Friday, July 07, 2006

Of gender inequality and emancipation

                                                      The Kathmandu Post
Kathmandu Thursday October 11, 2001 Ashwin 25, 2058
By Asif ANwar Alig

The cases of gender inequality and low sex ratio always haunt the patriarchal societies. India has lower sex ratio than many African countries. Considering women as second class citizens and compelling them to survive under a form of gender apartheid are the usual phenomenon. Women are dehumanized at every step of their lives, either in their homes or outside. They lag behind in all quantifiable areas of development which cannot be measured. Further more, they suffer discrimination and violence. Studies reveal that one woman is molested every 26 minutes and raped every 34 minutes in India. Every day, almost 288 Indian women die of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. Some 37 to 38 million women, who might otherwise be alive today, have died of negligence and maltreatment.

This anti-female bias prevailing in our society is the result of cheapest scanning techniques. Ninety percent of the female foetus are terminated annually in India. Estimates show that about five million female feticide operations are conducted in India every year. Declination in female sex ratio is alarming. This has declined from 970 per 1,000 in 1991 to 927 per 1,000 in 2001.

Sex determination tests and illegal abortions are the factors. Punjab, Harayana, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh and Delhi have been witness to high decline in the number of females. According to recent census reports, Harayana has the lowest sex ratio, which stands at 875 females per 1,000 males. Bihar shows even graver situation.

These worrying problems prevail not only in India but also in the whole of the South Asia region, where the ratio of women to men is very low compared to the rest of the world that stands at 106 females to 100 males. This indicates that thousands of female were either never born or died of chronic malnutrition because of lack of medical attention.

Dowry system is the main culprit. A study conducted by Foundation for Research in Community Health (FRCH), Mumbai shows that most women visiting for sex determination tests had or have two or three daughters. They do not need any more girl child. But a male child comes an asset and highly profitable for the future. This tends women to undergo repeated pregnancies and sex selective abortions. The socio-religious system that offers superior status to the male child contributes to social evils. Women are given due respect only if they give birth to a boy.

On an average, the police register nearly 5,000 cases of dowry death and 3,000 cases of dowry harassment annually. The number of cases of bigamy and divorce by mutual consent are growing day by day. Over five hundred thousand cases of deserted cases are still in pending in various courts of India. Annually at least 12,000 cases of rape, 13,000 cases of kidnapping, 26,000 cases of molestation and eve teasing and 11,000 cases of sexual harassment are registered to police which represent only 10-25 percent of the crimes actually perpetrated on women in India.

Illiteracy is the greatest scourge tarnishing humanity at all levels. The guardians of our society consider educating a girl child is waste of money as she is bound to marry and leave her parental home one day or the other to live with her husband’s family.

Even though more than sixty percent children are enrolled in primary schools every year, only sixteen percent of the girls continue to attend classes after 5 years. Girls encounter resistance from within their family to pursue education. The naive assumption that educated woman might pose a threat to her husband and upset the family status quo is one of the setbacks of grassroots development. It is pathetic that even after 54 years of independence, female literacy in India is merely 35 percent, well below the 63.9 percent for men. With minimal education and lower political vision, their involvement in electoral politics differs sharply from the nationalist movement and the immediate aftermath of independence when they played active and purposeful role in bringing India’s dream come true to the present perspective. Women and children represent 67.7 percent of the country’s total population. Almost all political parties woo them for fulfilling their vested interests. But an interesting dimension is that, though women electorate consists of 50 percent or more, they do not automatically support woman candidates. The reason is that political parties hardly field women candidates who have independent work and achievement to their credit. Women candidates in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections held only 49 out of 545 parliamentary seats. In the year 1996, only one out of 25 judges in the Supreme Court was woman; and 3 percent of the total number of high court judges were women. Total number of women Chartered Accountants in the country stands at 5.8 percent only. In the year 1995, total percentage of registered women medical practitioners stood at 20.8 percent only.

Gender based quote has never brought fruitful results. Instead, it has developed a ghetto mentality in our society. In spite of the reservation policies of successive governments, for a decade, there are states like Karnataka which had only one MP in the 12th Lok Sabha. Kerala with its highest female literacy rate and unfavourable sex ratio had only one woman MP in the 12th Lok Sabha.

Empowerment of women on the basis of quote can be possible only when the democratic process is genuinely democratic. And when every individual is given access to education and an assurance of justice. In the present perspective demand of reservation for due representation of women in parliament and state legislators seem more like a hunt for the post rather than empowerment. Most women politicians in India have inherited political offices in absence of a comparable male figure. With some notable exceptions like Ms Mamta Banerjee, most of them hail from privileged background and enjoy power by virtue of birth or marriage.

In Indian societies, a man generally is not required to participate in domestic jobs. If seen sharing them, he would be ridiculed for his ‘women like behaviour’. Governments cannot be blamed for such mindsets. Thinkers, writers and voluntary organisations will have to come forward to eliminate these nonsense traditions that result in suffering of the women themselves. Even the religious organisations cannot escape their responsibilities. They too have to come across and convince people by their sermons.

Women’s empowerment can be considered ‘complete’ only when they no longer require any reservation, rather they prove mettle in all spheres of life. It is a happy sign that lots of young women have started expressing that they would prefer to come up in life on the basis of merit rather through reservations.

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