Will 2016 Be a Breakthrough Year in Promoting Gender Equality in India?



              © 2016 Farrukh Shah. All Rights Reserved.

Every New Year brings hopes and desires to see something new and fresh in its wake. Each one of us will have different things to achieve, dreams to materialize and desires to fulfill in this New Year. Since the neo-liberal reforms in 1991, Indian economy has witnessed unprecedented economic growth and today it is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Greater production of goods and services in the economy has brought greater prosperity for Indians in last more than 20 years. But unfortunately the fruits of this prosperity have not been shared evenly. Even more unfortunate is the fact that there are millions in India who are oppressed by multiple deprivations which they face in their daily existence, be it hunger, penury, illiteracy, poor health or looming fear of violence. Many a times these deprivations are a result of social disabilities caused by inequalities in the society. These inequalities find their origin in economic, social, regional and gender-related arrangements in society. Gender inequality continues to be a harsh reality for almost half of the population.  Gender inequality affects a girl child right from the pre-conception days to its birth (if it is allowed to) and then further in its chances of survival, immunization, health, schooling, decent employment and subsequent opportunities in life. The United Nations Development Programme’s Gender Inequality Index (GII) measures the human development costs of gender inequality. India ranks 130 of 155 countries on GII inHuman Development Report, 2015 as it scores a higher GII value of 0.563 which shows greater disparity between males and females. Only Afghanistan in South Asia performs worse than India otherwise all other nations in the region perform better.[1]

As per the Census 2011, while the overall sex ratio had gone up to touch 943, against 933 in Census 2001, the child sex ratio came down to 918 from 927 (which some commentators have termed as’ emergency proportions’). Girl child continues to face discrimination in the immunization which is a crucial determinant of survival. As per the NFHS-3 data the proportion of male children who are fully immunized is 4% higher than female children. If a girl is able to pass the hurdle of gender bias in birth and survival, she is discriminated against in education as well. Unfortunate is the fact that even in the 21st century when everyone is obsessed with talking about the digital age Indian women are still lagging behind males in basic literacy. Though there has been an overall improvement in female literacy from 39.3% to 65.46% and a corresponding decrease in the gender gap from 24.8% to 16.7%. However, there are significant regional variations in the female literacy rate. In 2001 and 2011, the highest literacy rate was seen in the states of Kerala (87.8% and 92% respectively) and Mizoram (86.1% and 89.4% respectively) which were well above the national female literacy rates (54.3% and 65.5% respectively). In 2001, the state of Bihar with 33.6% had the lowest female literacy rate, and in 2011 Rajasthan had the lowest rate with 52.6%.[2]

I would like to offer my apologies if I am only talking about distressing news at the very beginning of the year but all this is just aimed at reminding us the challenges that lie ahead and the hurdles that we have to surmount to see a smile on the face of every girl child and ensure a better and egalitarian world in 2016. There is a need of concerted and targeted efforts from all the stakeholders, be it Central, State and Local Governments, Private Sector or Civil society, to make sure that 2016 turns out to be a breakthrough year in promoting gender equality and thereby ensuring that women are accorded equal status and opportunities to realize their full potential in society.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are solely those of author in the private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of employer.


[1] Gender Inequality Index: In South Asia, India leads in poor condition of women – Indian Express, accessed on January 02, 2016

[2] Wings 2014: The World of India’s Girls, A Status Report by Save the Children, India

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