The 100th International Women’s Day anniversary brings some very happy, but a whole load of rather grim news for women in India. First the good – after years of being stuck on hold the Women’s Reservation Bill, which would reserve 33% seats for women in parliament, looks like it will finally be passed today, giving the much-needed boost for those wanting to join mainstream politics We are anyway among the few nations in the world who’ve had a woman Prime Minister in the past and currently have a woman as President along with a woman speaker, a woman leader of the opposition and a woman at the helm of India’s ruling coalition. This would only be the icing on the cake!
Added to this, six of India’s top banks have women CEOs, along with two Deputy Governors at the Reserve Bank of India. The 3rd most powerful woman in the world, Indra Nooyi, is an Indian and guess what, ALL of Forbes’ top philanthropists from India this year are women, not a single man there. Whew! On the whole it seems Indian women are shattering that glass ceiling and marching along with men in every sphere of life. Yes, there are large disparities in pay scales and not as many as desired are at the top level in corporate India. But year after year there is a marked improvement in the ratio of women to men in managerial or leadership positions and that is encouraging.
Sadly, though, that’s pretty much where the good news ends. For every one of these women making headway in corporate boardrooms and parliamentary committees, there are hundreds and thousands of others retreating many steps backwards. I vividly remember a shocking incident 3 years ago when I went to Gujarat, apparently India’s fastest developing state, to visit my brother in Baroda. His landlord’s wife, who had been 3 months pregnant, came back from the hospital one fine day and told us she had aborted the pregnancy the third time over because the unborn baby was a girl. Horror-struck as we were, her story it seems isn’t all that shocking or rare for most of India despite the fact that prenatal selection has long been banned by the government.
So as economies the world over fight fiscal deficits, India it seems will be soon fighting a chronic girl deficit. Reports from the studies carried out by the Britain based medical journal Lancet suggests 120 boys are being born for every 100 girls in parts of Northern India and 1 out of every 25 female fetuses are being aborted. That is a staggering half million girls being murdered every year! In parts of India such as the North East, Delhi, Gujarat and Haryana the sex ratio is so skewed that there are less than 900 (in some cases less than 850) girls born for every 1000 boys. What’s worse, and in fact more worrying, is that this imbalance is rapidly increasing, augmented by the proliferation of ultrasound machines, and not decreasing as would be expected with affluence or education! In fact, in the posh parts of South Delhi, where rents are comparable to any European city, the girl-to-boy ratio is a shameful 845 to 1000.
I don’t know what to say, really, except that perhaps it is time we stop patting ourselves on the backs for the great headways we are making on the world stage. It would probably be more fitting to hang our heads in shame and not say a word more until we get this sorted. A double digit growth rate would mean absolutely nothing when we are faced with the prospect of large scale social anarchy where squads of single and frustrated young men would unleash their might on the few remaining women available in our great country.
Not yet perhaps time to say ‘Happy Women’s day’ after all!