When the clock strikes half past six, Priyanka gently requests her husband Rahul to prepare a cup of coffee while she gets ready to go to office. Rahul accepts and prepares a strong cup of coffee. Quarter past seven, he prepares breakfast and keeps it ready for her and he manages to do all other household work for rest of the day. Rahul does not work, instead Priyanka heads the family. Isn’t that possible in reality? It could be possible in some urban households. Does it really mean women’s empowerment?
The latest National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) report (Figure 6.1) indicates an increasing trend in females heading the household. But it could also happen that a woman is heading the household because her husband has died or he’s working elsewhere. But, this opens up the issue of gender inequality in the society.
Where do we stand in terms of gender equality?
Our constitution guarantees equality and opportunity while prohibiting any discrimination. India’s top post is held by a woman, and yet we are far away from attaining equality and empowering women.
The Global Gender Gap Report 2010 report indicates that India stands at 112 among 134 countries worldwide.
The Global Gender Gap Report 2010 brought out by the World Economic Forum benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, political, education and health based criteria, and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparisons across regions and income groups, and over time. It ranks countries according to gender equality rather than women’s empowerment.
It is important to understand and define ‘gender’, before I proceed further.
While ‘sex’ refers to the biological differences between males and females, gender describes the socially constructed roles, rights and responsibilities that communities and societies consider appropriate for men and women. (Source: UNICEF)
The 2001 census data revealed a sharp decline in the sex ratio for the population age 0-6, from 945 females in 1991 to 927 females per 1,000 males. The National Family Health Survey data for the period 1992-93 to 2005-06 also provides evidence of continued decline of sex ratio and shows that in 2005-06 the under-seven sex ratio had fallen further to 918 females per 1,000 males (Figure 2.1). States like Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Punjab, and Andhra Pradesh have sex ration less than 900 females per 1000 male.
This just intensifies the discrimination against the girl child. India also has among the worst sex ratio at birth in the world, ranking 131st on this variable. Despite increased awareness campaigns and education, discrimination still persists to a large extent. Isn’t the new medical technology helping us? Finally, is technology a boon or bane? Technology like ‘ultrasound diagnostic testing’ which determines the sex of the foetus has hurt more than it helped in India.
The sex ratios at birth estimated separately for pregnancies with and without ultrasound testing provided clear evidence that many are using ultrasound tests for sex selection. Figure 2.5 also shows that the sex ratio of completed pregnancies with an ultrasound test to women in the highest wealth quintile (818) is lower than for pregnancies with an ultrasound to women in any other wealth quintile (854- 905).Thus, pregnancies with an ultrasound test have a sex ratio at birth that is lower than the biologically normal sex ratio, while those with no test have a sex ratio close to normal.
We somehow perform better in terms of political empowerment, ranking 24 of the 134 countries. In the economic participation and health and survival indexes we rank among the bottom ten.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment goes hand in hand and hence they both represent a single UN millennium goal. In reality, we lag behind in several aspects to achieve this millennium development goal.