On International Women’s Day, Indian women are joining others around the world to work towards ending the gender bias that they face. Gender equality would get women ease of access to resources and opportunities, including economic participation and decision-making, and the state of valuing different behaviours, aspirations and needs. Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable society.
Gender inequality is glaring in India. According to the Gender Inequality Index 2020, women compare very unfavourably in relation to men in three dimensions: reproductive health, empowerment and the labour market. Switzerland is the most gender equal country in the world. India, on the other hand, ranked 132 out of 187 countries. Its low ranking is calculated from its skewed sex ratio, with only 914 females for every 1,000 males as also from employment, which shows 29% of Indian women above the age of 15 being in labour force, as compared to 80.7% men and our lawmakers in Parliament having 10.9% women only. According to the report, 200 women die from every 100,000 childbirths in India. Every day, 39,000 girls are forced into early marriage. All these go towards indicating gender inequality.
Constitutionally, ‘equality’ forms a part of India’s basic structure. Theoretically, women have all the rights regardless of gender differences. There are also various government laws and schemes which seek to promote gender equality. Yet, examples of gender inequality may be found in the fields of education, employment, social customs and general attitude of the people. Being born as women in Indian society, one has to face gender discrimination at all levels. The preference for sons and aversion to daughter is a well acknowledged phenomenon in India. Sons are considered to be economic, social and ritual assets whereas daughters are considered to be liabilities. The boy receives a ceremonial welcome on his birth but not the girl child. Sex determination tests, female foeticide and abortions are commonly used to eliminate this unwelcome presence.
The most important causes of gender inequality are located in poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, social customs, belief and anti-female attitude. In India, among the 30 per cent people who are below the poverty line, 70 per cent are women, leading to economic dependence on men that becomes a root cause of gender disparity. Illiteracy follows closely in contributing to this inequality. There are around 960 million illiterate adults, of whom two-thirds are women. Educational backwardness of girls has been the resultant cause of gender discrimination. Girls account for only 43.7% of enrolment at the primary level, 40.9% at the upper primary level, 38.6% at the secondary level and 36.9% at the degree and above level. Consequently, the participation of girls in education is still below 50%. Gender differences in enrolment are prevalent in all the states at all levels. Due to illiteracy, females are not able to realise their full potential and power in any sphere.
Further, conventional division of labour imposes enormous domestic role on women, both in rural and urban India. Rights and obligations within a household are not shared or distributed evenly. Women spend a large proportion of time on unpaid house work. Consequently, they are not able to respond to new opportunities and shift to new occupations because of their intra-household allocation of responsibilities. In addition, child-bearing has natural implications for labour force participation by the women. Thus, women are not able to be economically self-sufficient due to unemployment, and their economic dependence on the male counterpart becomes a cause of gender inequality, reducing women to a subordinate status. In the field of health and nutrition, male members of family are supposed to take relatively fresh and nutritious food in comparison to women because either they are earning members or head of the family or are ‘naturally’ more important than female members. This type of social attitude is conducive to create/sharpen the problem of gender discrimination.
Promoting gender equality and improvement in the status of women are specifically stated to be the central goals of development and social policy in India. Though many social activists and reformers crusade against such social odds to restore honour and dignity to women, attitudinal disparities continue to thrive. How then can we rectify matters in order to promote gender equality? For this, there are two things that are needed. One, women must be made aware of their basic rights and capabilities, as they accept all types of discriminatory practices that persist in the family and society, largely due to their ignorance and unawareness. Women have to come together to assert their demands regarding equality. Two, men have to be taken into confidence and accepted as partners in taking a stand against gender inequality. In patriarchal social order, such as ours, it is impossible to succeed without the consent and involvement of the male population.
Women need to get the support, assistance, understanding and involvement of males. For this, education has to be made gender-sensitive. There is the need to educate boys and men in terms of their understanding, information and capacity building, regarding equal opportunity for both the sexes. Without this, any amount of women’s reservation and welfare programmes will not be able to enhance the status of womenfolk or reduce their inequality. It’s time that every day is treated as Women’s Day and not just March 8, and celebrated together by men and women. Let’s jointly start celebrating Women’s Day from today. Are you ready?
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