Today is International Women’s Day but as far as our nation is concerned it’s a bloody farce. The main UN theme ‘A promise is a promise: End violence against women’ rings hollow in this country where the girl child’s life is terminated even when she is a mere foetus inside her mother’s womb. If she somehow manages to escape that she will be abandoned somewhere. Even if she lives, at every single moment she is treated differently – she’s fed less than her brothers, has less access to medical care, is made to do the majority of the work and given less or no education. All her life a girl is told that her life belongs to another – her father, husband or son. And that’s not even accounting for horrific incidents like rape, acid attacks, honour killings and other forms of sexual harassment that stalk every woman in India. Survey after survey reveals that India is one of the worst place for women be it because of sexual violence and various other gender inequalities.
One hundred million missing women
In an essay in 1990, India’s only Nobel-winning economist Amartya Sen had hypothesised that over a hundred million women were ‘missing’ in Asia. The ‘missing’ here refers to the fact that these women were eliminated because of sex-selective abortion, infanticide or inadequate nutrition. While Sen’s essay spoke about Asia in whole, the situation in India is very much similar. Biology suggests that if given equal nutrition and medical attention, women actually outlive men and are far less susceptible to diseases and the fact that women outlive men verifies this hypothesis. In most developed nations, women outnumber men but in India,the gender ratio is a shocking 0.94 and the situation is far worse in a few of the states like Delhi (.866), Haryana (0.877) Punjab (.893) and Chandigarh (.818).
Note: All figures are from the 2011 census.
On this Women’s Day, let us realise how badly we’ve treated our daughters and look back at some things we should be really ashamed of:
It’s sad that it took a TV show like Satyamev Jayate to force the nation to wake up to the ugly reality of female foeticide. Although the Pre-conception and Prenatal Diagnostic (PCPDT) Act which prohibited sex selection was passed in 1994, sex selective abortion remains rampant and the laws still remain toothless almost 20 years later. British records have actually found that sex selection was rampant even in the 19th century in North India and it will take more than a few laws to change people’s attitude about the girl child. What needs to change is the parochial, patriarchal mindset that plagues the country.
Poor nutrition among women
It’s shocking how boys and girls are treated differently. Even in normal well-to-do family it’s the norm for the male sibling to be given better, more nutritious food than his sister and it’s often the mother who reinforces this as a normal state of affair throughout a woman’s life. Biology has shown that if women and men get the same amount of nutrition then they actually outlive men and life expectations in Western countries have shown that and it’s shocking how poor nutrition has affected the health of women in our country. It’s estimated that about 50% Indian women are anaemic – that is lack of red blood cells which is caused by inadequate nutrition. The maternal mortality rate is so bad that one woman dies every ten minutes in India and poor childbirth practices coupled with malnutrition plays a major part in this.
Sexual violence against women
And perhaps the worst thing that we do to our women is sexual crimes that we commit against them. I am saying we because it’s men who are part of our society that do it. Women in India are exposed to the most horrible forms of sexual violence – eve-teasing (verbal sexual harassment), knife attacks, horrific rapes and acid attacks – the list of sexual crimes is endless. The recent Delhi rape case has thrown it all into sharp focus and exposed the dark, chauvinist underbelly of urban India. The comments by politicians and other prominent people gives the impression that somehow the woman is responsible for her fate – be it because of her being out late or because she was wearing the wrong kind of clothes or because she said no to a man’s advances. Sometimes it’s because men believe that women are ‘loose’ or because she had sexual relations with another man.
It’s time we stopped accepting all this as a way of life. Women are our equals and need to be treated as such. Until we learn to treat our women with respect, we don’t deserve to call ourselves a democracy. We take great pride in our so-called Indian values in which women are expected to behave and dress in a particular manner. They are not ‘Indian’ by any stretch of imagination, but 19th century Victorian English values which were known for their narrow-mindedness and conservatism. It’s time we said goodbye to them and moved on to the 21st century where everyone is treated equally as the Indian Constitution promises – irrespective of their gender, religion, caste, skin colour or creed.