Saturday, January 09, 2016

India and the Women Question

The principle of gender equality as enshrined in the Indian constitution. The framework of Indian laws, development policies, plans and programs too, are aimed at women’s advancement and equality. India, also a signatory to the Millennium Declaration adopted at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2000, has reaffirmed its commitment towards promoting gender parity.

Women constitute nearly half of the country’s 1.25 billion people and gender equality — whether in politics, economics, education or health — is still a distant dream for most. This fact was driven home again sharply by the recently released United National Development Programme’s Human Development Report (HDR) 2015 which ranks India at a lowly 130 out of 155 countries in the Gender Inequality Index (GII). India trails behind most Asian countries, including lesser developed Bangladesh and Pakistan which rank 111 and 121 respectively, and fares not much ahead of war-ravaged Afghanistan at 152. The GII reflects gender-based inequalities on three vital parameters: reproductive health, empowerment, and economic activity. India’s record, dismal on all three counts, is especially disquieting when it comes to representation of women in Parliament. Just 12.2 per cent of parliamentary seats in the world’s largest democracy are held by women as against 19.7 in Pakistan, 20 in Bangladesh and 27.6 percent in Afghanistan. Even some of the poorest nations — such as Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Uganda, Mozambique — are way ahead by having over a third to half of their parliament seats occupied by women.

Health remains a niggling worry as well with Indian women’s maternal mortality rate (MMR) being one of the world’s highest. The country witnesses 190 deaths per 100,000 live births as compared to 170 pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 births in both Bangladesh and Pakistan, states the HDR. Even in terms of the percentage of women receiving secondary education, Bangladesh at 34 per cent outsmarts India at 27 per cent.

On labour force the benefits of India becoming a 2-trillion dollar economy, Asia’s third largest, have also not percolated down to its women, point out economists. On the contrary, Indian women’s workforce participation has plummeted from 35 per cent in 1990 to 27 per cent in 2013. According to a 2012 report on global employment trends by the International Labour Organisation, many Indian women are able to find only marginal work in the informal economy, with low wages and little or no job security. Well-qualified young urban women too, admit to having limited job options. Though over 60 per cent of urban females are a part of the informal sector, unemployment among those with graduate degrees and above qualifications continues to be a high 15.7 per cent, states the report. Even educated urban women are unable to find opportunities that fit their profiles. Close to 20 per cent of urban females work as domestic help, cleaners, vendors, hawkers and salespeople. Nearly 43 per cent of urban women were self-employed and the same proportion of women had regular wage salaried jobs, according to the National Sample Survey Organisation 2011. Nearly 46 per cent of urban women with regular wages have no social security or employment benefits, while 58 per cent have no written contract for their jobs.

Activists say India’s low GII scores are hardly surprising given the country’s fierce resistance to change and entrenched patriarchal mindsets. “We’ve been featuring at the bottom of the gender equity pyramid for years. So what’s new?” Dr. Ranjana Kumari, Director, Center for Social Research, a New Delhi-based non-profit, told IPS. “Though the gender agenda has higher visibility in India now, that positive momentum hasn’t really translated into higher investment for women in different sectors due to continued discrimination and ineffectual laws and policies.” Kumari points out that one of the most pivotal instrument of change — the Women’s Reservation Bill, which seeks to grant 33 per cent of the Parliament’s seats to women — has still not been passed by the upper house (Rajya Sabha) despite being cleared by the lower house (Lok Sabha) in 2010. “The non-passage of the Bill due to splintered views of different political parties has severely inhibited women’s participation in politics. Until this basic requirement is addressed, Indian women can’t truly be empowered,” observed the activist.

National and regional Indian parties continue to follow the policy of exclusion while allotting seats to women. The common perception is that they lack the ‘win-ability’ factor. Those who manage to win elections have to work doubly hard to prove themselves as compared to the men,” one senior woman politician told IPS.

World Socialism Party (India)

“That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.”

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