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The Issue: Campaign for taking food together at least one time a day.

Polli Sree is a local non-governmental development organization has been working to organize women to establish their rights since 1989. It is well know that women are playing a sub-ordinate role and possessing lower status then men in all aspect. We found due to power relationship issues almost each pregnant mother have less access to food and ultimately gave birth to a malnourished child with a fatal risk. Then the organization started to think over the issue deeply. It was observed that a mother did not receive necessary care during her pregnancy even no body of a family gave proper attention for her food. Generally the women take food at the end and passed their days with whatever food is left out. An especial thought was given about this situation and tried to find out a solution how a women can bring the attention of all the family members to this type of food habit. We know actually that under the male dominated social system this is not a stray case. Here we will practice those beliefs and attitudes, which we generally nurture. Every body knows that out different types of discrimination among men and women the unequal food distribution among the boy-girls, men-women living within a family. This is one of the practice through which we are keeping the family hierarchy also maintaining the rules of patriarchy. As such at one stage it was thought that in the near future this problematic situation would reduce to some extent if the family members together can initiate necessary arrangement for taking food. Then the organization started to discuss this issue with the group members.

Polli Sree started their discussion with the group members and after discussion group members commented that, "Is it possible?" They told that the male members of a family would take food first which is our normal practice, because they work and earn for family. If a woman takes food first then there will be no fruitful impact on the earning and bring misfortune for them. We tried to give patience hearing to these prevailing practices and tried to convince them with the help of different discussions. Once we observed that many of them could understand the situation or holding same opinion with us. After that all the staff members of Polli Sree tried together to find out what sorts of benefits can be possible besides equal distribution of nutrition or food for taking food together.

After detail discussion the following benefits were identified if the women get the opportunity of taking food together at least for one time instead of three times a day:

  • The cordiality among the family members will increase.
  • An opportunity will be created for the women to say something or expression of opinion in respect of family decision-making process.
  • The degree of inferiority complex of the women will reduce.
  • The traditional practices and attitudes will change.
  • The issue will take a permanent shape to the future generation.
  • Actually the degree of practicing male dominating power can be reduced gradually among men or women through practicing the above.

This has been started to discuss as an issue with the group members from 1998 and care has been given so that these are practiced side by side. This activity was started in all projects of the organization as an information campaign for especial publicity in 2000. This campaign has been made to 4 (four) lac community people in 1346 villages of Dinajpur district till date i.e. up to December, 2003. This has been made through issue-based discussion, leaflets, posters, case study and individual contact. The staff members of all level of the organization, group members, members of the Ward, Area, Union, Upazila Development Committees, members of youth clubs all other stakes are presently engaged with this campaign.

The following negative opinions were encountered first during conducting the campaign

  • The opinion of most of the families was that the men works more, gives more labor and earns for the family. So the first and foremost responsibility of the women was to take care about the arrangement of food for men.
  • It was found as an especial problem in the joint family that the father-in-law/ elder brother-in-law cannot take food together with the wife of the son as it is considered as a dishonor to them.
  • In the Hindu family no body can take food together because in that situation who will serve them. (The Hindus cannot take themselves extra rice or curry during taking food if necessary).
  • The seniors of the family called this were a style or fashion. Many people ask not to discuss this issue because Polli Sree was damaging the brains of the daughters/wives.

The following changes are observed presently due to the continuation of the campaign intensively.

  • The family members are taking food together at least once a day.
  • The cordiality among the family members has increased. The status and mental strength of the women has been increasing.
  • The women family members are able to discuss or raise their opinions or decisions.
  • The amount of food is divided among the members in case of short supply.
  • The members of the family can know directly about each other's facilities and problems, good or bad situations, illness and necessary discussion if any for taking food together.
  • There has been a change to the long built practice.
  • The practice is getting a strong and permanent shape to the future generation.
  • The equal distribution of food in the family has been ensured and easier.

The opinions of men/women of the family about the campaign:

The men: Many men believe that their traditional attitudes towards women have been changing due to this campaign. Once they believed that women would take meal after men having their meal and it was the practice. They did not think before is it justified or injustice. Now their awareness has increased due to this campaign.

The women: They did not dare to break this long family tradition in spite of their interest. They did not have such motivating capacity to make their husband or other members of the family to make them understand about this. Now they are able to make understand the family members with logic about the benefit of taking meal together. The women feel pleasure and pride side by side their mental position also strengthening for taking meal together. The mother-in-laws and sister-in-laws of some family got the idea that if the wives take meal later then they took more. Now this misconception has been removed. The men at the same time have been creating arrangement for taking food by the women together with other family members being inspired through this campaign. The most positive side of this campaign is that this practice is taking a strong footing among the sons and daughters in the family, which is also expected to extend necessary cooperation in the future.

From changes it has also been found out that those who are motivated by this time are motivating others and has also been successful in this regard.

A women group named Subarna is working in Ramdubi Development Area of Polli Sree. Bharoti Rani Roy is one of the members of this group. Being motivated by the campaign she has developed in her family the habit of taking meal together at least once in the day. But a discord has been a regular feature in her elder brother-in-laws' house amongst the father-in-law, mother-in-law and five sons and daughters and the son's wives. At one stage she started to motivate that family for taking meal together at least once in a day. After a long endeavor she was successful and that family started to practice this habit. As a result the members of that family got an opportunity to increase exchange of opinion among them comparing to the previous times and their cordiality and understanding has also increased. She has informed that no such discord has been taking place in the said family as before.

One day Gulzara Begum, a member of Jui women group total a story very eagerly about the saving of a life only for growing the habit of taking meal together. According to her they were seven members in their family including mother-in-law, husband and the children. The family members took their meal as and when they got time but first of all her husband took the meal. Tahamina, a worker of Polli Sree has discussed on many occasions regarding having meal together but at first she did not consider the matter as so much necessary. On repeated discussion by Tahmina, Gulzara Begum also discussed about this with my family members. But it could not be made possible as the members returned back to the house after finishing their outside work in different times. After that Gulzara took the initiative and started taking diner together because daytime male members working outside of home. In this way she got sometime to meet each other. Gulzara said that one day we found that our 17 years old boy seemed to be weak, drowsy, not taking food with interest as before and was taking less food. While investing the reason we found out that he became drug addicted. We at once took him to Dinajpur for treatment. Now he is well. A life probably would have lost if we failed to start the habit to sit together may be through having meal together. Gulzara commented that I personally try to give advice to others about this type of habit. This has got many benefits.

The experience of Polli Sree it that there is a wide impact on the condition and position of the women through the campaign for taking food together by the family members at least once in but it is also a National problem. So the organization wants to take this campaign program at National level. But as a local organization it will start the program from the local level. Based on this continuation Polli Sree conducted the campaign primarily with the members of the grass roots level community organizations and subsequently invited the local youth organizations, labor organizations and the educational institutions to participate in the campaign programme. An initiative is also under process to raise the issue at National level through preparing posters for publicity. Besides this Polli Sree has been trying to motivate other organizations for the campaign through different meetings and seminars. It is believed that this campaign will play a part in reducing the discrimination between women and men through the successful practice of the program.

The way of change in practices of a family based on patriarchal structure

When I stepped into this house as a bride then I was only 12 or 13 years old. At that time I did not understand completely what a marriage is. I could only understand that I had come to a new unknown place, new house and to some unknown faces leaving my father's house. My mother told me during leaving my father's house that from that time they would be my own people. But when I observed that they were not giving any importance to my requests then how they could be my own people. On the other hand my mother-in-law prohibited me not to do this or that. When I was in my fathers house I could get my food at the end of all?" My mother-in-law told me that was the practice. The women had to take food after entertaining the male members first. Other wise there would be a misfortune in the family. After hearing from my mother-in-law I remembered about my father's house. I had never seen my mother taking food at first or with us. Even she arranged our food after keeping my father's food in his plate first in case of his possibility of coming back to the house late and she took at the end of all. It has also become a practice in my life gradually. By this time a long period had passed by crossing months and years. I became a mother of three sons and three daughters. One day my mother-in-law also passed away. My younger brother-in-law, elder brother-in-law and my husband separated their families as per their respective will. Our family now consisted of six sons and daughters and my husband and me. I did never think that we could take our food together though no body was there to protest about it. I took my food after entertaining my husband and the children as before. Mohosena Bugum, Group Leader of Bondhon Women group organized by Polli Sree in Amarpur Development Area, told this story.

Mohosena with 21 members formed Bondhon Women group and involved with Polli Sree in 1994. From that time she has been involved with the organization. Now she is the active President of the group. She told that there is one Shimul Women group in their neighboring village. One day she went to a relation's house in the said village and found that a worker of Polli Sree was conducting a meeting there. She became interested about the issues discussed in the meeting. She told that from this she became interested and formed the Bondhon Women group after discussing with the worker. She told that during the last 9/10 years she has learned many development issues, which she did not know before. She has heard from a worker of Polli Sree 2/3 years back about taking food together by the family members at least one time out of three times of the day as every body of the family cannot get together at a time due to their outside works. At first I could not agree with the worker about this issue. A long time practice cannot be changed easily which I have seen that my mother/mother-in-law was also practicing and I have also grown up through this practice after my birth. And why we should discontinue the practice. We should take our food after entertaining the husband and the sons with care as they do hard work outside. But at one stage I have been able to remove my misconception with the discussion of the worker of Polli Sree and shared it with my husband. My husband also did not agree with the issue first. In this situation one day the worker of the organization came with a poster on "Taking food together by the family members once in a day" in the group and discussed about the issue. I requested the worker of Polli Sree to discuss about it with my husband and he was staying in the house because he had no works outside that day. After discussing with the worker he was also able to remove his misconception and agreed for taking food together at least once in a day. After that we have grown the habit of taking food together. Mohosena Begum told that in the mean time she got married her three daughters and brought brides for her two sons. Now our sons, their wives and both my husband and me take food together. Till recently we provided comparatively good and more quantity of food to our sons and husband throughout our life. But now they (sons and their wives) are taking care about us and many a times they transfer the good items from their plates to us. In case of any shortage of food then we try to divide it amongst us and the male members keep a very careful eye on the females. Now the cordiality amongst us is very good comparing to other families and no body could remain annoyed for a long time as we have to sit face to face including the wives of the sons during taking food. In case of any body's annoyance, it is settled during taking food. Actually the number of families like that of Mohosena is not much more. But there is no doubt about it that the number of such families will increase surely in the near future if the campaign for taking food together continues.