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To Become Super Power:VITAL TO INVEST IN WOMEN, by Dhurjati Mukherjee, 13 Oct, 2010 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 13 October 2010

To Become Super Power


By Dhurjati Mukherjee


A recent report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) found that in 2008 Andhra Pradesh topped the list of 20,291 cases of crime against women, followed by Uttar Pradesh and Bengal with 23,569 and 20,912 cases respectively. It learnt there had been a marginal increase in the crime rate against women countrywide from 16.3% in 2007 to 17% in 2008. Significantly, Bengal and Tripura saw the highest increase with Bengal being second on the list of cruelty and domestic violence. Of the 81,344 reported cases in the country in 2008, about 13,663 were from Bengal.


These figures may not give the true picture as there are hundreds of villages where torture and exploitation of women and girls go unreported. With change in societal behaviour and attitudes, the incidence of women and girls falling victims to abuse and violence are increasing, both in rural and urban areas. Even cases of suicide to hide extra-marital relations, failed love affairs, physical relations with a member of the family, forced rape are quite common.


Trafficking of girls from poor families, especially to cities for prostitution, continue unabated in spite of adequate legislation thanks to lifestyles changes and so-called modernism. Sometimes even educated girls are caught in the trap and have no means to escape. While women and girls from BPL groups suffer in various ways, there are also reports of those from well-off sections being used for unethical activities. Today, ‘social prostitution’ has increased considerably because of lure for money.  


Another aspect of the problem is the elimination of girls after fetus sex determination. Shockingly, reports indicate that a million girls would be eliminated every year as efforts in restraining sex determination have been woeful. According to the 2001 census, the sex ratio is 933 females per 1000 men. In the early 1980s, families in Punjab with two or more girls went in for sex determination but by the late 90s a large number of families there and neighbouring Haryana and Delhi resorted to the practice in the first pregnancy itself. Though the Supreme Court directive to implement the PNDT Act in May 2001 checked this to a certain extent, there are a number of unethical medical professionals who continue this practice.


In fact, even as laws are being promulgated for protecting women and girls, experience shows that implementation of these leaves much to be desired. The law enforcement agencies are either not conversant with the laws or are reluctant to tackle such problems with an iron hand. In cities also, women fall victims to various types of abuses, physical or mental, including domestic violence which are increasing in most parts of the country.


A significant aspect of the problem is that over 70,000 women die from pregnancy-related issues -- more than any other country. An additional 74,118 women die from cervical cancer, the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in India. Notwithstanding, the recent Women Deliver conference in Washington where a declaration for universal access for cervical cancer prevention was issued. 


Undoubtedly, the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) has successfully raised the number of births attended to by healthcare professionals for poor women in rural areas but these are insufficient. Clearly, investments in family planning are needed to control population growth and to ensure the well-being of a mother. This would give a push-up to the National Rural Mission (NRM) which has contributed to setting up of village-level health and sanitation committees and employing Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) for guiding pregnant women and girls in family planning matters.


Sadly, from all indicators ---literacy rate, nutrition and health facilities, per capita purchasing power parity (PPP), work participation rate --- women are at the receiving end. They are deprived in all respects compared to their male counterparts. Obviously, the root cause of all problems of the fair sex is not just poverty but also their ignorance and lack of proper guidance in matters concerning them.


True, there has been some progress in recent years but considering the dimension of the interventions needed more resources and efforts are needed at the grass-root level. Further, though panchayats have women reservations, in most cases women panches are guided either by their husbands or Party as revealed by over 70% women in a recent survey in some West Bengal districts. Those who headed (sabhadipatis) the panchayats depended entirely on the UPA sabhadipati read Sonia Gandhi. 


It is India’s misfortune that not only is the Government’s support missing but also international donors are reducing funds earmarked for women welfare. The time has now come for the private sector to help NGOs in rural and semi-urban areas so that women become aware of their problems and take necessary steps to protect themselves. Needless to say, the Government and private sector should take this as a challenge in realizing MDG 5 by 2015.


The need of the hour demands that we invest in women, especially in health and education sectors. Civil society organizations need to play a crucial role in delivering maternal health services, advocate political support for women’s health initiatives, generate awareness about women rights, protect them from all kinds of abuses and bring women into the forefront of life and activity. More so in backward and tribal-dominated areas. Unless the socio-economic status of women and girl child is improved the country’s aim to become a super power may not be successful.  ---- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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