New Delhi/Washington, DC – The birth of a girl is often linked with the arrival of the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, (meaning fortune and prosperity) by Hindus in many places in India, a country proudly called the motherland, or Mother India.
India has seen the courage and bravery of Lakshmibai, the Queen of Jhansi, internationally known politician Indira Gandhi, as well as contemporary women such as former President Prativa Patil, Meira Kumar, speaker of Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, opposition leader in Lok Sabha, and many other successful women in the fields of politics, academics, business, medicine, and law.
Statistics show that girls often score higher than boys in education. All this seems to point to a proud place for women in Indian Society; but in reality, the situation is exactly opposite.
India’s women are discriminated against, abused, sexually assaulted, and even murdered, which is unparalleled in developed and developing nations in the world. According to a Thompson Reuter Foundation survey, Canada is considered to be the best place to be a woman and India is the worst (Saudi Arabia is the second worst).
Society and Mindset
Exploitation and gender bias are seen in the old Devdasi system, the burning of women at the pyre of their dead husbands in the name of Sati, the plight of widows, the dowry system and dowry-related burning of brides. These, and the preference for a male child, are examples of the deeply rooted male chauvinistic mindset of our society.
Gender bias is still strongly prevalent in modern day India, beginning with the attitude toward a girl child’s education, the threat of physical and sexual violence, domestic violence, human trafficking, discrimination in health care, education and the work force, and even in property and land rights.
The preference for a male child and sex selection are still common place, in spite of the existence of a strict regulation called the Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (PC/PNDT) Act. The sex ratio in India is scandalously skewed and in some states is as low as 700 girls for every 1000 boys, compared to the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 952 girls for every 1000 boys.
These statistics reflect women’s low social status, which is also prevalent is China, but in India, a girl’s fight for survival begins in the womb and continues with child marriage, sexual crimes, and dowry death.
The recent incident of gang-rape in Delhi shook the country with protests and violence, and has brought shame to the nation and tarnished India’s image in the world.
Health Care, Child Marriage and Mortality
UNICEF’s report states that India has the world’s largest number of adolescent girls (20 percent) in the age bracket of 15 to 19 years. But 56 percent of them suffer from anemia and 45 percent are suffering from malnutrition.
This put India at par with the least developed African countries. Early marriage in India is causing serious repercussions in the unhealthy state of young mothers and high rates of infant mortality, which is linked to adolescent malnutrition. Despite strict laws, this trend is prevalent in both rural and urban India.
Poverty might be the prime culprit for this trend but women who are discriminated against by being poor and being female. Countless adolescents marry every year in India and the acceptance of child marriage of girls between the ages of 10 to 18 is equivalent to the legalization of rape.
Indian society is still extremely male-dominated, patriarchal and unequal. Though robust gender laws have been framed, they are not often enforced, primarily because of a feudal mindset and bureaucracy in our administration.
No doubt we have seen the presence of women at top levels in our politics, administration, and education system, but male dominance and gender bias still persists. Exploitation of women in our society is still a common phenomenon today.
Our socioeconomic conditions can be viewed as the root cause for this plight; the preference for male children and the discontinuation of education for girls are still common in our rural and even urban society.
Women have enormous potential that can be exploited in the process of development and nation-building. Education for girls is the only hope for escape from the existing system.
For nearly a decade, the women’s quota bill has been introduced in Lok Sabha at least half a dozen times, with much success in enacting the same. In spite of attempts by many political parties to increase the representation of women in their party, the number remains far below the desired target.
However, as far as leadership is concerned, there are many women leaders who have men following their dictates. In spite of all of this, after 65 years of Independence, women are still underrepresented in our Parliament and Assemblies.
Modern natural law theorists and advocates of natural rights claim that all people have a human nature, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or other qualifications; therefore, all people have natural rights.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979 and came into force in 1981.
CEDAW is commonly described as an international bill of rights for women. It defines discrimination against women and establishes an agenda for national governments to end this discrimination.
CEDAW defines discrimination against women as, “Any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex, which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, educational, cultural, civil or any other field.
Does gender equality apply for India? Where do women stand in Indian society?
Contributors: Aparajita Sen, Arup Gupta, Debasis Bandopadyay, Mousumi Roy, Subhodev Das and a team of 70+ task force members on the Protibaad site.