A few days back, I had stumbled upon an interesting headline in a popular news website. It said, “India is the most dangerous place for women, according to a study by Thomson Reuters”. The following day, I noticed that all media outlets were showing this headline, many prominent celebrities, especially politicians started tweeting about it, and some of them, as anticipated, started blaming the current government for this.
To be honest, this news disturbed me. Yes, India has issues with gender inequity, high maternal mortality rates, female infanticide, gender-based violence, domestic violence, the list goes on. But I was disappointed with the overall presumption that India is the most dangerous country for women. The organisation which conducted this study, Thomas Reuters Foundation, has a reputation for unbiased reporting which entirely convinced me that we live in a country which is the worst place for women to inhabit indeed. But, somewhere in my mind, I felt something was not right. So I opened their website and read their methodology behind this hypothesis. Guess what, my intuition was right!
What went wrong?
This study claims that it conducted an opinion poll anonymously, with around 548 “experts”- working with the government, academics, human rights, aid and non-profit organisations, using a 10 question format. These experts were selected from the sample who were interviewed in 2011 poll, from the database of attendees of the Annual Trust Conference which was sponsored by Thomson Reuters Foundation, and from the key groups in various organisations. The sampling method appears vague.
In a nutshell, the study declared that India is the most dangerous place for women by anonymously asking opinions of some people just because they’re known to be experts, and they attended an annual conference sponsored and hosted by the Reuters.
How do you measure Gender Inequality?
The UNDP (United Nations Development Program) measures the Gender Inequality across the world using the Gender Inequality Index (GII). The GII is measured using quantitative assessment of several indicators. The three main categories are:
Reproductive health: Includes MMR (Maternal Mortality Rate) and Adolescent Fertility Rate.
Female Empowerment: Measures enrollment rate of women in higher education and share of total parliamentary seats held by women.
Labour Force Participation of Women: The ratio of women and men in the labour force.
The map below shows GII across the world. The darker the shade, the more is gender inequality. Looking at it, we can say that India is one of the most gender-unequal countries on the planet with a score of 0.530. Even a war-torn country like Iraq scores better with 0.525. The country with the lowest gender inequality is Denmark with a score of 0.41.
What do the actual experts say?
IMR (Infant Mortality Rate) and U5MR (Under 5 Mortality Rate) are declining:
Some of you may know this already; UNICEF report states that the IMR (Infant Mortality Rate) and Under-five mortality rates have declined in India since the past 40-60 years. This doesn’t mean that the problem has been solved. Things are getting better, but the government must increase efforts to accelerate the current trend further. The language used in the UNICEF report was neutral and solution-focused. It never uses the exaggerated and dramatic jargon used by the Reuters Foundation.
Gender Inequality varies between the states:
As mentioned previously, India has some of the worst indicators in Gender Inequality, but these indicators are not uniformly distributed across the states. States like Kerala, Tamil Nadu fare relatively well in terms of Gender Equality and on the other end of the spectrum, states like U.P. (Uttar Pradesh), M.P. (Madhya Pradesh) and Assam fare badly. Hence, it is crucial to prioritise the states accordingly.
Girls’ enrollment in schools increased:
According to the UNICEF, the female literacy in India has increased from 34% in 1990 to 59% in 2015. While this is a welcoming news, the government has still got much work to do and should think of innovative programs like the Mukhyamantri Balika Cycle Yojna in Bihar, which has increased the enrollment of girls to school by 40%. Having said that, attendance and quality of education are a different story altogether.
While the official data shows that the number of crimes reported in India is lower compared to countries like the United States and Brazil, the study also mentions that we have one of the core limitations- as a vast number of under-reported cases go missing in India. We can do little when the parties involved in violence remain silent.
What should we believe in?
I learnt quite a few things from the book titled ‘Factfulness’ by Dr Hans Rosling.
Featured Image Source: Crescent International
About the author: Sandeep Praharsha was an India Fellow of the 2017 cohort. He continues to work with Swasthya Swaraj, Odisha, supporting the overall health programme of the community by practising as a doctor, capacity building of the team and leading the community awareness initiative.