Gender Equality

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“Gender equality is achieved when women and men enjoy the same rights and opportunities across all sectors of society, including economic participation and decision-making, and when the different behaviours, aspirations and needs of women and men are equally valued and favoured.”

Gender equality is a human right. Women are entitled to live with dignity and with freedom from want and from fear. Gender equality is also a precondition for advancing development and reducing poverty: Empowered women contribute to the health and productivity of whole families and communities, and they improve prospects for the next generation.

Gender bias is undermining our social fabric and devalues all of us. It is not just a human rights issue; it is a tremendous waste of the world’s human potential. By denying women equal rights, we deny half the population a chance to live life at its fullest. Political, economic and social equality for women will benefit all the world’s citizens

Still, despite solid evidence demonstrating the centrality of women’s empowerment to realizing human rights, reducing poverty, promoting development and addressing the world’s most urgent challenges, gender equality remains an unfulfilled promise.

Gender Inequality in India

Gender inequality in India is a multifaceted issue that concerns men and women. Some argue that various gender equality indices place men at a disadvantage. However, when India’s population is examined as a whole, women are at a disadvantage in several important ways. In India, discriminatory attitudes towards either sex have existed for generations and affect the lives of both sexes. Although the constitution of India grants men and women equal rights, gender disparities remain.

Global Gender Gap Index,2020 and India

The Global Gender Gap Report 2020 benchmarks 153 countries on their progress towards gender parity in 4 dimensions,

  • Economic Participation and Opportunity,
  • Educational Attainment,
  • Health and Survival and
  • Political Empowerment.

Revelations of the Global Gender Gap Index, 2020

  • India has dropped four points from 2018, to take the 112th rank on the Index.
  • Despite a small score improvement, India has lost four positions as some countries ranked lower than India have shown better improvement.
  • The country has reportedly closed 2/3rd of its overall gender gap, with a score of 66.8%
  • But the report notes with concern that the condition of women in large fringes of Indian society is ‘precarious’.

Reasons for gender inequalities

Gender inequality has been a historic worldwide phenomena, a human invention and based on gender assumptions. It is linked to kinship rules rooted in cultures and gender norms that organizes human social life, human relations, as well as promotes subordination of women in a form of social strata. Amartya Sen highlighted the need to consider the socio-cultural influences that promote gender inequalities. In extreme cases, the discrimination takes the form of honour killings where families kill daughters or daughters-in-law who fail to conform to gender expectations about marriage and sexuality.

  1. Patriarchal society

Patriarchy is a social system of privilege in which men are the primary authority figures, occupying roles of political leadership, moral authority, control of property, and authority over women and children. Most of India, with some exceptions, has strong patriarchal and patrilineal customs, where men hold authority over female family members and inherit family property and title.

The ‘inter-generational contract’ provides strong social and economic incentives for raising sons and disincentives for raising daughters.

  1. Son preference

The birth of a baby boy is celebrated with great pomp and ardour, but the birth of a girl child is received with dismay. The practice of female foeticide through sex selective abortion continues to be practiced in spite of the Prenatal Diagnostic Technique Act of 1994. In India the child sex ratio is at the lowest it has ever been with just 914 girls for every 1000 boys (Census, 2011).

And this discrimination continues in every aspect. Be it education, health, protection or participation, the girl child is always treated unequally. Indian society still hasn’t been awakened to the importance of empowering the women. The statistics still narrate a grim story of female foeticide, girl child discrimination and gender bias .

  • 42% of married women in India were married as children (District Information System for Education (DISE) 3)
  • 1 in every 3 child brides in the world is a girl in India (UNICEF)
  • India has more than 45 lakh girls under 15 years of age who are married with children. Out of these, 70% of the girls have 2 children (Census 2011)

Traditional mindset of preferring Son

  • A key factor driving gender inequality is the preference for sons, as they are deemed more useful than girls. Boys are given the exclusive rights to inherit the family name and properties and they are viewed as additional status for their family.
  • Another factor is that of religious practices, which can only be performed by males for their parents’ afterlife. All these factors make sons more desirable. Moreover, the prospect of parents ‘losing’ daughters to the husband’s family and expensive dowry of daughters further discourages parents from having daughters.
  • Additionally, sons are often the only person entitled to performing funeral rights for their parents. Thus, a combination of factors has shaped the imbalanced view of sexes in India.

 

  1. Discrimination against girls

In impoverished families, these scholars found that daughters face discrimination in the medical treatment of illnesses and in the administration of vaccinations against serious childhood diseases. These practices were a cause of health and survival inequality for girls. While gender discrimination is a universal phenomena in poor nations, a 2005 UN study found that social norms-based gender discrimination leads to gender inequality in India.

  1. Dowry

The dowry system in India contributes to gender inequalities by influencing the perception that girls are a burden on families. Such beliefs limit the resources invested by parents in their girls and limits her bargaining power within the family.

  1. Marriage laws

Men and women have equal rights within marriage under Indian law, with the exception of all men who are allowed to unilaterally divorce their wife. The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for women and 21 for men, except for those Indians whose religion is Islam for whom child marriage remains legal under India’s Mohammedan personal laws. Child marriage is one of the detriments to empowerment of women.

Discrimination against Men

  • Contrary to the common perception that only women and girls are discriminated on the basis of sex, discrimination against men and boys can also happen, and in some cases, it can be even more evident.
  • Some men’s advocacy groups have complained that the government discriminates against men through the use of overly aggressive laws designed to protect women.
  • No recognition of sexual molestation of men and rarely the police stations lodge a First Information Report (FIR)
  • Men are considered the culprit by default even if it was the woman that committed sexual abuse against men.
  • Women can jail husband’s family for dowry related cases by just filing an FIR.
  • The law IPC 498A demands that the husband’s family be considered guilty by default, unless proven otherwise, in other words it implements the doctrine of ‘guilty unless proven innocent’ defying the universally practiced doctrine of ‘innocent until proven guilty’.

Global Facts & Figures regarding Women’s Condition

  • Globally, 750 million women and girls were married before the age of 18 and at least 200 million women and girls in 30 countries have undergone FGM.
  • The rates of girls between 15-19 who are subjected to FGM (female genital mutilation) in the 30 countries where the practice is concentrated have dropped from 1 in 2 girls in 2000 to 1 in 3 girls by 2017.
  • In 18 countries, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working; in 39 countries, daughters and sons do not have equal inheritance rights; and 49 countries lack laws protecting women from domestic violence.
  • One in five women and girls, including 19 per cent of women and girls aged 15 to 49, have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner within the last 12 months. Yet, 49 countries have no laws that specifically protect women from such violence.
  • While women have made important inroads into political office across the world, their representation in national parliaments at 23.7 per cent is still far from parity.
  • In 46 countries, women now hold more than 30 per cent of seats in national parliament in at least one chamber.
  • Only 52 per cent of women married or in a union freely make their own decisions about sexual relations, contraceptive use and health care.
  • Globally, women are just 13 per cent of agricultural land holders.
  • Women in Northern Africa hold less than one in five paid jobs in the non-agricultural sector. The proportion of women in paid employment outside the agriculture sector has increased from 35 per cent in 1990 to 41 per cent in 2015.
  • More than 100 countries have taken action to track budget allocations for gender equality.
  • In Southern Asia, a girl’s risk of marrying in childhood has dropped by over 40% since 2000.

Issues with Gender Equalities

  • Cultural values – limited role as homemaker with status of mother, sister and wife.
  • Partnership and industries are not considered capable enough to handle it.
  • Gender equality studied in isolation – The crime against boys and men go unreported, even this group should be studied.
  • The laws made are gender biased rather than gender neutral laws.
  • Hardly any steps for political representation of women
  • Gender exploitation in unorganized sector go unrecorded.
  • Study limited to women empowerment rather than youth empowerment.

WAY FORWARD

Promote A Gender Equitable Society

  1. Fight Gender Stereotypes

Children learn a lot from their immediate surroundings — families, friends, school, neighbourhood, media and books. Stereotypes based on gender and its internalisation starts at an early age. Children, who grow up in gender-equitable environments, tend to believe in gender stereotypes less than their peers, who grow up in a gender-inequitable environment.

  1. Celebrate And Promote ‘Positive Deviants’ In Society

Breaking barriers require bold steps by both women and men, paving way for an enabling environment. Recognising the ‘positive deviants’ in our society like Mary Kom, the Phogat Sisters and their father is important. We must promote their stories to motivate others for progressive change.

  1. Talk About Gender Issues With An Age Appropriate Lens

Often, parents try to shield children from incidents related to gender-based violence, but children still get to know of these issues through friends or media exposure. It is important for parents to talk to children about gender-related issues in an age-appropriate manner so that they grow up to be more gender-aware, gender-responsive and respectful.

 

 

  1. The Right Gender Messaging — Gender Is Not Synonymous With Women And Girls

Gender is often misrepresented as pertaining only to women and girls. It is important to create awareness that society creates gender norms and stereotypes. Gender stereotypes impact all of us, yet affect women, girls and the ‘third gender’ more.

  1. Engage With Men And Boys

We all must share responsibility and commitment towards gender equality, not only women and girls. It also should not focus only on women and girls. Engaging with men and boys is equally important and helps in creating an enabling environment for an equitable society.

  1. Other Suggestions
  • Need to create avenues and opportunity with conscious effort for empowering women rather than giving freebies.
  • Gender Neutral laws.
  • Implementation to full potential of laws is the key.
  • Infrastructure to be put in place and proper efforts to go ahead.

 

  1. Suggestions made by the Global Gender Gap Index 2020
  • The Gender Gap Index presents India with an opportunity to make the necessary amends forthwith.
  • Doing what the government is currently doing isn’t going to be sufficient.
  • The government needs to engage intimately with all aspects indicated by the Index to improve the score.
  • It should set targets to reduce the gender gap in the foreseeable future.
  • It will have to drastically scale up efforts it has introduced to encourage women’s participation, and increase opportunities for them.
  • To do so it also needs to make sure there is actual implementation at the ground level.
  • A commitment to ameliorate the conditions for women is a non-negotiable duty of any state.

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