By Sanjana Swaroop and Heli Haribhakti for Twisted Tiara
The International Day of the Girl Child is celebrated on 11th of October to highlight the role and achievements of women. Since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995, the understanding of the role of women in society has seen a major shift. Gender inequality, which starts at an early age, has detrimental effects for an individual over their lifetime. Lack of access to resources and rights from an early age can only increase the gender injustice gap. In India, we need to be even more astute to these issues, given the patriarchal mindset of the society. Girls are often considered a ‘burden’ or ‘liability’ which leads to discrimination in treatment within their own homes. But women have proved time and time again that they can be active contributors to the economy if afforded equal opportunity.
A Cause for Pause
The day is earmarked to highlight and recognise the rights and the barriers to equal opportunities faced by girls globally. In India, there are certain social practices which have led to the impoverished condition of girls. These range from the early practice of sati, the ongoing practice of child marriages, dowry, to female foeticide and child labour. Despite having laws against most of these offences, the numbers haven’t changed drastically owning to the ingrained societal mindset. No doubt we have come a long way in terms of women’s rights in India, but there is a longer way to go still. A 1997 study found that “women work two thirds of the world’s working hours, produce half of the world’s food and yet earn only 10% of the world’s wages and own less than 1% of the world’s property”.
But although there are more women than ever in the labour market, there are still large inequalities in some regions, with women systematically denied the same work rights as men. Sexual violence and exploitation, the unequal division of unpaid care and domestic work, and discrimination in public office all remain huge barriers. Climate change and disasters continue to have a disproportionate effect on women and children, as do conflict and migration.UNSDG Report
The first step is recognising that there exist societal and structural forms of discrimination against women which has been preventing them gain access to fundamental human rights. Lately, in the wake of #metoo, the feminist rights movement has received a lot of hate and backlash. However, people overlook the simple fact, that not being sexually harassed is a basic human right. Women and girls are being demonised for demanding basic human dignity. Whether people like hearing it or not, a gender disparity does exist: globally, and in India.
Development Indicators for Girls
At the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, 30,000 women and representatives of 135 countries, recognised the need for women empowerment and inclusion in development. Not as an add-on concern, but as an integral part of the development agenda. Including women in policy making and local representation helps build an equal economy. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action demarcated 9 indicators for girls:
- Eliminate all forms of discrimination against girls;
- Eliminate negative cultural attitudes and practices against girls;
- Promote and protect the rights of girls and increase awareness of their needs and potential;
- Eliminate discrimination against girls in education, skills development and training;
- Eliminate discrimination against girls in health and nutrition;
- Eliminate the economic exploitation of child labour and protect young girls at work;
- Eradicate violence against girls;
- Promote girls’ awareness of and participation in social, economic and political life; and
- Strengthen the role of family in improving the status of girls.
Raising Girls in the Land of Goddesses
Indian society has become far more progressive (if you ask modern historians), however, when you look at the status of girls in India through the prism of the indicators above, the gender disparity becomes evident.
In the last census of 2011, the Indian population measured at 1.26 Billion with 48.5% female population. The sex ratio in India is one of the lowest in the world with 943 women for 1000 men. Education programmes such as the ‘Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan‘ and ‘Midday Meals’ have encouraged primary education and literacy rates among children: 65% for girls and 80% for boys.
However, the literacy rates among adults (15+) show a different picture. The literacy rates for adult females in average in India is 59.3%, and those for adult females in rural India is 50.6%. In contrast, the average workforce participation of women in India is 25.51% with 30% of rural women forming part of the workforce and only 15% of urban women. The participation of women in Indian politics and judiciary is also abysmally low, however representation in the panchayat system has seen marked improvement with 45% women members.
The data helps us understand a few things: that educational opportunities do not often translate to work opportunities for women in India. Women in rural India have a lower literacy rate, however, form a larger part of the workforce. This indicates that women are engaged in field work, construction activities and labour; basically economic activities which do not require higher education. Whereas, women in urban India who have higher literacy rates than national average, do not participate in the workforce. This maybe due to social barriers to work, the societal pressure and demand for women to adhere to the role of a homemaker, or just lack of opportunities for skilled and trained women.
Girls as part of the Development Economics and Metrics
Women have been and can be the central actors in pathways to sustainability and green transformation.IIED
Research conducted in developing nations show that women are often directly dependent on natural resources with the responsibility for the unpaid work of securing food, water, fuel and shelter for their household. Often the ‘jobs’ taken up by women in developing nations are unpaid and unrecognised labour in the name of social roles.
Gender inequalities don’t just affect individuals but can change global economics. Sustainable development can be achieved faster if gender discrimination against women is addressed. Not giving women equal representation is equivalent to not taking into account the view of half the world’s population. Including women in the solutions to global issues can have drastic impacts on an economy, just ask the solar sisters. As the 2019 theme on occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, reiterates that if women are encouraged, they can be unscripted and unstoppable force to the economy.
Unscripted: Dutee Chand
She became the first Indian woman track and field athlete to secure a gold medal at the Summer Universiade in Napoli, in July, at the age of 23 only. “Pull me down, I will come back stronger!” Dutee tweeted after her win. Defining being unscripted, she is also nation’s first athlete to acknowledge being in a same sex relationship, all the while calmly handling backlash from her home village, Chaka Gopalpur. The Odisha runner’s national record stands at 11.22 seconds, breaking previous national record during the National Open Athletics Championships in Ranchi on Friday.
She has previously won silver medal at the 2018 Asian games in Jakarta, making her the one to bring India’s first medal in women’s 100m in 20 years. In her interviews, she has said she didn’t have the diet athlete needs, just rice and vegetables, or proper track field to train, just plain ground. Coming from a background of limited resources but unlimited dedication is what makes her unstoppable. Chand’s friend and athletes rights advocate, Payoshni Mitra, was quoted saying, “She isn’t defying anyone- family or society- deliberately. She is simply saying this is who she is and what she wants.” An inspiration for girls to participate in sports, breaking the stereotype of sporty women are masculine, and simply being herself.
Unstoppable: Tessy Thomas
She is known as the ‘missile woman’ of India, and ‘Agniputri’ for successfully heading an Indian missile project, especially for building its long-range nuclear-capable ballistic missile, the Agni-V. Admirably maintaining the balance of being a defence scientist and a homemaker, thus breaking the glass ceiling and inspiring millions of girls to not be intimidated by taking up Science Technology Engineering Mathematics.
Extremely hardworking and determined, Tessy has left her mark in DRDO’s weapons programme; achieving a remarkable career milestone in just two decades with launch of the Agni-V missile from Odisha’s Wheeler Island in 2012. Mahindra Group Chairman Anand Mahindra said, “Tessy deserves to be more famous than the biggest Bollywood star. A poster of Tessy in every Indian school will wreck stereotypes and create enormous career aspirations for girls.” Tessy Thomas has become a fierce role models especially for women scientists who need that inspiration to achieve their dream of having their feet planted firmly in both the worlds of professional and personal.
These women are living proof that women can and do make a lasting mark in society, and they can and do work twice as hard as their male counterparts to claw their way into fields they want to be in. It’s high time we make it easier for girls to do something other than homemaking if they want to.