India is not only the country with the second largest population in the world, but also has 40 percent of the world’s malnourished children and 35 percent of the developing world’s low-birth-weight infants; every year 2.5 million children die in India, accounting for one in five deaths in the world. More than half of these deaths could be prevented if maternal health was taken care of during pregnancy or if she had given birth to lesser number of children. This was possible if she knew about the ill effects of bearing a child again and again. It was in turn possible, if she had taken education.
As per the 2001 Census; the overall literacy rate of India is 65.38%. The male literacy rate is 75.96% and female literacy rate is 54.28%. 20% of Indian women have experienced domestic violence in one form or the other. Also, there are 933 women per 1000 men. Not to mention the problems faced by the women of Balika Vadhu (the famous tele-serial on Colors) is the mirror of Indian society, bringing out the truth in many Indian households. India stands at rank 138 when it comes to Gender Development Index.
One might think for a moment, “Are these facts true? There is nothing like that happening in my home or my neighborhood and Balika Vadhu is just another innovation of saas-bahu sagas.” But the reality is that these are the problems Indian society as a whole is facing and more so in rural areas and suburbs, because maximum numbers of Indians live in rural areas; the so called bottom of the pyramid. And it clearly tells women holding half the sky in India doesn’t give them position of dignity.
There are schemes and laws for women welfare, be it schemes like Swayamsiddha , Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), Kishori Shakti Yojna , Domestic Violence Bill etc . Also, the Union Government recently declared January 24 as National Girl Child Day. The observance of this day is to create awareness of the social menace of female feticide, infanticide, early marriage, atrocities against girls and unequal treatment to girls in the matters of health, nutrition, education and opportunities.
These are issues of debate, discussions and seminars. So called leaders and change makers know about them and Government is working towards lessening the intensity and bring down these numbers. Are the benefits of these schemes reaching to those, for whom they are meant, with the intensity they were planned? The answer is yes, but not as expected. Secondly, do the beneficiaries of these amendments and laws even know about them? The answer is yes, to an extent.
Why so? The reason being that even after 17 years of passing of 73rd and 74th Amendments, a landmark in the Indian Constitution, which is on one third reservation of women in Parliament, the Panchayati Raj Institutions and Rajya Sabha. At present, there are 50 women among the 543 members of the lower house of Parliament, and only 9% in the Lok Sabha.
How can one talk about solving these women issues and concerns in India, when women are just beneficiaries of what is coming from the top, but not a stakeholder in the process of change.
Research results show that women are better leaders; they are weaving a revolution in the Panchayati Raj Institutions. Secondly, the areas where women have taken over as heads of Panchayat or areas MLAs have progressed better in women problems.
They have a positive impact on development of Women and Children and have proved themselves more progressive. They don’t play political games, but there always exceptions. Not only this, they take more balanced decisions and are approachable. They are more sincere and honest towards their duties and are less corrupt.
There is a clear demarcation in the issues concerning men and women leaders. To quote issues sensitizing male leaders are infrastructure, communication system, education; in a nutshell, economic development. Whereas for women leaders, what is more important is womens’ empowerment, time bound child development services, girl child education, awareness of legislation among women folk, gender equality. In short, it means human development.
Time and again, it has been proved that economic development can lead only to growth. That’s why at present, India is has been ranked 127th on the Human Development Index. And for sustainable development, it is important that women issues are given equal say when it comes to welfare work and it’s not possible without their representation. Because by nature, women are caregivers, nurturers, full of servitude and men are more oriented towards economics and achievement.
At this crucial stage, the nation also requires growth and development. Development is not possible without growth because there will be scarcity of funds. And growth will stop after a point if development is ignored, because India still lags behind when it comes to education and skilled man (woman) power. And it’s difficult to develop skilled workforce without women’s’ representation. After all, half of India is represented by women.
Therefore, the process has to start with their strong representation in parliament, this is only possible with changing the mindset of male representatives, many of whom are still living with chauvinistic mindset, are not gender sensitive, expect women to be dependent on them but not as a counterpart. They need to understand that the growth and development of India needs to be married to each other, treated as ardhanginis for making the nation a superpower, from all angles. For this, they need to treat women as stakeholders in the process of nation building, unpack the assumptions that they are the superior sex and women are just beneficiaries at their mercy.