New Delhi: India stands at the 140th position among 156 countries in the Gender Development Index or GDI. The GDI measures gender inequalities in achievement of three basic dimensions of human development: health, education, and command over economic resources. India’s GDI stands at 0.849, well below the world average of 0.958.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) raising the women’s reservation issue, in the last eight months of a nine and a half year tenure of the Modi government, appears to be wanting to take the heat off serious concerns that have tarred the record of this government around the safety and well-being of women.
Crimes against women
The 26-second-long viral video from Manipur of three women being disrobed and paraded by a crowd finally forced Prime Minister Narendra Modi to break his silence on the atrocities in Manipur, and he spoke for 36 seconds after 78 days of silence. The issue forced a discussion around the worrying status of women in India and crimes against them.
Rising crimes against women in India has been a matter of concern. India has one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCEB), in 2021, a total of 4,05,861 cases of crimes against women were reported in India, of which 32,033 cases were of rape. 2021 saw a rise of 26.35% over six years – from 338,954 cases in 2016.
The protest by women wrestlers, not known to be BJP bashers, over serious charges of sexual harassment against a powerful BJP MP, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, put the BJP in the dock. Visuals of their stay at Jantar Mantar and inaction against Singh, the Supreme Court had to be invoked for as much as the Delhi police taking cognisance and he remains free, the elections for a new Wrestling Federation of India management is yet to be held.
In Haryana, sexual harassment charges against Sandeep Singh, a minister in the BJP cabinet was again a matter that drew outrage. The BJP was unable to drop him for political compulsions best known to them and he remained Minister for Printing and Stationery. This despite the fact that he has sought anticipatory bail. A Chandigarh court granted him anticipatory bail this Friday (September 15) in connection with the case registered against him in 2022 on the complaint of a junior woman athletics coach.
The Ujjwala scheme was launched with much fanfare and said to have helped push votes for the BJP in 2019. The Statement of Objects and Reasons for this latest Bill too invokes the Ujjwala Yojana on page 6. Lately though, the price of gas cylinders has become an albatross, and fuelled household expenditure sharply, with the price of cylinders zooming up. The Karnataka assembly elections saw plenty of discussion around the disenchantment of women voters. The Modi government rushed to salvage its flagship Ujjwala Yojana Scheme and promised a small dip in process, of Rs 200. But that is a small fraction of the price increase of the last three years. The government has slashed subsidy on LPG to one-sixth since 2018-19.
A female workforce
India’s female Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) is much below that of Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and much lower than that of the East Asian nations, and the comparison with developed countries is even starker.
India’s notoriously low female LFPR has stagnated, data from the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS July 2021-June 2022) showed, as per CEDA. The data showed that 29.4% of women (aged 15-59) were part of India’s labour force in 2021-22, as compared to 29.8% in the preceding year. In contrast, men’s LFPR improved from 80.1% in 2020-21 to 80.7% in 2021-22.
The National Family Health Survey NFHS-4 (2015-16) data found that about a quarter of women in their reproductive age in India are undernourished, with a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18.5 kg/m. Analysts say an undernourished mother inevitably gives birth to an undernourished baby, perpetuating an intergenerational cycle of undernutrition.
NFHS 5 (2019-2021) found that around 90% of women with 12 or more years of schooling used safe period products in 17 states and Union territories. These products include locally prepared napkins, sanitary napkins, tampons, and menstrual cups. Between the age of 15-24 years, 20% more women used hygienic methods during menstruation.
Women’s digital rights
India is supposed to be the second largest amongst the active mobile subscriptions followed by the African continent. But the recent report put out by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) reveals a stark digital divide among Indian men and women. Only 26% of women have access to the internet compared with 42% of men.