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The Exaggerated Narrative Of Women’s Safety In India

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India fellow logoEditor’s Note: This post is a part of a campaign by The India Fellow program on Youth Ki Awaaz. India Fellows spend 13 months working at the grassroots level to bring about real on-ground change. They are also mentored to be socially conscious leaders and contribute to the development of the country. Apply here to be a part of the change.

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.

Source: Gender Inequality Index (GII) across the world, UNDP (2012 data)

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.

Gender-based violence:

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.

  1. Calm down.
  2. Insist on data that is both relevant and accurate; not any other way.
  3. Follow the 80/20 rule. If there is a problem in the country, look within the country for the areas or regions which are more affected, and focus on them.
  4. Slow change is also a change.
  5. The world is getting much better. It’s definitely a better place compared to the past decades.
  6. Instead of having assumptions about a problem, look deeper and find ways to solve the problem.

References:

  1. BBC News. (2018). Is India really ‘most dangerous’ for women?
  2. Jeffrey D. Sachs. (2015). The Age of Sustainable Development. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. 543 pages.
  3. Muralidharan, K. and Prakash, N. (2017). Cycling to School: Increasing Secondary School Enrollment for Girls in India. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 9(3), pp.321-350.
  4. Rosling, H., Rosling, O. and Rosling Rönnlund, A. (2018). Factfulness. London: Sceptre, pp.page numbers 49-113.
  5. International statistics on Crime and Justice

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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