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The recent discovery of a female foeticide racket in Maharashtra is only the tip of the iceberg; the rampant gender selection before birth reflects our contempt for the girl child.
8th of March marked the celebration of Woman’s day; a day which celebrates the social, economic, political achievements of women all around the world. Ironically we have just one day in the life of a woman who probably works 365 days in a year and 24/7 round the clock.
We do have women who have made us proud in the field of education, sports, science and technology, politics, banking and other sectors; their constant endeavour has broken the glass ceiling to a great extent. However these are just a handful of women, as the rural-urban divide in terms of education, awareness and opportunity remains a crucial problem, whereas despite education, awareness and opportunity, women in urban areas continue to face challenges of a more complicated nature in the 21st century.
The journey of a woman from a housewife who carefully nurtured the family with her care, commitment and sacrifice formed the basis of the family structure. A housewife tends to lead her family in a way that ensures happiness of her children, husband and other family members, quite often at the cost of her own well being. Thus the journey from being a homemaker to becoming a working woman is quite a daunting one, considering the society we are living in.
With so much to contribute not only to the family but also to the society, have the woman of today got what they truly deserve? Are women who are the real architects of society being treated at par with their male counterparts within their own families? Are working women independent in the true sense of the term – free to exercise their own will and make their own choices?
Thus the question of independence as well as empowerment of women both within the urban and rural context becomes important. It can be said that we are free, yet not free; we are independent, yet made to believe that we are supposed to be protected and above all, we have laws which have failed to ensure our safety and basic existence. Thus economic empowerment, political participation, education, as well as health and awareness about the reproductive rights of woman become crucial.
We happen to live in a society which celebrates Shakti yet mourns the birth of a girl child. As a result, despite stringent laws, female foeticide continues to be common. Quite recently, a female foeticide racket was busted by the Maharashtra Police in the Sangli district. Perhaps one of the most gruesome cases of female foeticide and abuse of the law came to the limelight, when the remains of 19 female foetuses dumped in a stream at a village in the Sangli district of Maharashtra were found.
It was 26 year old Swati Jamdade’s botched medical termination of pregnancy that blew the lid off this female foeticide racket. It was reported that there were many more women from this village who succumbed to the pressure from their in-laws and husbands to go for sex selective abortions. If they protested, these women were physically abused and beaten up; they had no idea of where to go and get help, and could not depend on their own parents either, as leaving the husband’s family and going back to one’s parents is looked down upon in Indian society. In this context the absence of awareness among women regarding their own legal rights and the lack of faith in the law enforcing agencies becomes crucial.
Illegal ultrasounds were being done on the outskirts of the village by unqualified practitioners carrying sonography machines. This raises questions on the efficacy of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PCPNDT) of 1994. In 1994, the Parliament enacted PCPNDT Act in order to stop female foeticide in India and halt the declining sex ratio at birth.
The main purpose of the Act is to ban sex selection before and after conception and to prevent the misuse of prenatal diagnostic techniques for sex-selective abortion. It makes sex determination of the foetus a punishable offence and also makes the state government responsible for its stringent implementation. In practice though, in several villages, small towns and districts and even in some urban areas, knowing the sex of the foetus before its birth is a common practice known to all. This decline in the sex ratio is only a reflection of families’ strong preference for a male child, and the widespread discrimination against the girl child.
The constitution of India grants equality to women. The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the constitution in its preamble, Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties as well as the Directive Principles. The constitution also directs the State to adopt positive discrimination in favor of Women. But can we say that these provisions in the constitution of India have really been able to provide women their rightful place or is this a mere facade?
Daughters have always been considered a burden mainly due to the practice of dowry. Despite the Dowry Prohibition act, the menace is on the rise. In most families giving and taking of dowry tends to become a matter of prestige, or a method of extortion to gain material benefits under the garb of marriage. It also stems from the fact that despite their contribution, traditionally women have not been able to enjoy a status equal to men and hence the practice continues.
In the 21st century there are still many families who instead of spending on their daughters’ education and making them self-reliant, choose to save money for their wedding and dowry. This becomes a vicious circle relegating woman to the margins of society. While education has helped create awareness, there are still many educated, urban families who bow down in front of the demands of the groom’s family. There is therefore a great need to bring in attitudinal change among people to deal with the evil of dowry which has been instrumental in accelerating female foeticide in India.
Besides the injustice to her, killing a girl child before she is born has an adverse impact on society and further paves the way for an increase in violence against women, rise in polyandry, trafficking and prostitution along with child marriages where young girls are often forced to marry men twice their age. After marriage, these young girls succumb to the pressure of the archaic societal norm of preference for a male child which leads them to either produce a large number of kids until they have a male child or they are subjected to frequent abortions resulting in an increase in maternal deaths and ill-health of women who often succumb to infections. Thus women tend to get engulfed in the vicious circle of patriarchy.
The census of 2011 showed a declining trend in the Child sex ratio (CSR) with an all-time low of 918. Hence the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao programme has been launched for the promotion of girl’s education and at the same time to prevent gender based sex selective elimination. It applies to all Indian states and union territories, and is also meant to look at the implementation of the PCPNDT Act. Some of the areas it is supposed to improve are: Increased institutional deliveries; Registration of births; Strengthening PNDT Cells; Setting up Monitoring Committees as well as ensuring Universal enrolment of girls; Decrease drop-out rate; Girl Child friendly standards in schools; Strict implementation of Right to Education (RTE); Construction of Functional Toilets for girls etc. The Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme is a praiseworthy initiative by the Government of India to address the issues revolving around girl children in India, right from the time they aren’t even born to them turning into adults.
Despite several government policies, programs, and welfare measures, women still form one of the most vulnerable sections of our society. Education, health, food security, nutrition and legal empowerment of women are areas which still need to be addressed. The changing national and global scenario in the 21st century has enhanced the soci-economic complexities and this has heightened the challenges for women in a society which has deep rooted cultural and social beliefs about gender roles. Thus the rights of women with regard to life, personal liberty and freedom from soci-economic disparity remains a challenge.
The need of the hour is to combat the social evils pertaining to women with the help of a combination of various gender sensitive programs, policies and welfare schemes. Gender mainstreaming and inclusive growth become important in this regard. There is nothing more empowering for a woman than education as it goes a long way in creating economic independence besides generating a feeling of self-reliance and self-worth which empowers the woman herself to stand and fight against discrimination.
While laws are binding on any individual or society, they can only work when there is change in the mind-set that will help in instilling a sense of equality between a girl child and her male counterpart within families. A society and a country can be called developed in the true sense of the term when the real architects, that is women of that country can live, breathe and achieve their dreams in an environment which is free from patriarchal shackles and age old prejudices.
Top image via Pixabay
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