By Nachiket Mor
I have just finished reading a very old (circa 1996) and very troubling article written by Ramalingaswami, Jonsson and Rohde entitled: The Asian Enigma.
The article seeks to ascertain why, despite the fact that countries in Sub Saharan Africa are as poor as or poorer than India, the proportion of children that are malnourished in that part of the world are 30% while in our part of the world they are about double that number. They label this phenomenon as the “Asian Enigma” but to me the principal answer they offer up by way of explanation represents an even bigger enigma.
While it is common in most parts of the world, including Sub-Saharan Africa, for women to be subordinated to men, society in South Asia makes demands “on the time and energies of women that are visibly more excessive and unfair” than in any other region of the world. This, and not our poverty, produces our low-birth weight babies, the severe malnourishment of our children and according to the Barker Hypothesis this is also therefore responsible for the fact that we as adults are prone to cardiovascular diseases and diabetes a whole ten years ahead of the rest of the world – this too is an “Asian Enigma”.
How did our civilisation which is so old and so mature and which deifies women, end up in this very unique position? To me this is the biggest and the saddest enigma of them all.
Can this be fixed? The authors argue that while there are shorter-term technical solutions, the key to finding a long term solution is to urgently right this wrong and to focus on the empowerment of women and the “key of keys”, they argue is the education of girls. In addition to being involved with ICTPH and Sughavazhvu I am also Chairman of the Board for CARE India. They have built their entire strategy around the power of women to transform societies (watch their moving “I am Powerful” video) – I now realise even more sharply than I did earlier why for us in South Asia this is such an urgent priority.