A cry for help from the womb: Need to strengthen the politico-economic presence of women

wombBy Mahima Rastogi*

At a very young age, I learned about gender inequality that pervades our society. I was just six when my sister was born and my elation knew no bounds. However, I was bewildered that my sister was not welcomed with excitement and enthusiasm by some. Back then, I wasn’t able to comprehend the mocking gibes made by the conservative sundry that form the “society”. With time, I became familiar with the orthodox patriarchal outlook of the society that breeds gender inequality. And this gender discrimination takes the most wicked and horrific form when a girl child is killed in her mother’s womb which is known as “female foeticide”.

Female foeticide is the earliest manifestation of gender discrimination because of which at least 117 million girls demographically go missing around the world. India is one of the countries witnessing high female foeticide incidents. A study by British medical journal – ‘The Lancet’ in 2011 reported that 12 million female foetuses have been aborted in India in the last three decades.

 

womb2
Source: CIA World Factbook 2016

 

India outlawed sex-selective abortion through the enactment of the Pre-conception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act in 1994. The act also prohibits the sale of “any ultrasound machine or any other equipment capable of detecting the sex of foetus” to persons, laboratories, and clinics not registered under the Act. Despite that, this practice remains predominant in India. India’s last population census recorded that there were only 943 females for every 1,000 males in 2011.

And a recent government survey points to the more worrying trend of India’s skewed sex ratio that declined further from 898 in 2014-16 to 896 in 2015-17. In fact, a United Nations report (2014) mentioned that the diminishing number of girls had reached “emergency proportions” in India and this was contributing to crimes against women.

womb1The situation is no better in 2019. The recent revelation of shocking data by the government that not even a single girl was born in ‘132 villages’ in the last three months suggests of suspicious sex-selective abortions. I believe that the deep social, religious and cultural norms that exist in our nation are to be held responsible for such instances. India has been a male dominated society where a male child is considered to be an asset who will look out and earn for the family during adulthood and most importantly will carry on the family name.

Even in a religion like Hinduism where goddesses are worshipped also propagates bias towards male progeny as only men can perform the last rites after the death of their parents. Hence, it is not surprising but heart rendering that a girl child is often viewed as an ‘economic burden’ or ‘liability’ because of the societal pressure to pay a large amount of dowry to the groom’s family.

However, it can be postulated that not only the social construct discriminating against women but also the easy availability, affordability, and misuse of diagnostic tools despite regulations have been critical in deteriorating sex ratio. The collusion of traditions and technology created a monumental problem for mankind to cope with.

In an attempt to curb female foeticide and empower the girl child, the Modi government has launched “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” (Save Daughters, Educate Daughters) initiative in 2015. This is being run as a national campaign with a focused multisectoral action in 100 districts having the lowest child sex ratio. Several conditional cash transfer schemes such as ‘Balika Samriddhi Yojana’ and ‘Dhanalakshmi Scheme’ have also been initiated. But what concerns me is the efficiency of the implementation of these noble schemes. The media earlier this year reported that more than 50% of the money allocated to the initiative was spent on mere publicity, in reality only 25% of the funds were actually disbursed to the states.

Among the various actions taken to prevent the social evil of female foeticide and infanticide, ‘Selfie with Daughter’ – a unique social media campaign has been launched by the President Pranab Mukherjee requesting people to click photographs with their daughters and upload them on the mobile application to make it a success.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared this movement as a worldwide movement against female foeticide and sex-selective abortions in the meeting with Silicon Valley CEOs. Many prominent personalities including Sachin Tendulkar became a part of this movement.

Way forward

A concerted and coordinated effort involving every section of the society is needed to change the prevalent social thinking and to ensure the survival, protection, and empowerment of the women if the objective of a balanced sex ratio is to be attained. Apart from stringent legislations and interesting schemes, the government needs to have institutional mechanisms in place to implement the same.  The long-term panacea for this social evil plaguing our society is to educate and empower women. And it should reach even the rural marginalized women as educating and empowering them will help in improving their status in the society.

As the women federations gain importance at the rural level, women will have a greater role to play in the development and execution of the policies, thus, strengthening the politico-economic presence. Media both print and electronic has a very significant role to play in removing gender discrimination by influencing and informing the society. Female foeticide programmes should include policies to modify and liberalize the traditional orthodox values that are strongly held by the society. Only then will come the positive change.

*Final year student studying at Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad

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