When I came across the Global Gender Gap Report, published this year by the World Economic Forum, the London School of Economics and Harvard University, I was not at all surprised, as the state of women in our society is no secret. On earlier occasions, through my editorials and columns, whenever I had strongly asserted the fact that the state of a majority of common Indians with respect to social parameters like education, health and sanitation is poor, it actually meant that for the common Indian woman, the state is even more alarming. To the uninitiated, it might sound a tad exaggerated, but then numbers justify themselves.
The Global Gender Gap Report, 2006, puts India at a rank of 98 out of 115 nations. It is a matter of shame that India is the only democracy of some repute (!) to secure a place so low in the report. On each and every social, economic and political account, women in India not only score much less than the Indian male, but also less than the underprivileged Sub-Saharan African counterparts. The urge for a male heir within Indians has reached such a heightened frenzy that it has dangerously drifted the sex ratio to one of the lowest in the world (an average of 933 females recorded for every 1,000 males as per 2001 census). Hundreds of girl children are killed in this nation almost every month, even before they see daylight. The irony is, the girl child who is killed in the womb is much fortunate than the one who finally manages to take birth alive, because alive, they encounter death every moment in their lives. They are continuously subjugated, marginalised and disempowered in every sphere of life.
To begin with, let’s take a social account on the status of Indian women. India has an unchallenged world record of 20% of global maternal and child deaths. Reports state that a record 30 million Indian women experience pregnancy annually, of which almost 1,36,000 die, making the maternal mortality ratio at 540 per 1,00,000 (in rural areas this figure touches almost 619 deaths per 1,00,000 births). The tragedy is, all these deaths are preventable. Well that’s the beginning. On every health account, the numbers are spine chilling. On account of undernourishment, almost 56.2% of married women (age-group 15-49) are anaemic (Assam leads the pack with 72% married women as anaemic, Haryana with 69.7% and Jharkhand at 68.4%). Reports also state that around 33% of Indian women in the same age bracket are underweight too (43% in Bihar are underweight, Jharkhand has 42.6% and Chhattisgarh has 41%).
Again, as per the UNDP-HDR 2006 Gender Development Index, India ranks 96th out of 177 nations. India’s female life expectancy is 65.3 years whereas for a dot of a nation like Sri Lanka, the same is 71.3. Sri Lanka also scores above India (almost double) with respect to average female literacy. As such, the average Indian literacy is very poor; and on top of it, the average women literacy is even poorer (47.8%, compared to the male literacy rate of 73.4%). Moreover, according to a report by United Nations Population Fund in 2005, almost 66% of married women are victims of physical violence, rape and forced sex. It is shocking to learn that dowry alone has killed around 6,800 women in India in 2005.
On the economic front too, more than 60% of Indian women remain grossly disconnected from the mainstream economic activities. Even Bangladesh and politically unstable nations like Nepal perform a lot better with only 52.9% and 49.7% disconnected women respectively. Pitiably, for the year 2002, the Indian woman’s per capita income – as per purchasing power parity – had been around $1,471, which is not only a third of the average Indian man’s per capita that stood at $4,723, but is almost half that of Sri Lankan women, and one third that of Chinese women. Researches also reveal that not even 50% (61.4% urban and 48.5% rural) of the Indian women get a chance to participate in the household decisions.
All in all, the truth is, women in our society have no place at all. And for this, the Indian society cannot be blamed solely. The perception of women in our society flows from the top. When the Indian judiciary takes ages to deliver a verdict on Jessica Lall, Priyadarshini Mattoo or Tandoor murder, it sets an example in front of its citizen on what a women’s life is actually worth. The paradigm of true worth of a woman in Indian society is again set by the judiciary and the administration, when a Priyanka is raped or a woman in Khairlanji is murdered and the perpetrators are permitted to go scot free. And finally, the true place of women in our society is shown to our citizens when every time our Parliamentarians ‘purposefully’ and callously sleep over the all important Women’s Reservation Bill. In this context it is disgraceful to realize that what the Chinese could do even in a dictatorial regime (that is, to evolve a consensus for something as critical as the Women’s Reservation Bill), our political leadership have failed in a democratic setup. Not just that, now the Chinese are successfully bringing about a reservation of 22% seats for women in the National People’s Congress. Thanks to this farce called the world’s largest democracy (!), as the world celebrates International Women’s Day, more than half of our women prepare for more humiliation, subjugation and marginalisation.
- 25 March 2007 |