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Dignity, Freedom And Justice: A Distant Dream For Indian Women – OpEd

Dignity, Freedom And Justice: A Distant Dream For Indian Women – OpEd

“Dignity, Freedom, and Justice for All” is this year’s Human Rights Day slogan. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 proclaims rights to which all human beings are entitled regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political and other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development explicitly acknowledges that it is based on the UDHR and must be implemented in a way that ensures human rights are realised. Achieve Gender Equality and Empower All Women and Girls, the fifth goal of the Sustainable Development Goals, aims to achieve gender equality, a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world. 

The Sustainable Development Agenda, adopted by UN Member states in 2015, set a deadline for the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. Now, with eight years left to meet it, India is falling behind schedule. 

India has formulated domestic policies such as Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save the girl child, educate the girl child), UJJWALA (a scheme for prevention of trafficking and Rescue, Rehabilitation and Re – integration of victims of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation), Mahila Shakthi Kendra (scheme to empower rural women) etc., to end gender equality. It has made it possible for international organisations to collaborate with state governments, local non-governmental organisations, and private corporations on a variety of projects to assist women from various socioeconomic backgrounds. Despite these efforts, India’s ranking in global gender equality surveys has not improved significantly over time.

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual Global Gender Gap Report or Index, an instrument used to assess a country’s progress toward gender equality, ranks India 135th out of 146 countries in its 2022 report. The index is based on data from four key dimensions: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, survival, and health. In terms of sub-indices, India ranked 107 in 2022 and 114 in 2021 out of 156 countries in the educational attainment category. India ranks 143rd out of 146 countries in terms of economic participation and opportunity. India ranks 48th in terms of political empowerment and ranks last in terms of health and survival.

According to the Sustainable Development Report 2022, India faces significant challenges in achieving SDG 5: Gender Equality, and progress is slow. According to the report, the proportion of women in managerial positions in listed companies, including women on boards of directors, is 190, whereas the target is 245, the rate of crimes against women is 62.4%, and the ratio of female to male average wage/salary earnings received among regular wage/salaried employees is 0.74, whereas the target is 1. The percentage of elected women in the state legislative assembly is 8.46, compared to the target of 50. The sex ratio at birth is 899, which is less than the target of 950.

According to latest data by Ministry of Education,  in 2021-22 over 12.29 crore girls enrolled in primary to higher secondary education showing an increase of 8.19 lakh compared to the enrolment of girls in 2020-21. The Gender Parity Index (GPI) of GER shows the representation of females in school education is in line with representation of girls in population of corresponding age group. The GPI value at all level of school education are one or more implying more participation of girls in the school education. While these figures show the country’s progress in enrolling girls in primary and secondary school, they do not guarantee that they are treated equally at school or have equal access to academic and non-academic opportunities. 

As per National Crime Records Bureau, incidents of crimes against women has been highest in the last year. The NCRB report also shows that the rate of crime against women (number of incidents per 1 lakh population) increased from 56.5 per cent in 2020 to 64.5 per cent in 2021. Crimes against women accounted for 4,28,278 of the six million crimes recorded, a 26.35% increase in six years. The vast majority of the cases involved kidnappings and abductions, rapes, domestic violence, dowry deaths, and assaults. 

Last year, police recorded 31,878 rapes, a significant increase from the previous year (28,153). In India, victims and survivors are stigmatised by society and frequently shamed by the police and the judiciary. The story of Bilkis Bano’s unfair treatment made international headlines, reinforcing the perception that India is often unkind to its women. 

The most recent data shows 76,263 female kidnappings and abductions, up 14% from 66,544 in 2016. Some of the crime was related to murder or ransom, and many people were trafficked for prostitution or domestic work. 

Domestic violence is mostly documented under the legal term “cruelty by husband or his relatives,” and it has consistently been the most reported violent crime against women in India. In 2021, police received 137,956 complaints from women, or about one every four minutes. It’s a 27% increase from 2016.  Such violence is not unique to India; according to the World Health Organization, one in every three women worldwide faces gender-based violence, and the figures for India are similar. But what distinguishes it here is the silence that surrounds it, even approval for violence at home. According to a recent government survey, more than 40% of women and 38% of men agreed that it was acceptable for a man to beat his wife if she disrespected her in-laws, neglected her home or children, went out without telling him, refused sex, or didn’t cook properly, which can be attributed to India’s strong patriarchal systems.

Another disturbing case is that of dowry deaths; last year, police recorded 6,795 dowry deaths, or one every 77 minutes on average. Despite laws in place to prevent dowry deaths, thousands of brides are murdered each year; the majority are burned to death, and the murders are justified as “kitchen accidents.” 

Gender equality is crucial for economic growth and human development, in addition to moral and humanitarian considerations. With a focus on recognising and resolving power disparities and granting women more autonomy to conduct their lives, gender equality demands the empowerment of women. Empowering women through equal opportunities would enable them to contribute to the economy, increase the number of women who can serve as role models for young girls, and provide a platform to raise awareness of the problems facing women in India. Women make up a sizeable portion of the country’s untapped economic potential. 

According to experts, there is strong evidence that countries led by women have better social and economic conditions. Countries with women leaders such as Denmark, Finland, Iceland, New Zealand, Germany and Slovakia were internationally recognised for their effectiveness of their response to the pandemic, the women leaders were proactive in responding to the threat of the virus and were successful in unifying the country around a comprehensive response with transparent and compassionate communication, they championed policies that addressed its social and economic impacts on the most vulnerable groups. 

According to a Harvard Business School study, venture capital firms that hired more female partners experienced higher profitability. Women leaders have a measurable impact on the bottom line. 

Julie Ballington, policy advisor for U.N Women (the United Nations agency that works towards gender equality) says that women leaders are more likely to place issues such as health care, child care and education on the political agenda.  

The International Center for Research on Women’s CEO and President, Peggy Clark, notes that while nations like Sweden or Norway are frequently cited as leading examples of female leadership and gender equality, the connection between empowering women and enhancing a country’s well-being is evident across the world. 

President of the General Assembly Csaba Krösi argued in favour of having more women in government at an event hosted by the recently established UNGA (UN General Assembly) platform for women leaders. According to him, inclusive governance can lead to decisions that produce long-term, beneficial change. Governments can more effectively tailor and target solutions to those who are most in need by incorporating the perspectives of diverse women, especially at the highest levels.

The aforementioned realities of India exacerbate the situation of progress, raising the question of when India will achieve true gender equality. Mere sloganeering and chest thumping on gender equality is not enough, it is high time that India acts realistically and works towards Gender Equity rather than Gender Equality so that the distant dream of Mahatma Gandhi who said that, “To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is a man’s injustice to woman. If by strength it is meant moral power then woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not more self-sacrificing, has she not great powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her man could not be. If non- violence is the law of our being, the future is with women”, becomes a cherished reality and celebrated by every proud Indian Woman, this would be the true tribute of the world’s largest democracy on the occasion of the International Human Rights Day.

Vidhya B is an Assistant Professor at St. Joseph’s University, Bangalore, India and researches on Corporate Social Responsibility along with a keen interest in Human Rights

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