GENDER INEQUALITIES IN INDIA
Sociologically the word gender refers to the socio-cultural definition of men and women, the way societies distinguish men and women and assign them social roles. The distinction between sex and gender was introduced to deal with the general tendency to attribute women’s subordination to their anatomy. For ages it was believed that the different characteristics, roles and status accorded to women and men in society are determined by sex, that they are natural and therefore not changeable. Gender is seen closely related to the roles and behaviour assigned to women and men based on their sexual differences.
As soon as a child is born, families and society begin the process of gendering. The birth of the son is celebrated, the birth of a daughter is filled with pain, and sons are showered with love, respect, better food and proper health care. Boys are encouraged to be tough and outgoing; girls are encouraged to be homebound and shy. All these differences are gender differences and they are created by society. Gender inequality is, therefore, a form of inequality which is distinct from other forms of economic and social inequalities. It dwells not only outside the household but also centrally within it. It stems not only from pre-existing differences in economic endowments between women and men but also from pre-existing gendered social norms and social perceptions, Gender inequality has adverse impact on development goals as it reduces economic growth. It hampers the overall well being because blocking women from participation in social, political and economic activities can adversely affect the whole society.
Many developing countries, including India, have displayed gender inequality in education, employment and health. It is common to find girls and women suffering from high mortality rates. There are vast differences in education level of two sexes. India has witnessed gender inequality from its early history due to its socio-economic and religious practices that resulted in a wide gap between the position of men and women in the society. The sex ratio according to 2011 census report stands at 940 per 1000 males. Out of the total population, 120 million are women who live in abject poverty. The maternal mortality rate in rural areas is among the world’s highest. From a global perspective, India accounts for 19% of all live births and 27% of all maternal deaths. The deaths of young girls in India exceed those of young boys by over 300000 each year and every 6th infant death is specifically due to gender discrimination. Women face discrimination right from the childhood. Gender disparities in nutrition are evident from infancy to adulthood. In fact, gender has been the most statistically significant determinant of malnutrition among young children and malnutrition is a frequent, direct or underlying cause of death among girls below age five. Girls are breast-fed less frequently and for a shorter duration in infancy. In childhood and adulthood, males are fed first and better. Adult women consume approximately 1000 fewer calories per day than men according to one estimate. The tradition also requires that women eat last and least throughout their lives even when pregnant and lactating. Malnourished women give birth to malnourished children, perpetuating the cycle. Women receive less healthcare facilities than men. A primary way that parents discriminate against their girl children is through neglect during illness.
The Constitution of India not only ensures gender equality in its preamble as a Fundamental Right but also empowers the state to adopt measures of positive discrimination in favour of women by ways of legislation and policies. India has also ratified various International Conventions and Human Rights forums to secure equal rights to women, such as ratification of convention on elimination of all forms of discrimination against women in 1993. Women have been finding place in local governance structures, overcoming gender biases. Over one million women have been elected to local Panchayats as a result of 1993 amendment to the Indian Constitution requiring that 1/3 rd of the elected seats to the local governing bodies be reserved for women. The passing of Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, in 1994 also is a step in removing gender discrimination. This Act seeks to end sex-determination tests and female feticide and prohibits doctors from conducting such procedures for the specific purpose of determining the sex of the fetus. The Government also announced the National Policy for empowerment of women in 2001 to bring out advancement, development and empowerment of women. The Government has also drawn up a Draft National Policy for the empowerment of women which is a policy statement outlining the state’s response to problems of gender discrimination. As persistent gender inequalities continue we need to rethink concepts and strategies for promoting women’s dignity and rights. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has stated, “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.” There is a need for new kinds of institutions, incorporating new norms and rules that support equal and just relations between women and men. Today women are organizing themselves to meet the challenges that are hampering their development.
There is a need to have women-friendly economic policies that can enhance their social and economic position and make them self-reliant. There is no doubt about the fact that development of women has always been the central focus of planning since Independence. Empowerment is a major step in this direction but it has to be seen in a relational context. A clear vision is needed to remove the obstacles to the path of women’s emancipation both from the government and women themselves. Efforts should be directed towards all round development of each and every section of Indian women by giving them their due share.