Tuesday, 24 March 2009

When Control of Food Means Better Lives for Children: Former African Correspondant Stephanie Nolen Looks at India

Why do media rotate their journalists from one place to another? I used to think it had something to do with equalizing hardship, but the shift of The Globe and Mail’s Stephanie Nolen from a sub-Saharan base in Africa to India shows just what a new pair of eyes can bring to a different assignment.

She worked out of Johannesburg for five years until she was reassigned a few months ago to India. Last Saturday she had a long and fascinating article about hunger among children in supposedly-booming India. Most of the cases she talked about were taken from the poorer Northern part of the country, but the statistics she quoted were shocking.

“A staggering 40 per cent of undernourished children in the world are Indian; the rate here is twice as high as it is in all of Sub-Saharan Africa and five times higher than in China,” she wrote. “The land of the economic boom finishes third-last on Unicef's global list of child nourishment, worse than either Sudan or Ethiopia.”

I can’t remember having read any comparisons between the India and Africa, but what is even more interesting is her analysis. One of the reasons for better health among children in Africa is because women have more control over food there. Nolen quotes a public health worker: “On purchasing food, on feeding herself, on health care – the critical question is how does the gender inequality play out...Women in Africa can be out in society at the market, or generating income, buying food for her family. In India women often cannot make those decisions...”

Very interesting observations, perfectly consistent with the fact that India’s best literacy, infant mortality and female life expectancy rates are found Kerala state on the south west coast where traditional society has been called matriarchal by some.

Nolen recently began a blog on The Globe and Mail site which is bound to be worth following, just as opening doors to women benefits the whole of society.


Stephanie said...

Thanks for reading, and for reposting Mary. A reader sent me the link. Glad you found the piece interesting ... just wanted to tell you that the reason papers move correspondents is that after too long in one posting, they stop being "foreign" correspondents and seeing the stories. They get comfortable, and lazy. It's a professional hazard. Very happy that the Globe, in these hard times for newspapers, is expanding its foreign coverage and has opened this India bureau. Thanks again - Stephanie Nolen

Mary Soderstrom said...

All the time you were in Africa I read your stories with great interest. That happened in large part to correspond with my struggles to finish The Violets of Usambara. It is a novel that takes place in Burundi and Tanzania, and what I saw there was reflected in your reports. That is, societies of people who deserve our respect, but not necessarily our pity.

For another book, Green City, I spent a little time in Kerala, which impressed me. Do hope you can report from there.

And, yes, the G&M is to be congratulated on its foreign coverage.

Best wishes

PS Were I 20 years younger I would have aspired to what you're doing.