As per a study conducted by a group of researchers in the US and published in the Economia Politica Journal, the COVID-19 induced lockdown in 2020 had an adverse impact on women's nutrition in the country. The study, conducted by the Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition in four economically backward districts of Uttar Pradesh's Maharajganj, Bihar's Munger, and Odisha's Kandhamal and Kalahandi, noted a decline in household food expenditures and dietary diversity available to women in May 2020 as compared to May 2019. There was a significant decline in non-staples such as meats, eggs, vegetables, and fruits, despite the special Public Distribution System (PDS), direct benefit transfer and ration from anganwadis reaching 80 per cent, 50 per cent and 30 per cent respectively of the surveyed households.
"Our findings contribute to the growing body of evidence of women's disproportionate vulnerability to economic shocks, the impact of a staple grain focused safety net programme, and restricted markets on the access and availability of diverse nutritious foods," notes the paper. Noting the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women's nutrition, the paper proposes policy reform to diversify PDS and include nutrition-rich foods, market reform to eradicate trouble in supply, expansion of direct benefit transfers for healthy food access, and bolstering safety-net programmes to ensure that the needs of women and other marginalised groups are met.
"Women's diets were lacking in diverse foods even before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has further exacerbated the situation," said Soumya Gupta, research economist and co-author of the study, together with Prabhu Pingali, TCI director; Mathew Abraham, assistant director; and consultant Payal Seth.
"Any policies addressing the impact of the pandemic on nutritional outcomes must do so through a gendered lens that reflects the specific, and often persistent, vulnerabilities faced by women," she added.