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The recent past has given us enough reasons to feel proud about a few women achievers. As we gear up for International Women’s Day 2018 tomorrow, should we be complacent?
Manu Bhaker has etched her name by clinching the women’s 10m air pistol gold at the ISSF world cup at Guadalajara, Mexico becoming India’s youngest and probably the world’s third youngest shooter to win a World Cup Gold. Avani Chaturvedi became the first Indian Woman to fly a fighter aircraft; she flew a MiG 21 Bison aircraft on her first solo flight.
Another historic feat was the global circumnavigation trip by an all-women six member crew of the tiny sailboat Indian Naval Sailing vessel (INSV) Tarini which successfully crossed the rough Drake Passage, as they rounded the southern tip of South America; flagged off by none other than the honourable Defence minister of India, Nirmala Sitharaman, also a woman. It was a sight to behold, when the women’s contingent of the border Security Force performed stunts during the 69th Republic day parade, drawing the loudest cheers from the audience; this team was led by Stanzin Noryang and showcased its driving skills with breathtaking stunts.
Who can forget movies like Padman which brought to the forefront issues concerning women’s health as well as menstruation, which certainly seems to be a logical step forward in generating awareness? But then, once again, talking about movies how can one forget Padmaavat which became a rallying point for upholding women’s ‘honour’ in one of the most aggressive ways and then gradually the debate shifted to stereotypical constructions of men and women?
While protecting the ‘honour’ of women, other important issues like that of child marriage (a state like Rajasthan shows the highest percentage of girls who are married before the age of 15 years), crime against women, issues of domestic violence and the need for education were wisely kept aside because protecting the honour of women (which is constructed and reconstructed according to the patriarchal needs) was much more important!
Thus, a few handful of women who have won accolades and broken the glass ceiling certainly deserve appreciation as well as admiration but to a great extent this does not represent the true picture of women’s empowerment in the majority of cases; especially when cases of rape, and molestation of young women and babies are being reported almost on a daily basis along with rampant incidents of honour killings. This thus raises the question: are women free in the true sense of the term; i.e. free from fear? Free to pursue their dreams and passions? Free to make their own choices especially when seen in the light of India’s unwanted daughters or what Amartya Sen has said of ‘missing women’?
It is a grim state of affairs as a girl child is still unwanted and is seen as a burden, with several customs, traditions and rituals adding to this deprivation. The recent Niti Aayog survey has brought to light the discrimination resulting from the strong preference for a male child which the survey refers to as ‘meta-preference’. According to the survey, there are over 21 million unwanted girls in India – females between the age of 0 & 25 who were born because their parents wanted a son but had a daughter instead. Our skewed sex ratio represents a strong preference for the male child and of course, families do not stop having children for the want of a male child.
In 1990, Economist Amartya Sen formulated the concept of ‘missing women’, that is, females who had not been born due to technology-enabled sex selective foeticide at a mass scale. In India the number was close to 40 million in 1990 and in 2014, 63 million. What about the plight of those women who are not killed in the womb? According to the work of Development Economist Seema Jayachandran these women are further deprived in terms of nutrition and education, given the amount of limited resources the family has to share. Hence discrimination within families is rampant.
Besides this, the twelfth Annual Status of Education Report exposes a gender gap in adolescence, including higher dropout rates for girls after Class 8. The recent report from the Niti Aayog said that the sex ratio at birth nationwide had dropped from 906 females per 1000 males in 2012-2014 to 900 in 2013-2015. More recent data from India’s Sample Registration System shows that the sex ration was worse in 2014-2016, falling from 900 to 898. While this is a highly disturbing trend, it isn’t new for India, which has seen a consistent lowering of the SRB since the 1970s.
We do have laws and various schemes meant for the empowerment of women and girls, in particular like the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Yojna or the the Sukanya Samriddhi Yojna which focus on imparting education as well as some sort of economic independence through savings. However, no amount of law can bring in change unless there is an attitudinal change within the members of society with regard to women in general and the girl child in particular. Women still need to be empowered, be it in terms of economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment, or health and survival – all these areas are of crucial concern for strengthening the position of women in our society.
In a country like India, rural wellbeing and above all, the wellbeing of the rural women is of extreme importance, as not much has changed for the rural women of our country. Gradually the exposure of rural women in terms of education and other resources have increased, yet they are at very superficial levels; hence, health, nutrition, education and economic empowerment are still at a very nascent stage.
A mere movie on menstruation is not sufficient enough to generate awareness with regard to woman’s health and reproductive rights as many of the belief patterns are deeply entrenched in the notions of pollution and purity which have absolutely no scientific base. Hence, interpersonal communication, door to door awareness and above all, nukkad nataks through various district agencies can go a long way in sensitizing the rural women and most importantly rural men, towards women’s health, education and nutrition.
Poverty, unemployment, lack of education, and scarcity of resources are the key factors that lead to criminal activity in both urban and rural areas, quite often leading to violence against women. The need of the hour is to bring the youth into the national mainstream through educational and employment opportunities, as only a progressive mind and a progressive society can usher in equality for the women of this country.
Image source: LetGirlsLearn and YouTube
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