief. The children should have something, too, because they are children. As for the mother, Castaneda notes: She's the one that is expected to make the sacrifice.

This exacts a heavy toll on the women's health, weakening them in the long term, making them prone to disease and fatigue and reduces capacity in the workplace and at home.

Women menstruate, get pregnant, lactate and give birth—activities that take so much out of them that there is a need for them to slow down, space births and eat well to regain lost energy.

But before they can even recover from giving birth, women in poor communities often get pregnant all too soon. There is also no slowing down because there is simply too much to do.

Yet eating well is out of the question for most of these women. For example, the Bongdo porridge, which makes use of white corn, has no vitamin A found in the yellow corn variety. It does have energy-giving carbohydrates, but a balanced, proper diet requires much more than that.

Castaneda points out that a prolonged porridge diet can have disastrous results. She quips: If all they have is porridge, they'll have porridge for brains.

Especially for growing children under seven and pregnant and lactating women, the effects of inadequate diet could be long-term and irreversible.

Malnourished women give birth to underweight infants. Iodine- deficient mothers suffer frequent miscarriages, still births and early infant deaths. For babies who do survive, chances are high they will be born deformed, mentally retarded or even cretins.

Anaemia remains a serious problem among women. The 1993 National Nutrition Survey found that 43 percent of pregnant Filipino women were anaemic. This is higher than the 40 percent cut-off set by the World Health Organisation for mild and moderate anaemia in that population group.

Other nutrient shortfalls among women are being found survey after survey, such as deficiencies in iodine, protein-energy, vitamin A, thiamin, and riboflavin. Goiter, a manifestation of iodine deficiency, is most prevalent among women than in men in all age groups.

The irony is that these same sickly women are almost solely responsible for the health of the rest of the family.

Says Castaneda, who is with the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI): When you talk of a nutrition programme the priority is always the mother and the child. And when you talk of the mother, you talk of the needs of the mother and how they relate to the nutrition of the family.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) also says women are key to guarding children's nutrition, and that ill health in women leads to an inability to properly take care of children.

Yet despite their key role in family nutrition, women are ignored by the government and hardly appear in state health and nutrition statistics.

Clearly there is lack of knowledge about women's health, says Dr Florence Tadiar of the Manila-based Women's Health Care Foundation. Hardly does government know what women's health needs are.

Tadiar stresses that women of all ages, and not just mothers, need to be monitored. What is needed, she says, is research on the health needs of girls and women various age groups: from infancy, adolescence, post-menopausal, and old age.

In truth, women are not noticed enough. A 1993 World Bank report says that 450 million adult women in poor countries like the Philippines are stunted due to malnutrition in childhood.

Women's groups say food security is a gendered issue. Official figures reveal that women make up 47 percent of the agricultural labour force, but this has yet to be acknowledged. Women also cook most meals, but women and girls still get less food than men and boys—as it is here in Bongdo.

The NGO ISIS International says that if issues of women and food security are not addressed, there will be no food security at all. UNICEF adds: Protecting women's rights and improving their health and nutrition is just as important as improved agricultural technology and trade.

Meanwhile in Bongdo, food security to women has been reduced to having a half a bowl each of porridge leftovers they scrape from the plates of children and husbands.

Many hope they will have something to harvest now that the rainy season has begun. But as Josefina Flores said: Hopefully, there will be more food for the children.