A Collection of Essays on Declining Child Sex Ratio from Girls Count Newsletters
Addressing Gender Contradictions: Do Men Have A Role to Play?
To create conditions of gender equality, it is not sufficient to provide women with adequate and appropriate opportunities. At the same time the “privileges” that men have come to assume as their “right” need to be examined and reconstructed.
– Dr. Abhijit Das
India is a land of contradictions. This truism is often considered sufficient excuse for many long-standing and deep-rooted ills of our society and we gloss over the many dramatic contradictions that coexist here. Gender inequality or the differential status of women and men is one area where we are increasingly seeing such contradictions. In the last 10-15 years, the signs of economic change followed by social change are visible everywhere in the country. We see more and more women now in schools, colleges, malls and on the streets. But stories of women being bullied, teased, harassed and raped in public places are also being reported. While there is increasing demand from the Indian society to “hang the rapists”, there is no acceptance of the fact that gender discrimination persists in our homes.
Sons have always been more welcome in our country with all young Hindu women being blessed sauputravathibano (may you be a mother of a hundred sons). Now that having more children is considered uncouth and sometimes unpatriotic, daughters are at much higher risk than ever in history. Contemporary social norms dictate that having two children, and in rare cases three is the most appropriate. Even as the law allows equal share to daughters in parental property; the family name is believed to be continued through a son; and sons have the sole customary authority to perform final rites of their parents. Thus sons are a sine qua non and daughters even when desired often an adjunct. With smaller families, the space for an adjunct gets compromised.
Gender discrimination has been repeatedly challenged in India and both women and men have been part of this struggle. But the intent of enlightened men like Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, JyotibaPhule or Hari Bilas Sarda failed to ignite the social aspiration for changes in gender relations. Many contemporary political leaders still continue to stonewall legal provisions for improving women’s status and budgetary allocations for women’s issues remains miniscule.
We at the Center for Health and Social Justice (CHSJ) started with the assumption that gender equality could not be the sole aspiration for women, and, if men were interested in it they should also engage themselves in this endeavour. And this could not remain limited to only helping or supporting women, but there is a need to review and reconsider what men themselves did as ‘men’, to prevent women from getting similar opportunities. We started our work with those men who felt that the situation needed to change but did not realise that they are themselves a part of the problem.
All men, whether or not they were actively discriminating or violent, contributed to a larger social environment of constraint and discrimination. To create conditions of gender equality, it is not sufficient to provide women with adequate and appropriate opportunities. At the same time the “privileges” that men have come to assume as their “right” need to be examined and reconstructed. Thus if daughters need to be provided the same encouragement as boys for education, then someone has to do the work that she otherwise did when she did not go to school. Boys need to be trained for the same work that was earlier considered the daughters domain.
Working for gender equality thus is not just encouraging women but also giving her the space and sometimes giving up the space for her to occupy it. But giving up space is not easy, especially if space is limited, and it is a challenge for men to engage in efforts towards improving women’s status. But if men start enjoying or cherishing their relationships with women, then giving up space is easier. This works with most relationships starting with husband-wife, brother-sister and son-mother. We also found that it improves relationship between male friends. Conversely we also found that the older male was confused with what he saw was clearly an “undermining of authority” which was not acceptable for his son.
From early childhood, boys are trained to compete and to succeed; to overcome and to defeat, to achieve and maintain positions of authority. If space is provided to women, it is an act of generosity and chivalry, because the ‘superior’ position of men is not challenged. To move men from such notion of superiority was not easy, because our society is structured through multiple layers of superiority (and inferiority); gender is just one of those. As our work with men has now deepened, we realise that men are ‘constructed’ through strong notions of privilege and entitlement which makes even the most socially and economically weak crave for power. The idea of ‘masculinity’ is different from the biological ‘male’. This creation of ‘masculinity’ and sense of entitlement in the biological ‘male’ and gendered ‘man’ or ‘boy’, is done consciously and unconsciously by the family, the educational system, our art and literature, cultural traditions and mass media.
We have worked with men to understand their overall social position and how one person’s social position and presumed privileges in terms of caste and class could be detriment of another. These men have been able to make remarkable achievements ranging from changes in personal behaviours and relationships to changes in the way their villages and communities deal with some of the more long-standing discriminatory practices. In many villages in Maharashtra men have also started taking the overall responsibility of using contraceptives, dissuading each other from sex detection and early marriages, encouraging joint registration of property and rejecting dowry. In many villages in Madhya Pradesh, men are ensuring that toilets for girls in schools are functional, children and pregnant women receive timely immunisation and other health services. They are questioning the practice of early marriage. In Rajasthan, brothers are teaching their sisters to ride the bicycle and accompanying them to schools, thus reversing the trend of school dropout; and boys married early are encouraging their child brides to stay back with their parents and continue their education.
However, most of these changes are taking place in parts of rural India, some distance away from the sophisticated urban middle class India where the denial of gender discrimination is higher and its forms more subtle. Like sanskritisation, a phenomenon where upper caste and upper class values and practices permeate into the underclass groups, declining sex ratio spread far and wide from relatively small foci in Mumbai, Delhi and Ahmedabad. In working with men across many places, we need to start a reverse ‘sanskritisation’ process, so that the inglorious contradictions around the status of women can be addressed in a sustainable manner.
— The author is a doctor with training in obstetrics, paediatrics and public health and has over twenty years of experience in grassroots work, training, research and policy advocacy. He is founder member of the alliance on men and gender equality MASVAW, and the reproductive health and rights network Healthwatch Forum.
Ensuring Women’s Reproductive Rights
India’s maternal mortality ratio is currently at 167 (SRS 2011-13) which is significantly down from 301 in 2001-03. The dismal child sex ratio of 918 females per 1,000 males in the country as per the Census 2011 is a constant reminder to relook at the social rubric of the country and an urgent call to action that efforts needs to be strengthened across sectors to bring the change.
– Vinoj Manning
A large number of women in India even today have little or no control over their reproductive and sexual rights. In the last few months, many cases have been highlighted in the media where girls and women have been raped or assaulted, political leaders have given statements like women should have four or even more children, and the Supreme Court of India’s refusal to categorise marital rape as a punishable offense.
The Cairo Consensus from the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development Reproductive rights reaffirmed that “these (human) rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have information and means to do so; and the right to attain the highest standards of sexual and reproductive health. It also includes their right to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence, as expressed in human rights documents”. But despite the international consensus and impetus to reform the national programme to include a rights-based approach, women continue to have little control over their reproductive rights placing them in a position of poor control over their reproductive health.
The Beijing Platform for Action (1995) stated: “Good health is essential to leading a productive and fulfilling life, and the right of all women to control all aspects of their health, in particular their own fertility, is basic to empowerment. Neglect of women’s reproductive rights severely limits their opportunities in public and private life, including opportunities for education, economic and political empowerment. The ability of women to control their own fertility forms an important basis for the enjoyment of other rights. Governments should, therefore, pursue social, human development, education and employment policies to eliminate poverty among women in order to reduce their susceptibility to ill health and improve their own health.”
The last few years have witnessed a steep decline in the maternal and infant mortality indicators in India, reducing the gap between the actual status and the target set under the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). India’s maternal mortality ratio is currently at 167 (SRS 2011-13) which is significantly down from 301 in 2001-03. UNICEF estimates that 58 per cent of women in the age group of 20-49
Despite a liberal law that allows medical termination of pregnancy, unsafe abortion contributes to eight per cent of maternal mortality and millions of women suffer from complication that often go undocumented are married or enter into union before the age of 18. An early entry into sexual life in conjunction with poor literacy rates, high school dropout rates, marginalised economic status and poor participation in the formal workforce places a distressingly high number of women and their children at substantial risk to health and life. Women further face an additional dimension of risk due to the social stigma associated with reproductive health issues such as abortion. Despite a liberal law that allows medical termination of pregnancy (under certain conditions), unsafe abortion contributes to eight per cent of maternal mortality and millions of women suffer from complication that often go undocumented.
There are efforts being made to address these issues; for instance, national and state-level policies and campaigns have been designed to address maternal and child health and mortality (Janani –Shishu Suraksha Karyakram), sexual and reproductive health of adolescents (Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram), gender-biased sex selection and girls’ education (Beti Bachao Beti Padhao). Civil society and development partners need to continue to play a critical role in ensuring that these interventions benefit those who need them the most in remote and inaccessible areas of the country and also ensure that the voices of the marginalised are adequately represented.
Another multifaceted challenge is posed by deep-rooted patriarchal values which lead to lower positioning of women in society. Both women and men are affected by a social system with strictly prescribed gender roles and a marked preference for male progeny, one that has barely any space to recognise women’s contribution to the development of the country. The dismal child sex ratio of 918 females per 1,000 males in the country as per the Census 2011 data is a constant reminder to relook at the social rubric of the country and an urgent call to action that efforts needs to be strengthened across sectors to bring the change.
True reproductive rights autonomy and ownership of decision-making among the women arises out of a range of facilitating factors depending on a diverse set of socio-cultural and economic factors. Therefore, any step to attain this goal would require concerted multi-sectoral and multi-partner efforts to deliver for girls and women in India.
— The author leads Ipas India’s multi-disciplinary team that works at the national level with program interventions in 14 states. His keen area of interest is strengthening the capacities of the health system to provide high-quality services for women.
Ignore at Your Peril… the Rising Aspirations of Indian Women
Post liberalisation, India has witnessed the rising aspirations of young women and girls who now dare to dream. The portrayal of women in the media, films and advertisements has also undergone a sea change, though a few exceptions projecting negative gender stereotypes can still be seen. Change is inevitable. The question is, can we give direction and speed to it?
– Dr A. L. Sharada
Thanks to the liberalisation of the economy and the influence of globalisation, there has been a vast change in the aspirations of young Indians including women and girls in the last twenty years. Unlike the previous generations, the post 1990 generation was exposed, apart from the market forces, to a more open and inclusive world. The time zones collapsed with 24×7 cable television networks that made young people stay awake till late into nights to watch sports and their favourite Rom-Coms. The lifestyles and fashion statements of film, pop and sports stars influenced them, bringing a change in the way they dressed and talked. The internet provided them easy access to information which tailored their opinions.
The large youth population of the country made India the most favoured market for the global cosmetic and beauty industry leading to Indian women winning the crowns at international beauty pageants. Global software giants’ also set up their shops in the country, opening up employment opportunities for women, who emerged as the most important market for FMCG companies. For once everybody could dream big and the walls between the different classes collapsed. The same lifestyles were watched and followed by young people—men and women—across classes, castes, regions and other identities. It was now possible for each one of them to dream of owning a sports car or wearing a designer outfit, getting that dream job or a role in a film. How far had it become possible to actually realise those dreams, is a different issue. But the fact remains that they have aspirations.
However, while both young men and women were equally exposed to the new lifestyles and values through pop culture, attempts by women to exercise their choices has resulted in a strong backlash from right-wing activists and conservative segments of the society—in the form of attacks on women going to pubs, moral policing and honour killings.
Thus, in the case of girls and women, these aspirations were also accompanied by a desire to change the social realities that restricted their ambitions and aspirations. Freedom from social restrictions on movement and dressing, freedom to access public spaces and transport, freedom from violence and freedom from injustice are the new expectations of women who are caught in the conflict between the old mores and the new emerging global culture.
The brutal gang rape of Nirbhaya epitomised the deep-seated biases that promote violence against women and further strengthened the voices of women demanding change. Media played a big role in the subsequent legal action taken to protect women against gender-based violence. In fact the Nirbhaya incident marked a turning point in activism for women’s rights in India. Suddenly one found widespread consciousness and concern for the same.
The rising group of middle class women with aspirations for equality, choice and agency is the new target group (TG) for the media and the media is increasingly seen projecting them in its stories. This is true of advertising, films, print and electronic media too. The increasing power of social media is also responsible for keeping the issue alive in the public domain.
Last year we could shortlist 54 advertisements and 15 movies for the Laadli Media and Advertising Awards for Gender Sensitivity (LMAAGS) which was far more than before. The fact that women centric movies—English Vinglish, Kahani, Queen, Mary Kom, Piku—were box office hits indicates that the audiences, particularly women, are ready to patronise films which show women in non-stereotypical roles. It is also heartening to note that an out and out commercial film like Dil Dhadakne Do managed to highlight the issue of gender discrimination and how it is normalized in families with violence and patriarchal control seen even in the so called modern households. There is a trend of portraying women who are willing to make their choices and fight for their rights, dignity and self respect. Yet, there is a lot that needs to change, as in many instances the films while trying to project women exercising their choice end up reinforcing the patriarchal control of men over them, example Chennai Express and Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania. It is ultimately men who decide for her.
A similar hesitancy is also seen in advertising. The best example is the Airtel advertisement. While the advertisement shows the woman as being the boss of her husband in the office, she is also shown as a woman who cooks a lavish meal for her husband once she returns home after a hard day at work, thus glorifying the double burden of working women. The conversation that the advertisement caused is interesting and important for engaging more people in questioning the stereotypes. A number of advertisements have subtly as well as aggressively questioned the gender stereotypes. While the Docomo advertisement with a boy and young man screaming and running out of the bathroom on seeing a cockroach subtly challenges the perception that only girls and women do so, the Havells advertisement— We Are Not Appliances—are “in your face” kind of communication that ask men to treat women with respect. The most important point to note is that both the ads are accepted and appreciated by the viewers.
I was pleasantly surprised to watch for the first time an advertisement that showed a pregnant woman in an office context. The advertisement had nothing to do with motherhood or care of the unborn. Pregnant women are as much a part of the organization as other women but they were never ever shown earlier while depicting an office. Single career women and single mothers are also portrayed in the advertisements initiating considerable conversation on social media. I must mention here that a number of advertisements have also been featuring elderly women pursuing hobbies, driving cars and being independent, which reflects once again the changing lifestyles of women who are striving to live with dignity and independence once the children move out of their lives. Women and girls with disability are also being portrayed as empowered individuals and not as objects of pity which once again shows the sensitivity towards diversity. Increased visibility of women from diverse backgrounds, different roles and age groups in the media and advertisements would help counter the perception of women either as sex objects or nurturers.
The most heartening is the projection of men in advertisements. For the first time we see a number of advertisements which show men in caring, nurturing and supportive roles as fathers and husbands at home. Are the portrayals of more egalitarian relationships between the men and women at home in advertisements a reflection of the lived in realities of many young advertising professionals who are scripting these narratives? If yes, then the change is here to stay.
There is a symbiotic relationship between the “aspirational India” and the “market economy”. Media and advertising as tools of the market economy cannot but reflect and resonate with the dreams and ambitions of the aspirational India. Change is inevitable. The question is, can we give direction and speed to it?
—Dr A. L. Sharada is a teacher, trainer and researcher who has been in development sector for the last 23 years. She is currently spearheading two important projects – Laadli Media Advocacy and AMCHI Rural Development initiative- of Population First.
Men, Masculinity, Patriarchy and Gender Equality
Gender equality is not a zero-sum game. Rather in order to unravel the centuries of patriarchal beliefs, we must work with men and boys, women and girls at every level and insist on the gains of gender equality for both.
– Ravi K. Verma
A recent study conducted by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) reported that six in ten men admitted to violence against their spouse or partner. This eye-opening data indeed is helping throw light on the grim realities that many women in India face, both in public space and within their own homes. But in conveying these numbers, many may miss what truly lies at the heart of the matter. The harmful, deeply held beliefs about what it means “to be a man”, has led to gender discrimination of all forms, including unequal sex ratio, and in effect, the high prevalence of violence against women.
The reason we embarked on this study, was to take a look at the seven states— Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra— where the level of Sex Ratio at Birth (SRB), that is, the number of girls born alive per 1,000 boys born alive, is a cause for concern. In the study, masculinity was measured by two factors: How controlling men are, or believe that they are entitled to, toward women; and their beliefs about the equality of men and women. For example, three-fourth of the men (75 per cent) expected their partner to agree if they wanted to have sex and more than half (50 per cent) did not expect their partners to use contraceptives without their permission. A substantial number of men (66 per cent) agreed to the statement that “I have more say than she has on important decisions that affect us”.
Overall, we found that 45 per cent of the men were moderate in the degree to which they exercised control in their intimate relationships and in their belief about gender equality. Nearly one-third of the men (32 per cent) demonstrated a more rigid masculinity, in that they were extremely controlling over women and also believed that women and men are inherently unequal. Only 23 per cent of the men were equitable in behaviour and attitudes towards women. The degree to which men expressed their rigid masculine attitudes and behaviour varied from one state to another. (See the map to learn about the relative ranking of each state in relation to other states based on preference for sons, masculinity and intimate partner violence for both men and women combined.)
However, the study confirmed that more rigidly held beliefs like what should or should not women wear, whom they should speak to, whether they should work or not, as well as the belief that men are superior to women; lead men to perpetrate violence against intimate partners and prefer sons against daughters, at a significantly higher level. Conversely, gender equitable men preferred both sons and daughters equally and were less violent towards their partners.
While myriad factors lead to violence against women and other forms of discrimination, what our study reiterates and which is irrevocably true is that strongly held masculine ideas are dictated by long-held and widely understood structural norms around what is expected of men in order to be a “real man”, in a strong patriarchal society like India. The study further confirmed that dispossessed and economically stressed men and men with troubled childhood and exposure to violence are far more violent than their counterparts. They have much stronger preference for sons and have dislike for daughters. These men find themselves inadequate in meeting the societal expectations to be effective providers and protectors. As a result, they become increasingly violent and discriminatory.
So where do we go from here? Sex selection, the resulting decline in the number of daughters and increasing number of sons, have serious consequences for the communities, which manifest in different forms. One such form is violence against women. It is important not only to document the magnitude of the problems of declining sex ratio and intimate partner violence in quantitative terms, but also to address the underlying causes and consequences that result from the ripple effects of aggressive masculine ideology.
Evidence tells us that it is simply not enough to focus on empowering women and girls to tackle violence on their own. Nor is it desirable to work exclusively with men and boys lest it reinforces the patronising patriarchal beliefs. What must be remembered here is that gender equality is not a zero-sum game. Rather in order to unravel the centuries of patriarchal beliefs, we must work with men and boys, women and girls at every level and insist on the gains of gender equality for both. We need to question the practices and challenge the institutionalised norms that reinforce male superiority and female subordination and nurture gender inequality. As such, we must provide support to programmes in schools, government organisations, families and communities to challenge and uproot these beliefs and norms.
— The author is the Regional Director of ICRW, Asia Regional Office, based in New Delhi. He is also one of the members of High Level Committee on the Status of Women (HLCSW), Government of India.
My ‘Tryst’ with the law on pre-birth sex selection
The PC-PNDT Act was enacted in 2003. But because of the lackadaisical attitude of the government at the Centre and the states; serious incongruities and contradiction in the policy; and the prevailing ‘social mindset’ against a female child; sex ratio at birth is declining. Constant vigilance and proactive supervision is the need of the hour.
As the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, in March 1991, when I looked at the fresh results of the 1991 census, the phenomenon of adverse sex ratio at birth confronted me. I flagged the issue of sharp decline in sex ratio in the 0-6 age group pointing towards increased sex selective elimination during the previous decade (1981-91). The stark statistics woke the government up, and on being nudged by civil society activists, the Central Government enacted the law known as Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act 1994. But the lobby of vested interests viewed it as a law that was framed not to penalise the erring doctors and ultrasonologists easily. The law came into force in 1996 after much dilly-dallying and was not implemented in spirit.
When I was working as a Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in 2000, the civil society activists led by Dr. Sabu M. George, Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT) and Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal (MASUM), filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court. We began to proactively implement the law in the states and districts. Sabu was a great activist, he supported us and also criticised our actions of omissions and commissions. The first two cases of well-planned and well-orchestrated surprise raids with decoy customers in Faridabad district shook the vested interests groups, and the methodical handling of the cases ended in conviction engendered hope across the government and civil society organisations that the law does have teeth and can be implemented if there is a strong will and determination.
I played the role of activating the law implementation machinery at state and district levels through regular monitoring, reviews and involvement of activists, civil society and the medical professionals in varied ways. The Central Supervisory Board met regularly and training/orientation of appropriate authorities was given a practical shape.
The suggestions for amendments of the law were processed and the amended Act, known as the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (PC-PNDT) Act 2003, was enacted giving more teeth to the law, and thus widening the scope of sex selection and making it more gender-sensitive. More and more cases got instituted and yet sadly even today there are still not many substantive cases. A lot more remains to be done.
Constant vigilance and proactive supervision is the need of the hour. During my stint with civil society (after my superannuation from government), we have been having the rendezvous with the issue of adverse sex ratio at birth, which I consider as one of the most dangerous issues facing India.
Lack of focus on law implementation including the lackadaisical attitude of the government at the Centre and the states; serious incongruities and contradiction in the policy front (e.g. the restrictive two-child norm exacerbating the practice of sex selection); and the authorities showing helplessness on the plea or alibi of the prevailing ‘social mindset’ where there is preference for a son and aversion for a daughter; are complicating the issue and worsening sex ratio at birth all the more. The intersectionality of this phenomenon needs to be recognised and tackled while making law enforcement more accountable and focussed. In no case should the social mindset plea blur the accountability of law enforcement authorities. Targets and timeline accountability should be set for each area and monitored very closely. Surprise raids resorting to decoy customers have to be a frequent phenomenon in medical facilities. Assistance of passionate and honest social activists and community-based organisations need to be taken in this effort. Care must be taken not to resort to gender insensitive monitoring of poor rural women’s pregnancies. Instead, medical clinics and diagnostic facilities should be the target of monitoring. This has brought good results in the past too.
We have a good law. Let us not give it a bad name. The motto should be to implement the law in letter and spirit. All that is needed to catch the culprits and punish them, is firm political and administrative “will”, generous resources (human and financial) and stern accountability with rewards as well as punishments.
Each functionary dealing with the law on sex selection and the policies and programmes around the issue of adverse sex ratio at birth needs to be passionate about her/his work. In short, they need to have a ‘tryst’ with this issue of saving the girls (BetiBachao).
The author is a former RGI-Census Commissioner, India, and Secretary, Ministry of Health (Govt of India), and Executive Director, Population Foundation of India. At present he is advising Grass Root Support Foundation on the issue of adverse sex ratio at birth.
‘No More’ Intimate Partner Violence
To address overall violence against women and girls, it is pertinent to address the root cause of the issue existing at various levels—individual, relationship, community and societal—through a comprehensive strategy aimed at reducing the prevalence and providing survivors with appropriate services.
Despite the existence of stringent laws, development policies and commitments to gender equality in the country, and the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1993, women and girls continue to be discriminated even in the 21st century India due to regressive patriarchal and social norms. One of the most adverse consequences of gender inequality is violence against women and girls, which takes various forms—physical, sexual, psychological and economic. These forms of violence are interconnected and affect women at all stages of life through sex-biased abortions, son preference, intimate partner violence, sexual assault, rape, child marriage, bride-burning, trafficking and honour killings among others.
According to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) Report 2014, every four minutes a woman in India suffers cruelty at the hands of her husband or relatives. What does this imply? It portrays a grim scenario—the biggest threat to a woman’s safety and well being isn’t from a stranger but from someone who is known to her. A woman facing intimate partner violence (IPV) undergoes physical, sexual, psychological and emotional abuse that may lead to immediate and long-term damages.
IPV is not just limited to low- and medium-income countries like India, but is a global problem. It is seen in all settings, amongst all socio-economic, religious and cultural groups. Though IPV can impact both men and women, however, the overwhelming global burden is borne by women. One out of three women worldwide has experienced physical and/or sexual violence by her partner (WHO Multi-Country Study, 2005).
Violence is often used as a tool to exert power and control over women and girls. It deprives women of the power of decision-making and negotiation. Culturally, the social system legitimises violence and male dominance over females. Thus violence is a conditioned behaviour. It is seen as a personal and domestic matter, as a part of married life, putting the onus of guilt on women for ‘having done something wrong’ which even they would not be aware of. Most of the women in violent relationships are unable to either stop the violence against them and their children or leave their abusive partner. The reasons often cited by them are: economic dependency, children’s need to have a father or the fear of losing the custody of their children in case of a divorce, lack of support from family and friends, fear of stigma and hope that the partner will change.
Ramification of violence on women and girls is serious and long-lasting especially when it is inflicted by the people who are known and close to them. It adversely affects women’s psychological, emotional, mental and physical well-being. Intimate violence and sexual violence have been recognised as violation of women’s human rights, including her right to freedom from discrimination (CEDAW General Recommendations). It is a serious public health issue. In India, 28 per cent of women have reported facing violence during pregnancy that threatens the health of both the mother and baby (NFHS 3). Children of abused women also have a higher risk of mortality before reaching the age of five (Black, M.C. (2011). IPV and adverse health consequences: Implications for clinicians. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 5, 428-439). Ten per cent have reported that their husbands have physically forced them to have sex, which is often unprotected and thus potentially exposes them to sexually transmitted infections (STIs). As per NFHS 3, if all women had the liberty to have only the number of children they wanted, the total fertility rate would have been 1.9 instead of 2.7. This clearly indicates that they have no say on the decisions related to the size of the family.
One of the most pertinent issues India faces is the declining child sex ratio (CSR). As per 2011 Census, the CSR at 918 girls per 1,000 boys in the 0-6 age group has come down from 927/1,000 in the 2001 Census. The sex ratio at birth (SRB) in 2013 at 909 is way down from the normal expected ratio. This declining trend in SRB and CSR highlights the pressing concern that for the past many decades fewer girls are being born and surviving as compared to boys, a strong evidence for son preference over daughters. Due to entrenched patriarchal norms valuing boys over girls, women with limited control over their reproductive health and rights are usually coerced and manipulated by their partners and/or relatives to undergo unsafe sex-biased abortions.
Women who have been subjected to violence often seek medical help, including for their injuries, even if they do not disclose about the abuse or violence. The healthcare provider is likely to be the first professional contact who can provide the first line support to survivors of intimate partner violence, sexual assault and domestic violence (WHO Clinical and Policy Guidelines). Ironically, due to lack of clear policy and guidance on healthcare response to intimate partner and limited institutional support, most of the cases of IPV go unidentified and untreated. However, in 2013, WHO came out with Clinical and Policy Guidelines on standards that can act as basis for national guidelines and for integrating clinical response and care of IPV survivors into healthcare provider education and training. Apart from healthcare needs, women facing IPV may also need other kinds of multi-sectoral support—legal, psycho-social, financial and shelter. Healthcare providers can act as the first point for referrals.
To address overall violence against women and girls, it is pertinent to address the root cause of the issue existing at various levels—individual, relationship, community and societal—through a comprehensive strategy aimed at reducing the prevalence and providing survivors with appropriate services. In order to create an enabling and supportive environment for women to live healthy, productive and happy lives, the programmes need to consider the impact at four levels: strengthening women and girls’ agency; addressing negative social and gender norms so that there is zero social tolerance to violence; strengthening institutional capacity to provide gender transformative services and provisions as outlined in the Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA), 2005; and building political will for greater commitment and investment of resources.
Recently while delivering the keynote address at the Women’s 20 (W-20) Summit in Ankara, Turkey, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said: “Women’s empowerment is not just a fundamentally moral cause; it is also an absolute economic no-brainer.” This makes it amply clear that to make women empowerment a reality, a nation has to ensure that its women and girls have equal rights and equal access to opportunities as men and boys, in a safe and secured environment without fear of violence, both inside and outside their homes
—TanushreeSoni has been working on gender and social justice for past 18 years. She is committed to promoting gender equality with focus on women and girls’ rights in reference to sexual and reproductive health, education and gender-based violence. She is currently working as Associate Director-Programs with Population Service International (PSI)
Preventing & combating trafficking of girls in the Northeast
The primary factors facilitating trafficking in the region are displacement due to conflicts, natural disasters and development projects. But besides introduction of welfare schemes and legislation of new laws; civic consciousness, involvement of the general public and demand for proper implementation of the existing laws, are among the numerous ways to combat it.
- DrMelvil Pereira
It was October 2015. Two girls were sharing a rented room with two men in Satgaon, located near Narengi in the eastern part of Guwahati. The young men and girls were new-comers to the turf. But neighbours smelt something fi shy and the local Mahila Samiti (women’s association) sounded the police. The police acted on time, arrested the young men and began an investigation. Their story soon unraveled: the young men were from Assam and the innocent girls from Bru IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps in Kanchanpur sub-division in Tripura. The girls were brought to Guwahati without the knowledge of their parents on a vague promise of marriage. The MahilaSamiti thus managed to rescue the girls from the clutches of an organised gang of human traffickers. The girls were given shelter at the Assam Women’s Home and two months later sent back to their parents with the help of Tripura police.
Those girls were amongst the few lucky ones who because of the neighbours’ vigilance and civic engagement had a remarkable rescue. Rather than risking entry into the monstrous life of a degrading domestic worker, or even worse, sexual slavery, the girls went back to their loving families. Yes, the girls were amongst the fortunate ones who were rescued at this stage. Hundreds of unfortunate girls are taken to Delhi and other urban centers to work either as closeted domestic labourers or as marriage partners to strange and desperate men in some northern states of India, or worse still, forced into flesh trade.
The statistics of missing children in Assam is staggering. By official count, as many as 9,500 children went missing from different districts of Assam between 2007 and June 2014. Only 3,840 of them have been traced so far (The Hindustan Times, September 3, 2015). According to Assam’s Crime Investigation Department, as many as 4,754 children went missing from January 2012-October 2014. The number of female children who go missing every year is more than double the number of male children. The girl children are systematically targeted by the traffickers mainly for child prostitution. For instance, in 2012 alone, 797 female and 357 male children went missing. These are figures of cases which are reported. A much bigger number go unreported, and hence one does not know the exact magnitude of the problem.
During the past decade, Northeast India and Assam in particular, has become the source, the transit route and even the destination for trafficked children. According to Digambar Narzary of NEDAN Foundation, children from the Northeast, especially girls, are trafficked as domestic workers to big cities of India and in many cases physically abused and sexually exploited. Many minor girls are sold at brothels for child prostitution. Some adolescent girls are used as brides in states with low sex ratio like Haryana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. Recent findings reveal that minor boys from Assam, as young as nine years, are trafficked as low-priced labourers to work in hideous conditions in garment industries of South India.
The primary factors facilitating easy trafficking are displacement due to conflicts, natural disasters and development projects. Studies show that frequent natural calamities such as recurrent floods and droughts have affected the livelihood of people and adversely impact their food security. Similarly, ethnic conflicts in Assam have resulted in people taking refuge in IDP camps from where they are trafficked. For example, a large number of teenage girls disappeared from the camps in and around Kokrajhar after the 1996 Bodo-Santhal conflict. Likewise, people losing land to development projects are compelled to take up daily wage employment at very low pay. These three categories of people are forced to experience what sociologists call downward occupational mobility and have become vulnerable to exploitation by devious forces in society. Traffickers promise them a good job in metros like Delhi and Mumbai and turn them, for all practical purposes, into slave labourers.
The tea garden labourers and their children are one of the most vulnerable groups in Assam. According to a study done by NEDAN Foundation (2013), the push factors or reasons for human trafficking at source are displacement due to conflicts, land loss due to floods, and loss of livelihood after the closure of several tea gardens. It has resulted in poverty which is so acute that parents are prepared to send their daughters with anyone who gives them hope of a better life for their child.
Adding to all this is the dismal state of education, lack of job opportunities and poor implementation of the Right to Education Act and of poorly funded child protection schemes.
The pull factors or reasons for trafficking are: the demand for domestic helps in metros like Delhi and Mumbai; demand for flesh trade and allied activities (spas, massage parlours) especially in big cities and places like Goa; and the demand for girls for marriage in states with low sex ratio. Many get duped into attractive offers like good salary and better living conditions in urban areas. They want to help their families financially, a noble desire that condemns them to the most miserable of lives.
An equally important reason for the success of traffickers is poor law enforcement. According to Supreme Court (SC) guidelines, the general diary entry has to be substituted by FIR and the charge sheet should be made stronger by including as many sections in it as possible. The SC says that the police should be proactive and intervene within the first seven days of the child going missing. But these guidelines of the Supreme Court are seldom followed. If the state government and law enforcement agencies are proactive, there is much scope for nabbing the culprits. For example, in December 2014, the Assam Police rescued 1,400 missing children out of 2,713 in just 22 days after the Supreme Court demanded action from the Government of Assam in tracing the missing children and busting the human trafficking networks. Unfortunately, such proactive action is rare and is almost an exception rather than a rule. For example, there was the case of an Adivasi girl from Karbi Anglong, sold to a family in Nagaland a decade ago and not rescued by the police even after a complaint was lodged with them and the family was identified.
The Assam Government has roped in Bachpan Bachao Andolan for the rehabilitation and welfare of trafficked children. This is a curative intervention which is important. However, emphasis should also be put on the preventive measures. One of those is tackling poverty among the tea garden workers. Given the fact that a large chunk of missing children are of tea gardens labourers, child activists insist that the government pay attention to the enforcement of just wages to tea garden workers. According to Walter Fernandes of North Eastern Social Research Centre, Guwahati, because of low wages and deplorable living conditions, tea gardens in Assam have become a hotbed for child trafficking. His study on the educational status of children of the tea garden workers of Assam showed the failure of the tea garden management to implement the Plantation Labourers’ Act. Not even one school in the 145 gardens studied in nine districts had a trained teacher. What was called a school was, more often than not, a decrepit building without any facilities. In many cases, a literate garden worker taught the children before going to work in the factory. Often teaching stopped in the peak leaf plucking season. Many children worked in the garden and they were paid surreptitiously as part of the “family wage.” No wonder, a large number of them longed to move away from the garden to what they considered ‘greener pastures’, and were thus exploited by the traffickers.
If special courts are needed to combat the devastating consequences of rape, can these not be duplicated to protect children, who are even more innocent and powerless? This can be done and trafficking itself can be severely curbed with greater civic consciousness and involvement of the general public like the vigilant women of Satgaon in Guwahati demonstrated. Constant demands by the people of the Northeast would bulldoze the police and courts to protect our most vulnerable fellow citizens. Having a new law will not, by itself, solve the problem. It is clear that law enforcement is weak in the region. An alert and caring citizenry must demand that existing laws are aggressively enforced and that traffickers are given the maximum sentence. Justice must be swift and sure to provide deterrence.
The writer is Director of North Eastern Social Research Centre, Guwahati. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Promoting Gender Sensitive Reporting
The media must not become judgmental in everything it reports. Taking sides is not and must not be the job of the journalists.
– Lotty Alaric
“Thodaaurzor se ronaplease.Storyme impact yaajaegana,”saida television journalist trying to pressurise a sexual assault victim to help add spice to the story. We over and over again come across such cold-hearted reporters with no empathy towards the wounded. By inflating the story and giving insensitive remarks, often the reporters and the media houses try to add zest to their narrative to increase viewership. The public loves sensualisation, but journalists also have a social responsibility which they tend to overlook.
Nonetheless media plays a significant role in bringing to limelight all kinds of news. And when we talk of gender sensitive stories, the media time and again taken up cudgels. The Jessica Lal murder case and Nirbhaya case are just to name a few. From reporting candle marches to street protests, the media has generated enough steam for the judiciary to take notice and pronounce verdicts. But not all cases are high profile or gruesome enough to get media attention. Crimes against women take place in India so rampantly that it makes one cringe. It is true that the manner in which they come to the forefront is only through the media. But the problem arises when no sensitivity is shown in reporting crimes, specifically against women. It is imperative that certain constraints must be observed.
Some stories are reported from the interiors of the country picked up by stringers working in remote areas. The stringers come from the same social milieu and their own conditioning is often archaic to say the least. Their patriarchal mindset is so strong that it reflects in the manner in which they report these stories. As a result, the stories are reported in a way that flouts all journalistic regulations.
Male child preference is a reality in our remote areas. Not to say that it is not so in the urban areas, but definitely much more pronounced in the rural set up. So when a stringer picks up a story that actually demands a certain degree of constraint and sensitivity; it may not actually be reported that way. The person’s own dislike or aversion may be highlighted in the story.
Now this is where gender sensitisation of the reporters or stringers comes into focus. The publication or the TV channel must not just think of adding one more story with gory details just to feed the public’s minds for increasing television rating point (TRP), the new cuss word in media circles. Some would argue that self-regulations are taken into consideration but we all know that the truth is far from it. Quite often we get to watch reports of crimes against women with anchors describing every detail animatedly, which may make you throw up.
And God forbid if a celebrity is involved; the media turns into a moral police asking uncomfortable questions even before the trial may have begun. Judgmental reporters who suddenly adorn holier than thou attitude go hammer and tongs at the celebrities as if they have no right to any privacy, spilling their dirty secrets under the pretext of the freedom of press. The word expose has taken a new meaning all together.
It’s pertinent to train the stringers and reporters from far away towns and villages on how to report gender sensitive stories. Simple things like not naming the victim, not showing their faces, not shoving the mikes in the faces of the victims or their family members who may be in no state to talk, are just to name a few.
“Aapkokaisa lag rahahai?” (How do you feel) are words that get the viewer’s or the readers’ goat for heaven’s sake. Intimate details of the victim are put up for display for the readers’ or viewers’ pleasure in the most horrific manner.
It’s time that the media houses, whether print or electronic, take cognizance of the fact that irresponsible reporting of gender sensitive issues cannot be left to the discretion of the stringer or reporter coming from remote areas themselves without proper training. Not to say that all stringers from the interiors are insensitive, but it’s important to follow certain regulations in order to be responsible and effective. It’s important to know the basics of reporting so as not to hurt anyone’s sentiments and make everything public. Every human has a right to be protected and more so when we report crimes against women.
The media must not become judgmental in everything it reports. Reporters must not try to become activists but simply report facts and be fair to their profession. Journalism is a profession, which can thrive only if it is totally fair and completely unbiased. Taking sides is not and must not be the job of the journalists.
-The author is a senior media person with Lok Sabha TV who anchors the popular shows Gender Discourse and Healthy India.
The nexus between safety of women and daughter aversion
The co-relation between violence against women and skewed child sex ratio is complex. Declining child sex ratio is a manifestation of increasing gender based violence and an indicator of poor status of women and girls in the society.
Many of us may not have noticed a small piece that appeared in a newspaper a few months back on an agitation by a group of women from Rattakheda village of Jind district, Haryana. ‘Suraksha do yabhrunhatyakiijaazat’ (protect us or permit us to kill female foetus). This was the demand made by the women of Rattakheda village to the local administration. The agitation pressing for safety and security of women and girls is understandable but the demand to permit sex selective elimination needs to be looked into with more sensitivity and seriousness in the context of its linkages with the culture of ‘daughter aversion’.
According to Karmendra Kaur, Protection Officer, Rohtak and Jind, Haryana, “Here the bargaining may not be justified, but safety and security of women is certainly the responsibility of the state and society. Today, women are not safe because of their lesser number. In Haryana, less number of girls has led to their trafficking for marriages. Certainly, sex selection is not the solution but the cause of the problem.”
The issue of safety of women has become a huge concern. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data 2013, reports of crimes against women in India such as rape, dowry deaths, abduction and molestation increased by 26.7 per cent in 2013 compared to the previous year.
The co-relation between violence against women and skewed child sex ratio is complex. Declining Child Sex Ratio (DCSR) is a manifestation of increasing gender based violence and an indicator of poor status of women and girls in the society. Evidences from regions with skewed sex ratio indicate the DCSR could contribute to increased violence against women, trafficking, increase in practices such as polyandry and overall rise in crime against women and general social disorder.
The Census of India 2011 data shows only 918 girls to 1,000 boys, the most skewed ratio since India’s independence. In some regions, such as the northern state of Haryana, there are only 834 girls to a thousand boys. Statistics reveal that 10 million girls were eliminated in India through gender biased sex selection in the last two decades.
“The deeply entrenched patriarchal social norms, prevailing views of daughter aversion and sex ratios and gender biased sex selection, the dowry-related link, and, the general sense of insecurity in light of high prevalence rates of gender-based violence, is fuelling a significant drop in female births throughout the country,” says Mary John in her book titled Sex Ratios and Gender Biased Sex Selection History, Debates and Future Directions; 2014.
The existing forms of discrimination and violence against women emanate from this patriarchal mindset. Further patriarchy manifests and sustains itself on multiple forms of violence and discrimination. Sex selection, high infant mortality among girls, lack of access to healthcare and education for girls, early marriage, forced pregnancies, dowry deaths, domestic violence, lack of sexual autonomy and choice, wage inequality, exclusion from economic participation, landlessness, lack of political participation, etc. are all forms of discrimination and gender-based violence.
While laws exist that strive for providing equal status to women, the same need to be supplemented by a change in mindset. Investing in increasing the value of the girl child is most pertinent to achieving gender equality. However, laws to check gender discrimination and preference for a son in India are often ineffective, and in many cases, may advance discriminatory practices. A report published by Advocate Kirti Singh, “Laws and Son Preference in India” reviewed the key laws relating to women, including sex selection, dowry, inheritance, child marriage and sexual assault. The findings of the report reveal how the laws themselves, and their interpretation, non-implementation or absence, may directly or indirectly propagate preference for a son.
The first ever gender manifesto released by women’s groups in 2013 highlights the need for a gender inclusive approach to policy and greater role of women in decision-making which alone will lead to a change in perspective and pave way for more egalitarian laws and policies.
The absence of women in key policy-making and decision-making positions has resulted in laws that often fail to take into account the differential experiences of men and women. It’s time that the government and the civil society along with making policies address the socio-cultural attributes and practices that perpetuate daughter aversion. This could be possible through effective partnership and an all-inclusive approach.
– Stalin K
Unwanted is thy name
In the Satara region of Maharashtra, parents name their third or fourth daughter as Nakusa (unwanted), with the hope that the next child would be a son. It is a way of telling God that the family does not want more girls.
Gender discrimination in India is a well accepted reality but stories on ‘unwanted’ girls barely make news. In many parts of India, a boy born after the birth of several daughters is often named after a Hindu God to thank divinity for gifting the family a son. This practice arising out of a combination of gender bias and superstition has been prevalent in the rural areas of some districts in Maharashtra since decades, but the practice of naming girls as Nakusas (unwanted) came to the public eye only when a renaming function was organised by the district administration of Satara.
More than 280 Nakusas were given new names during the ceremony. The new names were given with the aim to give a new identity to these girls who were registered with the local civic authority. During the renaming function, parents took the oath to protect their daughters, discourage discrimination and refrain from using the name Nakusa/Nakoshi.
Nakusa girls represent one of the most horrifying manifestations of patriarchy and discrimination in rural India. In the Satara region of Maharashtra, parents desperately wanting a son, name their daughters as Nakusa/Nakoshi which means unwanted in local Marathilanguage, with the belief and hope that the next child will be a boy. It is a way of telling the God(s) the family does not want more girls.
A study based on a sample survey of Nakusa households conducted by the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) in the selected villages of Satara district in 2013 brought to light many dimensions of gender discrimination and its impact on young girls (Shijith and Sekher, 2015). Most Nakusas are either the third or the fourth daughter of their parents. They face discrimination and socio-psychological problems due to their peculiar name and are the silent victims of one of the most visible form of gender bias. Humiliation is the foremost problem experienced by these girls, followed by inferiority complex and mental stress. None of them like the name Nakusa and many of these girls did not even know what the meaning of their name was in their early years. They discovered it only when they were taunted in school. It was disheartening for them to know that they were unwanted for their parents and family. However, the study observed that parents have no qualms talking about why they named their daughters as Nakusa. They publically declared that their daughter was ‘unwanted’ and so was named as Nakusa.
Most Nakusa girls have been victims of humiliation and ill-treatment at home as well as in the community. They wanted to change their names, but their parents were not ready. So the renaming ceremony made them happy as they got a new name of their choice, and a new identity too. The government officials and social activists who led the ‘renaming’ campaign believe that new names will help to end the embarrassment these girls faced in the society and boost their self-esteem. But most people still continue to call them Nakusa. Hence, these girls have accepted the reality that the ‘renaming’ had very little impact on their lives.
The study also illustrates how strongly son preference coupled with traditional beliefs and sex-segregated norms resulted in discrimination against girls. The naming of a person itself signifies the influence of the culture and beliefs prevalent in that region and is more than giving the person an identity. Thus naming them Nakusas is bound to leave lasting scars on young girls.
Nakusa girls are the living examples of strong gender bias and parents and family members’ obsession to have boys. The study states that even after changing their names formally, the discrimination and humiliation the Nakusa girls face still continues.
The IIPS study on Nakusa girls also reveals that traditional beliefs and superstitions have strong influence on parents, and that is why they name their daughter as Nakusa. They name them Nakusa to show their rejection and provoke God(s) to give them a son. The Nakusa girls face many problems socially, psychologically and economically. The study highlights the need for socio-psychological as well as economic support to these ‘unwanted’ girls. If the Nakusa girls are unable to get the basic requirements of education,healthcare and more importantly parental affection, they may continue to feel unwanted and unwelcome throughout their life. Hence they have to be provided with ample opportunities to prove their potential and to establish that they are valuable assets to their family and society.
The attempt of the Satara district administration in renaming the Nakusa girls and enabling them to live with self-respect is a welcome move. But since the renaming of the girls itself does not change the attitudes of parents and community, much more needs to be done to address this form of gender discrimination. The government should initiate an appropriate mechanism for changing their names on all records/ certificates at the earliest. A special financial incentive programme for Nakusa girls needs to be implemented to ensure education and well-being of these unwanted girls, on the lines of conditional cash transfer schemes for girls.
Further, in order to save these girls from humiliation and harassment for no fault of theirs, the state government needs to initiate certain measures. It should immediately issue a circular to the Headmasters/Principals of all primary schools to monitor new school admissions. The case of any girl child enrolled in the school with the name Nakusa/Nakoshi need to be examined. If that happens, the head teacher/teachers should counsel the parents about the implications and adverse effects of naming their daughters as Nakusa, and try to convince them to select another name. This way, the humiliation the girls face throughout their life only because of their peculiar name can be avoided, though it may not ensure the lessening of discrimination due to gender. The campaign can be focused in Satara district and neighbouring areas where this naming practice is more prevalent. The Maharashtra government may also consider a special package for financially supporting these Nakusa girls, who are the silent victims of this crudest form of gender discrimination.
The Nakusa phenomenon is clearly a reflection of how low in esteem a girl child is held in different parts of the country and how the girls are being betrayed by their own families. Would a woman called Nakusa, who still continues to be a victim of gender discrimination, ever want to have a daughter?
—The writer is with International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), Mumbai. This write up is based on the article “Culture, Gender Bias and Beliefs Surrounding the Nakusa Girls of Maharashtra” by V.P. Shijith and T.V. Sekher, Economic and Political Weekly, November 2015. He can be contacted at email@example.com