By Pallavi Ghosh:
Kerala and Haryana are placed at two extreme ends while discussing the child sex ratio in India. Kerala is a space of respite with a consistently higher child sex ratio (964 girls per 1000 boys) and Haryana is where the ratio is skewed. Unlike Kerala, Haryana has thereby earned the reputation of a feudal space where despite economic progress, patriarchal mindset seems to dominate culturally, leading to gender-based discrimination in various forms. How is it that these two states that are amongst the relative better-developed regions fare so differently when it comes to gender-based discrimination?
According to an article published in The Hindu, estimates are that around 37,000 girls are at the receiving end of gender-biased sex selection every year in Haryana and account for 4% of gender-biased sex elimination in the country. The predominant attitude is to view a girl child as a burden and hence get ‘rid’ of her as early as possible. Such a mindset has a critical role to play in the skewed child sex ratio in Haryana.
Despite having a greater number of women involved in agricultural labour, Haryana has 31.3% of women having BMIs below 18.5 as against Kerala, where the percentage stands at 18. This had an adverse impact on not only women’s bodies throughout their lifetime but also in terms of life expectancy. It is no surprise thus that 13,370 more lives are either lost or suffer from the risk of being lost in Haryana than in Kerala. This is because of the differing life expectancy at birth rates. A study by Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen brings to light a 10% gap in the life expectancy at birth rates in the years 1990 and 1992 in the two states – Kerala (74 approx) and Haryana (64 approx).
Imagine a day when we are told to survive on Rs. 40 for a day. This is exactly the amount available to women in Kerala in houses where the monthly income is Rs. 10,000. Despite this meagre amount, women in Kerala are less dependent on others in the family – 5% less dependent, and thus more empowered than Haryanvi women. In the same study by Dreze and Sen, it was noted that the share of earned income for women in Kerala is around 12% approximately. However, if you think this is low enough, in Haryana, the percentage drops to 7.
Literacy rates might be misleading in terms of gauging the level of progress, but they certainly reflect the level of investment in a child.
Amongst adult women, the rate is an impressive 81 percent approximately – the difference in percentage being 54! In other words in terms of investment, fewer people are interested in funding girls’ education even in the primary level. Therefore, in cultural terms, the value of daughters suffers a blow in the process making them more of a burden than an asset. For those girls who are alive, not much money is ‘wasted’ on them.
If we compare the proportion of women employed under the organized sector in Haryana and Kerala, we find that a greater presence of women in the South Indian state. With greater opportunities and security, come greater decision-making powers and better conditions of living. Armed with better wages and conditions of work, women in Kerala are more empowered than their North Indian counterparts.
The age of marriage is crucial in understanding the position of women in a given society. The earlier the normative year of marriage is for girls, the more dependent they are on others.
The median age for girls in Haryana is majorly below the legal age of marriage. This reflects the cultural attitude that believes that marriage is a woman’s destiny and not choice; the earlier she marries, the better it is because hey what else can a woman do after all? Getting married later means that the scope of agency and choice is greater for Keralite women.
So there it is, things as they stand today. While it is heartening to see the improvements that are being made when it comes to the position women hold in some parts of the country, the lag overall is saddening. Moribund traditions and huge inequalities are what are causing this gender imbalance, which is detrimental to our growth as a society. If the youth are the future of tomorrow, why do we forget that girls comprise a good chunk of that population? Giving them an equal chance is as much a necessity, as their fundamental right.