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With high infanticide rates, poor literacy, and misogynistic social constructs, the life of an Indian girl child is shadowed by prejudice, crime, and inequality.
In most rural places in India, the crowd of children outside a school becomes equivalent to a report from a fancy think tank- the gender dynamic is clear. But being away from a rural setting doesn’t paint a pretty picture for young girls either. Regardless of age, urban spaces don’t assure equality or safety for women. At what age did you decide to start carrying a pepper spray on public transport?
This International Day of the Girl Child, we look into 16 aspects that are a clear disadvantage for the Indian girl child.
While worries like dowry come later, a female becomes equivalent to only a ‘burden’ in her mother’s womb. Even before birth, a large portion of the female population is washed out through infanticide. The practice continues despite institutional bans on sex determination of foetuses.
While some females make it out of delivery rooms, the lack of nutrition and childhood neglect kills many. India has one of the highest statistics of female infanticide in the world.
Don’t women in families readily agree to give up their portion of food if it’s a small amount for a large family?
The neglect of women’s nutrition starts at a young age. Portions are smaller and milk glasses are not filled to the rim. Do Complan ads feature more Complan girls than the actual number of real girls?
The lack of nutrition has also made a large population of Indian women and girls anaemic. The prevalence of the disease is such that it is considered a major public health problem.
Blood loss during menstruation coupled with compromised nutrition ensures that 51% of Indian women between the ages of 15 and 49 today are anaemic.
In rural India, young henna laden hands are more prevalent than ink-laden ones.
Recently, in the period of lockdown, India recorded a sharp rise in the number of child marriages. This shows that the practice, however regressive, is still prevalent.
While India enjoyed soaps like Balika Vadhu, are we forgetting that the half an hour of fiction is a reality for many?
The societal construct of ‘dowry’ paints young girls as a ‘burden’ for parents. Even outside of rural settings, parents readily connect worries related to giving ‘gifts’ to the groom on the wedding day to having daughters.
Adding on to marriage related constructs; parents tend to believe that once married, a daughter cannot take care of them.
Being ‘married off’ means women having to stay with their in-laws and take care of them. A lot of neglect towards the Indian girl children is rooted in this belief.
A morning ride to college on the Delhi Metro is the shorter story. To elaborate, crowded settings and public transport are a nightmare for urban and rural women all the same. Staring, groping, public molestations etc. are more common than most would imagine.
Other than this, public sites are not designed to female needs. Toilets are usually missing and if present, are not hygienic.
Besides menstruation being a societal taboo, the products are taxed for rural and urban women all the same. There is also very low awareness of what needs to be done to protect health during menstruation.
Girls stop attending school and when the belief that they are ‘of age’ kicks in, young girls begin to be considered for marriage or for bearing children. Besides this, schools lack toilets for girls making it nearly impossible to attend school while menstruating.
While a smaller number of girls even make it to school, the infrastructure is far from providing the bare female necessities. Toilets are missing, which prevents girls from attending school especially after they begin menstruating.
Despite various schemes for girls’ education, the lack of awareness of its importance and misogyny prevents parents from educating girls. Furthermore, families that earn little are far more likely to send a son rather than a daughter to school.
Moving to the urban dynamic, schools do not remain without gender biases. The most modern of schools promote rape culture disguised as ‘rules’. This includes policing lengths of skirts, hairstyles and interactions with males.
The number of females starkly reduces in the case of higher education. Parents are always less than willing to send daughters far from home. Besides, safety remains an issue even in urban hostels.
Let’s not forget, young women are the focus of moral policing based on dressing, male company, sexual choices and even the volume of their speech.
Even fee hikes in central universities are likely to prevent more female students from being enrolled, since male education is prioritised in Indian families.
Easy to victimise and silence, the Indian girl child becomes a target of sexual abuse. It’s not just in public spaces that there is the danger of gender based sexual violence, no matter what we hear in the news (which is horrifying, of course).
They can be the most unsafe in their own homes, and young children (both boys and girls, though girls bear a larger burden) in a family are more likely to be molested or inappropriately touched by older men in the family.
These older men are also often in positions of power in India’s patriarchal families- the survivors rarely speak up, and are often hushed up. Are young girls now supposed to be armed with pepper sprays in their own living rooms?
While women bear a larger brunt of domestic work, young girls are considered next in line after their mothers. Doing the dishes, cleaning the house or cooking is considered a responsibility even if it is at the cost of their education.
In addition to being female, women who are marginalised by their identities of caste, class, religion and sexuality, are more vulnerable to discrimination and gender based abuse, as seen in the recent Hathras rape victim’s case, for example. This also influences opportunities and societal standing.
Furthermore, differently-abled are even less likelier to enrol into educational institutes and are more susceptible to crimes.
Women of marginalised castes and classes are more likely to be subjected to abuse or rape and are more affected by events such as fee hikes in central universities.
Women are discouraged from entering the job market due to various reasons mainly the misogyny and mindsets about ‘women’s place in society’ and poor education levels, but also including wage gap, work place harassment and lack of opportunities.
In male-dominated fields, women are quick to hit a glass ceiling in their careers. This prevents parents from letting girls enter jobs and usually consider marrying them off instead. The Indian society is far from accepting a ‘working woman’.
While the law ensures equal inheritance for boys and girls, why do most stories of family property feuds feature brothers? The mind-set that paints girls as parcels to be passed on to another family complicates property inheritance.
When the ‘thappad’ is an acceptable thing in an Indian household, children are also targeted. Reports label women and young girls to be the most vulnerable to domestic abuse.
Media is at power to choose what is promoted in society. Depiction of young girls on media shapes mind-sets. The sexualisation of young girls and school-girls is common. Does this not stitch into a popularised patriarchal narrative?
Adding on, the media’s representation of a woman’s body creates an unrealistic ideal in young female minds. Why are women’s bodies on media tailored to cater to the male fantasy? Why is achieving this constructed ideal painted as an obligation for young women?
Social media has made it easier for women and young girls to become targets of pornography.
Often without their consent, photos and videos are circulated and sexualised. Women, who may often be minors, are no longer in control of the narrative in which their photos and videos are used.
While the criminal nexus sustains the practice of trafficking everywhere, less privileged girls are more likely to be trafficked. Huge rackets of child prostitution have been uncovered; a recent example can be the headlines about Varanasi.
I remember reading about genital mutilation in a book by Jean Sasson, but never imagining it to be a reality in India.
Despite being proven to be unnecessary and even harmful, genital mutilation continues in India. Known as ‘khatna’ or ‘khafz’ the cutting off of parts of genitalia of little girls is considered acceptable in various communities.
Why do women and girls instinctively dress differently in places where men are present? Why are girls in a classroom less likely to debate or raise an argument? Why are men more likely to confidently throw a guess in a full classroom?
The patriarchal narrative enters all spaces, affecting women unborn, young and old.
Image source: Wikicommons CC BY-SA 3.0-igo, Link
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A student of International Relations at Shiv Nadar University. Enjoys old bands and acrylics.
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