Happy Women’s Day?
Women’s Empowerment has been a part of countless political discussions in India. But where does India actually stand when it comes to the Rights of Women? Especially when we compare ourselves to the rest of the world? It’s only fair to say that on paper, we look really, really good! India has passed a lot of specific laws for women that protect them from Sati, Dowry, Sexual Harassment, Child Marriage.
There are specific Government schemes including: The National Commission for Women, as well as Acts for property, equal remuneration, and maternity benefits. The List is endless but, where are women of India still struggling and why? While The United States of America is debating whether they are “ready” for a Female Head of State we’ve seen a woman Prime Minister in 1966, a woman President in 2007, two Woman Lok Sabha Speakers, and 16 woman Chief Ministers of different States since 1963. Thanks to the 1/3rd reservation for women in the Gram Panchayats, we have a 25–40% participation in Indian Politics. But even with that, our Representation in the Parliament is a mere 12%. That means we are ranked 149th in the world, and have been outdone by countries like North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, South Sudan, Syria.
Even in education, we are slacking big time. Only 48% of the women who’ve completed the basic 5 year primary education in India were found to be literate. Our Low Literacy Rate mercilessly blended with, “Aurat kaam pe jaayegi toh-ghar ka kaam kaun karega. Bachon ko kaun sambhalega. Chula-Chowka kaun chalayega”. That has led to a massive gender imbalance in the workplace, and that too in an economy which is growing phenomenally! Women made up only 27% of the workforce in 2016, as compared to the 35% participation in the good old 90s. When it comes to women’s workforce participation rate, India ranks second to last amongst the G20 countries. Our government does have some of their other priorities mixed up. Under the new GST law, something as basic as sanitary pads are still heavily taxed! But, we have tax free sindoor. Really!?
Despite rapid advances in the field of medicine, the needs and physiology of women and girls continue to be overlooked within the healthcare system as our society very conveniently puts women on a pedestal and expects them to sacrifice in different forms — be it as a mother, wife or daughter in-law. And this has led to the assumption that bearing some amount of pain is just a natural, normal part of ‘being a woman.’ This is visible in our attitudes towards pain management during childbirth.
Historically, there was a strong societal objection to the use of painkillers during childbirth in many places around the world. In many parts of India today, it is still considered a taboo. But here’s the thing, not only do women experience pain which men may never experience because of menstruation and childbirth, but studies have shown that conditions which cause chronic pain, like headaches or arthritis, are actually more common in women. We’re only just beginning to understand how men and women experience pain differently, because up until the 1990s,medical research was conducted mainly on male bodies, reflecting the assumption that male and female bodies are exactly the same.
In 1993, the U.S. passed a legislation mandating the inclusion of women subjects in medical research. And yet, around the world, women continue to be underrepresented in clinical studies. And this has resulted in a range of negative consequences, from the misdiagnosis of heart attacks in women, to an average of a 7-year delay in diagnosing endometriosis.
We’re often taught that the sciences, especially medical sciences, are unquestionable — Objective, rational, and free of bias. But we forget that these sciences are developed and honed by human beings, who are subject to the same social biases and patriarchal conditioning that teaches us that women are crazy, hysterical, or overreacting. So, maybe we need to question the frameworks within which science develops? It’s only when we recognize these biases in our sciences that we can ask these questions again from fresh and original perspectives, and develop a medical system that is equal and accessible in every way.
India is a tough place for women even before they’re born. According to reports, there are over 2000 cases of female foeticide that happen every day! And that’s the reason our sex ratio is skewed to 943 women to 1000 men. To put that in perspective, our sex ratio is lower than countries like Uganda, Turkey, Mozambique and more. Even though we have all these laws — there are still over 34,000 REPORTED cases of rape that happen in India every year. That’s 93 rapes a day. These are just the cases that get reported and we haven’t even touched on the number of sexual harassments, abuse, female foeticide, and honor killings that occur every day.
This makes us the 4th most dangerous country for women in the world!
We have gotten the right laws in place- except marital rape. But we have been constantly failing at implementing them. It’s now on the Government to make the enforcement agencies seem more approachable. But for us step 1 IS TO BE INFORMED.! Step 2 IS TO INFORM THOSE WHO WOULDN’T HAVE ACCESS TO SUCH INFORMATION AT ALL. Because one can’t defend their rights, if they don’t know them. There’s no single country in this world where women are treated equally as men even, when it comes to basic human rights. So it is high time, we all stood up for the women around us- be it our mother, sisters, daughters, neighbors and even house helps! Because if not now, then when?
Written by Srilekha Bhattacharjee