Akshaya Patra has always believed that the development of the country can only be achieved through the inclusive development of every section of Indian society, especially its women. To achieve this, we strive to provide food for education to every single child in need, irrespective of their caste, religion, or chromosomal formation – XY for male, and XX for female.
Through this programme we have impacted the status of women in India in three significant ways:
Rise in female school enrolment
Very often, in economically challenged families, the girl child is denied the opportunity to enrol in school. If there is a choice in the matter, the son is encouraged to study, while the daughter must stay at home to look after her younger siblings, help her mother with the household chores, or even take up employment to contribute to the family income. However, with the introduction of the free, nutritious mid-day meal, parents are now more eager to send their daughters to school as it relieves them of the burden of feeding an extra mouth. This has resulted in the sharp rise in the enrolment of girls in schools. According to an AC Neilson study the number of girls enrolled in schools in Bangalore grew from 72.7 per cent in 2005-06 to 93.5 per cent in 2009-10. The same study also showed that the enrolment of class I – VIII girls in Puri increased from 73.3 per cent in 2006 to 86.7 per cent in 2009.
Improved nutritional status of girls
After eating the Akshaya Patra mid-day meal every day, the young girls who previously suffered malnutrition and other deficiencies, have blossomed. Our mid-day meals have been carefully designed keeping in mind the nutritional requirements of children, as laid down in the mid-day meal guidelines specified by the Government of India. These stringent measures have borne fruit as the AC Neilson impact study shows. According to the study the number of girls who do not suffer from malnutrition in the Akshaya Patra beneficiary schools in Puri rose from 58.9 per cent in 2006 to 60.4 per cent in 2010.
Empowerment of women through employment
With each of the 23 kitchens set up, we have provided employment to women across a range of functions. From being a part of the supervising, cooking, cleaning, quality control staff and more, women form an integral part of the Akshaya Patra work force. The Foundation has also established two decentralised kitchens, one in Baran and the other at Nayagarh, which are run primarily by women Self-Help Groups (SHGs). These two kitchens employed 1,530 female employees as of April 2014. These women who are actively employed, gaining financial independence and social respect, have become a source of inspiration to the young girls in their community.
Apart from the mid-day meal served to school children, Akshaya Patra also works toward providing women with the nutrition they need by providing meals at Anganwadi centres and undertaking the feeding of pregnant and lactating mothers.
Through the mid-day meal programme, Akshaya Patra reaches out to young girls and women across India to provide them with not just the nutrition they need to lead a healthy life, but to also give them the foundation for a valuable, fulfilling life in the future.