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Women in India

How free? How equal?

Womens freedom and equality

At some time or the other, we have all heard the comment, Gender is a Western concept. We dont need it in India. A number of arguments are used to justify this stand. we are told that India is the original home of the Mother Goddess. In our ancient history, we have many instances of women scholars and women rulers. Stories from mythology and folklore are recounted to prove that women in India have always been honoured and respected. We are proud of the fact that India was one of the first countries in the world to give women the right to vote. The Indian Constitution is one of the most progressive in the world, and guarantees equal rights for men and women. All this is cited as evidence to support the contention that Indian women are free and equal members of society.

The Constitutional Pledge

The Constitution of India pledges to secure to all the people ... justice, social, economic and political; equality of status, opportunity and before the law; freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship, vocation, association and action, subject to law and public morality. The Constitution is firmly grounded in the principles of liberty, fraternity, equality and justice It emphasises the importance of greater freedom for all and contains a number of provisions for the empowerment of women Womens right to equality and non-discrimination are defined as justiciable fundamental rights The Constitution explicitly clarifies that affirmative action programmes for women are not incompatible with the principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of sex. The Constitution does not merely pay lip service to an abstract notion of equality. It reflects a substantive understanding of the practical dimensions of freedom and equality for women.

The Constitutional Guarantees:

Article 14: Equality before the law. Article 15(1): No discrimination by the state on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth. Article 15(3): Special provisions to be made by the state in favour of women and children. Article 16: Equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the state Article 39(a): State policy to be directed to securing for men and women equally, the right to an adequate means of livelihood. Article 39(d): Equal pay for equal work both men and women. Article 42: Provisions to be made by the state for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief. Article 51(A) (e): To promote harmony and to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women.

Some questions:
What do freedom and equality mean to women in India? Can they exercise their right to live with dignity? Do they have the freedom to develop their potential and choose what they should do or be? Can they acquire knowledge, be creative and productive and live long and healthy lives? Are they protected form the major sources of unfreedom from violence, discrimination, want, fear and injustice? Do they enjoy the same chances and choices as men, equally and on the same terms? In essence, how free are Indian women? How equal are they to men?
Unfortunately these questions do not have simple and straightforward answers

Critical aspects of womens freedom and equality

Freedom to lead a long life Right to health Right to education Freedom to work without exploitation Freedom to participate in decision making Freedom from fear

Freedom to live a long life

Freedom to lead a long life

The ability to live out a normal life span and not be at the risk of premature death, is a basic pre-requisite for the realiaasation of the full potential of a human being. A long life implies good health the capacity to avoid illness not merely with the help of doctors and drugs, but with a clean living environment with access to safe drinking water and sanitation, adequate nutrition, protection from disease and a decent standard of living. How long does an Indian woman live?

How long does an Indian woman live?

In 1951 an Indian woman could expect to live no longer than 32 years The figure has nearly doubled in 50 years the average female life expectancy is a little over 63 years But this average hides the fact that progress has been uneven. The life expectancy of an Indian woman depends on the state where she is born If she is lucky enough to be born in Kerala, she can live until the age of 75 as long as women in China, Malaysia, Thailand and Phillipines If she is born in Bihar or Madhya Pradesh, she can live until 57 years 18 years less than a woman born in Kerala. In Karnataka a woman can expect to live upto 65 years, marginally longer than the national average.

Life expectancy the international scorecard

Maximum life expectancy: Japan 84 years Minimum life expectancy: Sierra Leone 39.6 years Countries with HIGHER life expectancies than India
USA China Sri lanka Viet nam Bangla Desh Nepal Senegal Nigeria Ethiopia Rwanda 79.7 72.5 75.0 70.2 59.0 57.8 54.8 51.7 44.9 40.6

Countries with LOWER life expectancies than India

Infant mortality rates

IMR number of infants that die within one year for every 1000 babies born is a critical measure of a countrys level of human development Prevalence of poverty, nutritional status of mothers and children, availability of clean water and sanitation and access to proper health care are all determinants of child survival.
In India, out of 27 million children born every year 2 million do not live to celebrate their first birthday Out of every 1000 children 70 die within a year

In Orissa 96 out of 1000 infant girls die within the first year In Kerala 13 out 1000 infant girls die in the first year Karnatakas female IMR is 57/1000, somewhat lower than the national average of 71/1000.

Why do baby girls die?

Improvement in medical technology has made it possible to determine the sex of the unborn child and there is a visible proliferation of ultrasound clinics even in rural areas. Far worse is the prevalence of female infanticide:
lacing their feed with pesticides forcing down a few grains of poppy seed or rice husk to slit their gullets stuffing their mouths with black salt or urea feeding them with the juice or paste of oleander berries suffocating them with a wet towel or bag of sand starving them to death rubbing poison on the mothers breast, so that the baby girl is poisoned as she suckles.

Other forms of discrimination include: fewer months of breast feeding, less nurturing and play, less care or medical treatment, less special food, less parental attention Female foeticide and infanticide signal the grossest form of discrimination against women

Right to health

Right to health - Anaemia

Anaemia, a debilitating disease, which increases a womans vulnerability and limits her capacity to function as full human beings. Its symptoms constant tiredness and lack of energy, loss of appetite and breathlessness are usually dismissed as laziness or imagination. NHFW survey shows that 50% of all married women in India suffer from anaemia. Lack of care, inadequate nutrition during times of special need like illness and pregnancy, untreated gynaecological conditions, early and frequent child birth all these contribute to high prevalence of anaemia.

Right to health maternal mortality

1,00,000 to 1,20,000 women die every year due to pregnancy related causes. Close to 300 women die every day of pregnancy related causes: i.e. there is one death in every five minutes. Countries with MMR LOWER than India
China Sri lanka Vietnam India 55 60 160 407 830 1,000 1,100 1,100

Countries with MMR HIGHER than India

Chad Eritrea Mozambique Central African Republic

Causes of maternal deaths: Puerperium; anaemia of pregnancy; mal-position of child; puerperal sepsis; abortion.

Right to health institutional deliveries

2/3rds of all deliveries in India take place at home 35% in urban areas to 75% in rural areas. Most women deliver with help from women in the family who often lack skills and resources to save the mothers life if she is in danger. Even a small investment in upgrading the levels of knowledge of these women can have huge returns. Even when deliveries take place in a public health facility and a supervised by a doctor or a nurse, childbirth is not a risk free process. A recent study shows that an average PHC is not equipped to handle even minor emergencies and does not meet the minimum standards of cleanliness and sanitation. Most PHCs lack toilet facilities with adequate water supply, operation rooms with clean rubber sheets, washbasins, adequate source of light, anitbiotics, analgesics, sedatives, antihaemorrhage medicines.

Motherhood is their a choice?

Very few women in India have the opportunity to choose whether or when to have a child. Women do not have access to safe and self-controlled methods of contraception. The public health system emphasises permanent methods like sterilisation, or long term methods like IUD that do not need follow up. Sterilisation accounts for more than 75% of all contraception, with female sterilisation accounting for more than 95% of all sterilisations. Less than half the couples (48%) in the reproductive age group use contraception: in Bihar the Contraception Prevalence Rate is as low as 25%. In Himachal it is 68%. Karnatakas CPR is 58%. Reasons for not using contraception: embarrasment associated with consulting a male doctor; lack of privacy in PHCs; reluctance of men to use condoms. consequently, abortion is often seen as a contraceptive method of choice.

Right to health pulse polio, people centred campaign

Mass mobilisation of people around elimination of polio, which was presented as a matter of national pride. Political support at the highest level, including personal endorsements and involvement of political leaders of all parties Well-coordinated and sustained media and advocacy campaigns for awareness building Intensive planning to ensure involvement of all section of society including declaring public holiday to enable working parents take their children to imunisation centre Interdepartmental coordination to mobilise grassroot workers of all government agenceis and schemes Pooling in of financial, medical and other resources from government, corporate sector and NGOs. Effective logistic support and coordination by the district administration Careful monitoring and performance assessment.

Right to education

How educated are Indian women?

At the time of the 1991 census, only 39% of Indian women could read and write. According to census 2001 female literacy rate is 54%: highest in Kerala with 88%; lowest i Bihar with 34%. In Karnataka female literacy is 57%). Despite this progress close to 190 million indian women lack the basic capability to read and write. Countries with HIGH female literacy:

Thailand Vietnam Srilanka Malaysia China

Niger Burkina Faso Guinea Bisau Nepal

94 91 87 83 76
7.9 13.3 18.3 22.8

Countries with LOW female literacy

Gender gap in literacy

State A.Pradesh Bihar Gujarat Haryana 1991 22 29 24 29 2002 20 27 22 23 State Orissa Punjab Rajasthan T.Nadu 1991 28 15 35 22 2001 25 12 32 18

Karnataka Kerala

23 7

19 6 27 18

W.Bengal J&K All India

21 25 25

17 24 22

M.Pradesh 29 Maharash tra 24

How many girls go to school?

Bihar Rajasthan 54 63 Karnataka Haryana 78 86

Uttar Pradesh Andhra Pradesh

Madhya Pradesh Gujarat Orissa W. Bengal

69 71
71 73 75 77

Maharashtra Tamil Nadu

Punjab Himachal Pradesh Kerala All India

87 89
90 97 97 74



Workforce participation rates of children

State A. Pradesh Bihar Karnataka M. Pradesh Rajasthan Uttar Pradesh W. Bengal Total Workers (million) 5.53 3.35 5.61 4.79 4.57 3.14 3.23 % of girls in 5-14 age group recorded as workers 10.54 2.93 8.71 8.56 7.88 2.46 2.68

How many girls go to school?

The workforce participation rates do not tell the whole story:
In 1991, 52 million girls were recorded as neither going to school, nor participating in paid workforce. These are the nowhere children, working within the home or in the unorganised sector.

Child labour laws do not cover children doing domestic work or children working in agriculture, whether for their own families or for wage. Girls cannot therefore be freed from domestic drudgery and tyranny of family responsibilities or avail of their right to education without a huge change in the attitudes and values of parents.

The state of schools in India

PROBE report:
44% schools do not have a playground 54% schools do not have drinking water 55% schools do not have teaching kits 72% schools do not have a library 84% schools do not have a toilet

With the 93rd constitutional amendment free and compulsory education for children in the 6-14 age group has been made a fundamental right. This means that there must be greater resource allocation to the education sector at least 6% of the GDP.

Freedom to work without exploitation

Freedom to work without exploitation

Irrespective of caste, class or age, most indian women are expected to be responsible and accountable for the invisible and unpaid work within the home Womens right to work outside the home, however, cannot always be taken for granted. A vast majority of indian women work throughout their lives: the irony is that this fact is not officially recognised.
When asked Does your wife work?, the automatic response of the head of the household is No shes just a housewife. Thus, the work that women do water, fuel, fodder collection, cooking, cleaning, care of children and elderly, unpaid work on family land or enterprises is made invisible and not accounted for in national estimates.

Womens invisible work

A time-use survey conducted by Central Statistical Organisation reveals:
Women sleep on the average two hours less than men Women spend ten times more time on househild work than men. This is true even in families where women work full time Men have two hours a day for leisure. Women have only five minutes Men spend less than one hour a week on cooking, while women spend 15 hours per week.

How safe is the workplace for women?

The National Womens commission for Self employed women did a detailed study on occupational health hazards in 1988 Many of the occupations in which women are concentrated are hazardous in themselves:
Block printing, screen printing, dyeing, biri rolling, waste disposal, rag picking, headloading all involve exposure to toxic chemicals and pathogens. Women who cook on wood fires are exposed to more pollutants than industrial workers

NCW survey in 1998 found that nearly 50% had experienced gender discrimination or physical and mental harassment at work In 1997, the Supreme Court took a strong stand against sexual harrasment of women in the workplace: Sexual harassment was defined as unwelcome sexually determined behaviour, including physical contact or advances, demands or requests for sexual favours,, sexually coloured remarks, showing of pornography, and any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct

Freedom to participate in decision making

Do indian women particpate in private decisions

Indian women are marginalised in decision making and leadership by a variety of processes that begin at infancy
Girls are encouraged to play passive roles and given little opportunity to make decisions or develop leadership skills outside the family Instead they are taught to accept the decisions that others parents, teachers, brothers, uncles make on their behalf. Thus, women lack confidence and skills needed to function effectively in the public place.

Womens autonomy: private decisions

UP take no cooking health decicare sions 16 78 45 jewel. purcha se 41 staying with parents 36 going to the market 17 visiting friends, relatives 12

Rajn. MP J&K

13 13 12

82 82 80 88 87

41 37 56 49 45

43 44 58 47 48

39 38 49 45 47

19 21 12 43 18

17 20 8 34 14

Ktaka 8 WB 8








Womens autonomy private decisions

Kerala 7 Delhi 5 81 83 73 69 63 59 60 47 48 52 38 34

Assam 5
Gujrat 4 TNadu 2 Pjab HP 1 1

90 92 97 95

71 61 79 81

74 67 75 93

65 62 68 91

55 79 50 33

51 56 28 31








Freedom from fear

Freedom from fear

The Indian Constitution guarantees to all Indians the right to bodily integrity, personal safety and security. Yet violence against women continues to be on the rise Between 1980 and 1990, there was an increase of nearly 74% in crimes against women, with rape, molestation and torture by husbands and in-laws showing the highest growth rate. Domestic violence takes the following forms:
Refusal to talk to wife (9%) Get angry with children (12%) Not give money (18%) Reprimand wife (19%) Threat to throw out of the house (51%) Physically assault wife (63%) Use abusive language (80%)

Violence against women within the families is justified as being necessary to establish mens authority over women, to discipline them and to punish them for dereliction of duty.

Does the law protect women from violence

In a study conducted in 1996, 109 judges were interviewed to assess their attitudes to violence against women:
48% believed that there were certain occasions when it was justifiable for a husband to slap his wife. 74% believed that preservation of the family should be the womans primary concern, even when she faces violence. 50% believed that child sexual abuse is not common. 68% believed that provocative clothes are an invitation to sexual assault. 34% believed that dowry has an inherent cultural value. 55% believed that the moral character of a woman is relevant in cases of sexual assault. 9% believed that those who say No to sexual intercourse often mean yes.

In conclusion
Women are not a homogenous group women belonging to privileged and dominant classes and castes enjoy many freedoms and opportunities that are denied to men from subordinate and disprivileged groups. Gender inequality is not the only inequality in India women are unfree and unequal, but so are dalits, members of subordinate castes and communities, landless people, displaced people, migrants, the homeless, disabled people and many other groups. Yet, women are at the bottom of the pile in every one of these groups the last man in Gandhijis talisman, the poorest and most powerless individual, is actually a woman. Equality of freedoms and opportunities for this last womancan come about only through transformation in all structures and systems that generate and perpetuate inequalities a transformation that would benefit every other subordinate group in society.