In an average lifespan, a woman faces various kinds of discrimination. This rampant inequality has various facets – it manifests itself as violence at home and poor representation at the workplace. However, nowhere is this discrimination more systematic or pervasive, than in the healthcare sector, where women always get the short end of the stick.
The United Nations recognises gender equality as a basic human right, but for an Indian woman, it’s something that is continuously violated. Which is why India needs to do better – not only in the area of gender equality but in also providing better healthcare facilities to its women.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in fact, provide a great roadmap to improve things by 2030. Because the situation today is indeed bleak and lives of many women stand threatened because of the discrimination we practice:
The discrimination begins right at birth. For the country as a whole, the infant mortality rate – which is the number of deaths under one year of age occurring among the live births in a given geographical area during a given year – is higher for females in comparison to that for males.
When it comes to gender balance, the infant mortality rate in the urban areas of the country is more gender-balanced (as a whole). But then,urban India is marked by greater access to abortion services, which increases gender-based terminations. Experts, in fact, believe that the educated living in urban areas are more likely to go for sex-selective abortions since they can afford it.
Data also suggests that urbanisation and better education correlate with a worsening sex ratio. The sex ratio of children ever-born (that is, including children who died at birth or later) to all women was 895 in rural areas but 878 in urban areas.
Amartya Sen, in fact, coined the term ‘missing women’ for this demographic and showed that in parts of the developing world, the ratio of women to men in the population is suspiciously low. He estimated that more than 100 million women were missing due to gender discrimination in countries like India and China way back in 1990.
Research points out that the “most plausible explanation” for the “missing” girls in the 2011 census is prenatal sex determination followed by selective abortion of female foetuses. “After adjusting for excess mortality rates in girls, the estimated number of selective female abortions rose from 0 to 2.0 million in the 1980s, 1.2 to 4.1 million in the 1990s, and 3.1 to 6.0 in the 2000s,” a research paper published in The Lancet in 2011 said.
In the reproductive age-group of 15-49, something as basic as deficiency of haemoglobin still remains a risk for women because child delivery and birth control surgeries involve bleeding.
More than half of the women in the country suffer from anaemia. On the other hand, less than a quarter of men in India are anaemic. “It is a cause of worry and reflects on general health of women. It has a direct relation with other health issues also, including those at the time of childbearing. We need to improve the situation,” medical experts said, when this data was first published.
Universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services for women in the reproductive age group still remains a pipe dream. This is despite the fact that India has pledged to ensure that every woman gets access to these services under the SDGs.
When it comes to family planning, for instance, our efforts again are aimed at controlling women. For example, did you know, that the ratio of female to male sterilisations has continued to consistently grow since the 1980s to the extent that by 2012-13, over 97 percent of sterilisations were being performed only on women? In comparison, just 0.3 percent married partners use male sterilisation as a family planning method.
Controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing information and education on reproductive health are both targets that the United Nations has set for countries who agreed to the SDGs. Yet, data shows that only 21 percent Indian women have comprehensive knowledge of HIV/AIDS, compared to 32 percent men in India. Fifty percent women in the country aren’t even aware that using a condom can reduce chances of getting HIV/AIDS. Of course, here too, men have more access to this knowledge.
If this is not enough cause to change things, consider this. The latest annual health survey showed that more women suffer from acute illnesses like diarrhoea and fever or chronic illnesses like diabetes, TB, and asthma than men. The reasons for this, researchers say, range from nutritional deficiency to lack of exercise, and increase in stress levels.
Needless to say, this cannot go on. If India wants to develop strongly and sustainably, it is high time it ends this gross discrimination. Making up 50 percent of the population, women have a critical role to play in India’s path of development. India should ensure that its health systems are fully responsive to women and girls and that women have access to higher quality and readily accessible services. It’s time to end practices that critically endanger women’s health and well-being.
Because just paying lip service to the needs of this very crucial demographic just won’t do anymore.
Note: The article was earlier published with the title ‘3 Mn Girls Lost To Infanticide In 2011: Exposing India’s Horrid Gender Bias’, which does not faithfully represent the data and research available. The section ‘Not Given A Chance To Live’ and the title has been updated to accurately reflect the research used for this article. The error is regretted.