The dipping gender ratio can be addressed through better opportunities for women and social awareness.
Today, India ranks 129 out of 146 countries on the Gender Inequality Index, worse than countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, and only better than Afghanistan in South Asia.
Statistics such as these no longer surprise us. The prevalence of gender discrimination in the Indian society is widely discussed. The causes and ramifications of such a disparity have also been extensively documented and researched upon. The growing awareness and acknowledgement of the magnitude of the problem has spawned a multitude of initiatives, undertaken by the government as well as private agencies. A majority of these initiatives are aimed at improving the literacy rate among the female population, as education can serve as the compelling factor in positively influencing the status of women in the society.
Financial incentives such as free text books for all girl students up to the eighth grade, bicycles being offered to sixth grade girls in the schools of Haryana are instances of the state adopting policies to improve female literacy rates. However, the problem is not solely financial. Prosperous states like Punjab and Haryana have fared poorly in gender-based indicators. Neither is improving literacy levels among women going to significantly change the situation, as indicated by the fact that affluent and educated sections of the society account for a high percentage of incidents of female infanticide. We need to acknowledge the fact that gender discrimination in India stems from an ingrained system of patriarchy, wherein women are relegated to subordinate roles in the social hierarchy. This inherent prejudice manifests itself in disparities in economics, nutrition and education. Addressing this prejudice requires more than just financial support and education; it requires a holistic approach aimed at improving awareness levels among all sections of the society and providing opportunities for women to work towards attaining self-sufficiency.
The Rajasthan government, in 1987, launched an initiative called the Shikshakarmi project that aimed to improve awareness and enrolment among women by offering women an opportunity to work as facilitators and teachers in the project. This served the dual purpose of improving literacy and awareness among women as well as a financial incentive. Similarly, the Mahila Samakhya program started by the HRD ministry in 1989 focused on prompting women to question gender stereotypes by mobilizing women’s collectives or communities.
There are many other such instances of both government and private agencies looking for innovative ways to address the issue of female emancipation. However, this is just the beginning; it would take considerable time and effort to alter norms so deeply ingrained in the essential social fabric of the country. We need to reflect upon how we, as the constituents of a privileged section of the society, can contribute to help make a difference.
This is contributed by Amit Sharma, Vice-President and General Manager – Operations for IBM India / South Asia.