By Soumya Raj:
What is common between these incidents: Gauhar Khan getting slapped for wearing short clothes; the Hindu Mahasabha’s ban on jeans and cell phones for women and the Uber cab rape case?
Answer: It was never the fault of the woman and she never asked for it.
Sadly, these incidents are a recurring affair in the headlines. They reflect the deep-set belief that women need to be told how to behave – that somehow, their sexuality needs to be controlled; so much so that she is even denied the right to her own body, to bear a child or not.
We flaunt a progressive mindset but function within our patriarchal boundaries. The preference for a son traverses beyond geography, income and levels of education. The urban landscape is guilty as charged. Delhi as the national capital has a dismal child sex ratio of 871 girls.
Girls Count, a coalition of civil society organisations and activists from across the country have come together to address the issue of the declining child sex ratio of our country. The campaign recently found its’ visibility across the Delhi Metro. I visited the canopies across the metro stations to see how the public perception is surfacing to an issue limited to the four walls of a home.
The answers were more than fulfilling. A participant, Priya, signing the petition at Shahdara, very aptly puts it, “Humein betiyon ko na maar ke, unn paramparaon ko maarna chahiye jo betiyon ka bahishkaar karte hain.” (Instead of killing daughters, we should end those traditional beliefs that make us abandon girls.)
‘Girls Count’ very simply highlights the issue at hand- the declining child sex ratio in India standing at a dismal 918 girls. At the same time, the name in itself emphasises the dire need to deal with the inherent preference for a son and make girls ‘count’.
The attendant at the booth, Pooja Sharma, a confident young woman in her early 20s, is glad somebody is taking the initiative. She says she is scared of nothing, and will take the movement ahead alone if the need be. Sometimes, people are not interested in what they are trying to put across, but other times, there are people like Pooja.
An overwhelming majority of men and women consider having at least one son in the family of utmost importance. As a matter of fact, 81% women and 76% men feel so.
“This campaign on Declining Child Sex Ratio is unique in terms of its connect with an urban populace. The outreach achieved by the campaign has exceeded our expectations. We were approached by women and men, girls and boys from different walks of life who wanted to share their personal stories and experiences of discrimination. Many people spoke about how they were taking a stance for their daughters and wanted them to aspire and advance in life. At the same time, people also spoke about the invisibility of women and girls in public spaces and expressed their disappointment with the lack of adequate safety and security measures, and other factors that leads to the ‘unwantedness’ of daughters. People also suggested concrete measures to enhance the value of girls through stringent action against clinics that violate the law against sex determination and sex selection, support for girls schooling and higher education, and measures to ensure safety of girls within homes, in public spaces and in the workplace. We believe the campaign has triggered a dialogue and thought process, at an individual level of challenging discriminatory values and norms”, said Rizwan Parwez, Coordinator, Girls Count.
The boon of technology can do wonders when it comes to detecting gender anomalies or any birth complications. However, the same technology is often misused to detect the sex of the foetus. This choice to ‘pick and choose’ ones family composition has resulted in a skewed child sex ratio of 918 girls. The idea of masculinity plays a huge role in ingraining a strong son preference in our attitudes. The challenge of dealing with such perceptions requires a change in the mindset that devalues girls.