New Delhi: In 1990, Indian Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen coined the phrase ‘missing women’ showing that in parts of the developing world, the ratio of women to men in the population is suspiciously low. The worsening sex ratio (number of females per 1,000 males) in countries such as India and China reflected the gross neglect of women. Mr Sen estimated that more than 100 million women were missing due to gender discrimination. Over 30 years down the line, the sex ratio in India seems to have improved. For every 1,000 men, India has 1,020 women, as per the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) data released for the year 2019-2021 in December 2021. However, the sex ratio cannot be the only determinant of gender equality. Various other statistics like poor access to healthcare and education show the plight of women right from birth in India.
From female foeticide to sexual abuse and violence to early marriage, girls face numerous challenges just because of their sex. With an objective of highlighting the inequalities faced by girls and to promote awareness about the rights of a girl child and the importance of their education, health, and nutrition, the Ministry of Women and Child Development marks January 24 as National Girl Child Day.
The Reality Of Girl Child And Women In India
- India is the only large country in the world where more baby girls die than baby boys. The gender differential in child survival is currently 11 per cent, states UNICEF. Statistics reflect community attitudes with fewer hospital admissions for girls than boys, showing that parents sometimes give less attention to newborn girls. In 2017 alone 1,50,000 fewer girls were admitted to Special Newborn Care Units (SNCUs) than boys.
- Percentage of the female population aged 6 years and above who ever attended school increased from 68.8 per cent in 2015-16 to 71.8 per cent in 2019-21, as per NFHS-5. Though the improvement in figures is encouraging, the question is how many females stayed in schools and continued their education. The same report suggests that only 41 per cent of women (15-49 years) have 10 or more years of schooling as opposed to 50.2 per cent of men, as per NFHS-5.
- The NFHS-5 defines a literate person as someone who has completed standard 9 or higher and who can read a whole sentence or part of a sentence. Highlighting the gender gap in literacy levels the survey found that 71.5 per cent of women (15-49 years) are literate whereas, 84.4 per cent of men in the country are literate.
- The NFHS-5 data also shows a high gender disparity among internet users. Only 33.3 per cent of women (15-49 years) have ever used the internet whereas, 57.1 per cent of men have had access to the internet.
- Last year in December, the centre tabled The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill to increase the minimum legal age of marriage for women from 18 years to 21 years, corresponding to men’s 21 years. As per NFHS-5 (2019-21), 23.3 per cent of women aged 20-24 years were married before they attained the legal marriageable age of 18 years. The country reported 3.5 per cent improvement from 2015-16 when 26.8 per cent women were married early. Fewer men were married before the legal marriageable of 21. In 2015-16, 20.3 per cent of men aged 25-29 years were married before they turned 21-year-old; in 2019-21, this figure dropped down to 17.7 per cent.
- Additionally, as per UNICEF’s report of 2021, India is home to the largest number of child brides in the world: 223 million child brides – a third of the global total. While it is illegal for girls under the age of 18 to marry in India, estimates suggest that at least 1.5 million girls under age 18 get married in India each year. Nearly 16 per cent of all adolescent girls aged 15–19 are currently married.
- Anaemia is a condition where the Haemoglobin concentration in the blood falls below the necessary level, hampering the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells in the body thereby affecting many day-to-day functions of the human body. The prevalence of anaemia seems to be higher among women (15-19 years) than men in the same age group, as per NFHS-5 data. Startling 59.1 per cent of women were reported to be anaemic as opposed to 31.1 per cent anaemic men. According to the experts, an anaemic woman is likely to give birth to an anaemic and undernourished child.
- On the other hand, the country has reported a rise in the percentage of women (15-24 years) who use hygienic methods of protection during their menstrual period. In 2015-16 (NFHS-4), 57.6 per cent of women were reported to use hygienic methods of protection during menstruation. This percentage increased to 77.3 in 2019-21 (NFHS-5).
- The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index benchmarks the evolution of gender-based gaps among four key dimensions (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment) and tracks progress towards closing these gaps over time. The Global Gender Gap Report of 2021 was the 15th edition in which India ranked 140 out of 156 countries assessed. It’s a drop of 28 positions from 2020 when 153 countries were covered. Among neighbouring countries in the subcontinent India is doing better than Pakistan (rank 153) but much worse than Bangladesh (rank 65), Nepal (rank 106), Sri Lanka (rank 116) and Bhutan (rank 130).
- As per the Global Gender Gap Report of 2021, China and India together account for about 90 per cent to 95 per cent of the estimated 1.2 million to 1.5 million missing female births annually worldwide due to gender-biased prenatal sex selective practices. Further, China, India and Pakistan register excess female mortality rates (below age 5) related to neglect and gender-biased postnatal sex selection practices. The estimated number of ‘missing women’ was 142.6 million in 2020, which is more than double the estimated 61 million women missing in 1970.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, that is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.