India's women: Big strides but a long way to go


Sreeparna Chakrabarty Indian women might have broken through the glass ceiling on the political, professional and corporate fronts, and urban women...

Sreeparna Chakrabarty Indian women might have broken through the glass ceiling on the political, professional and corporate fronts, and urban women especially have made remarkable progress and asserted their independence in many areas involving their career and personal choices, but the fact remains that insecurity haunts them on the streets, in offices, in their own homes or even in the mother's womb, activists say. Women activists say that measured against the vastness of the country's billion-plus population, nearly half of them women, ground realities are really harsh and paint a grim picture of women and their status in society. Despite the huge strides they have made in their careers, women make up just 25.6 percent of the workforce in the organised sector, according to figures of the National Commission for Women (NCW). As the Dec 16, 2012, gang-rape of a young woman in Delhi shows, women not only face harassment on the streets on a daily basis but are also victims of violent sexual assault at homes where brides are still set on fire and in offices where work harassments is a reality too. According to women activist Sonali Khan status of women has changed over a period of time, but much more is needed. "The Indian woman today has achieved and advanced a lot be it professionally or socially owing to their strong will power. Be it any sector women are right up there and education has played a big role in that," Khan, who is vice president of Breakthrough, a global human rights organisation. "There are a lot of strong headed women today in our society and more women are coming out, determined to prove themselves. But it is also true that social evils and taboos still exist that hinders their progress," Khan told IANS. According to gender trainer and writer Kamla Bhasin, government's focus on women in the fiscal budget, and its women-friendly initiatives, has helped in improving their status in society. "The good thing is that the whole concept of gender equality has been mainstreamed. In all our budgets now there is a provision of gender budgeting. There has been improvement in laws and legislations with respect to women also," Bhasin said. They agree that some small steps have been taken for making women economically independent and gain social acceptance in society, but they are still far way from "holding up half the sky." "The more things change, the more they remain the same. It is now time to think of not just the progress women have made but how they are still unsafe and unhappy," Akhila Sivadas, executive director of the Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR), told IANS. CFAR works for women's rights and health. Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader and Rajya Sabha MP Brinda Karat said recent economic policies have resulted in a "reverse status for women". "Instead of giving women economic independence, they are being sent back inside their homes due to the rising violence against them," Karat, a vocal opposition leader who champions women's rights, told IANS. A staggering 228,650 incidents of crime against women were reported in the country during 2011 compared to 213,585 incidents in 2010, an increase of 7.1 percent, National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows. Both rape and dowry deaths have seen substantial increase in 2011 as compared to 2010, NCRB figures show. According to Annie Raja of the National Federation of Indian Women, the pressure on today's women has increased and they face tough times. "The pressure on women has actually increased. Women are forced to look for jobs. It is a very tough time for a woman. She has to fight against patriarchy as well as the neo-liberal economy," Raja told IANS. Experts say a woman's struggle begins right from the moment when she is inside the womb. And the battle continues. From her health, education and then a job - a woman never has a say.
Why can't tribal women have property rights?A
Vishal Gulati Nearly 90 years after it came into existence, an inheritance law is all set to be challenged in the Himachal Pradesh High Court on the grounds of being unfair to women. The law, Wajib Ul Urj, which came into existence only in the state's tribal district of Kinnaur in 1926, permits only men to inherit ancestral property, if it is not bequeathed. The patriarchal law bars even widows from inheriting their husband's property, which is transferred to the sons. "We are shortly going to knock on the doors of the high court to get justice," 60-year-old social activist Rattan Manjari, chairperson of the Mahila Kalyan Parishad, a women's rights group, said. She told IANS that in the past three years, campaigns on educating tribal women about their rights to ancestral property have failed to evoke any response. The rights group in association of "mahila mandals" or women groups have also carried out a signature campaign in the district, demanding the amendment of local laws. "We initially launched a drive to educate women about their rights to inherit ancestral property. Then a signature campaign was carried out. We got over 20,000 signatures, mainly from the women," she said. A memorandum was sent to President Pranab Mukherjee Jan 26 to get rid of the social evil, Manjari, who is among those rare fortunate women in the district who inherited ancestral property, said. A prominent apple grower from the picturesque Ribba village, some 250 km from state capital Shimla, her mother bequeathed to her the entire agricultural land and not to her brother. "If Manjari can be an exception, why not others," asked Subhash Mendhapurkar, director of Shimla-based NGO Social Uplift Through Rural Action (SUTRA). He said there should be one law for all the citizens of the country. "The amended Hindu Succession Act of 1956, which grants equal rights to men and women, should also be applicable here and nullify the century-old patriarchal law." According to Census 2011 figures, the sex ratio in Kinnaur has gone down from 857 in 2001 to 818 in 2011. The prevailing law is totally unnatural and unconstitutional, S.K. Garg Narwana, a senior advocate with the Punjab and Haryana High Court, said. "As per Schedule I of the Hindu Succession Act, the wife is the first successor of husband's property. The tribal women will get justice in the court of law," he said. - IANS
Status of women in India
  • Women make up only 25.6 percent of the workforce in the organised sector
  • Rape cases increased 9.2 percent from 22,172 in 2010 to 24,206 in 2011
  • 940 females per 1000 men 2012
  • 228,650 incidents of crime against women reported during 2011 against 213,585 in 2010 - an increase of 7.1 percent
  • Dowry deaths jumped 2.7 percent from 8,391 in 2010 to 8,618 in 2011
  • Molestation cases increased 5.8 percent from 40,613 in 2010 to 42,968 in 2011
  • 2.4 percent girls are not in schools at the primary level (7-10 years)
  • India's Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) is 212 per 100,000 live births.
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