I Want The Upcoming Govt To Ensure India’s Growth Is Inclusive Of Its Women

70 years since Independence, the state of women in India though having been evolved to an extent is still very much behind other countries’ women population, let alone their male counterparts. With a rank of 108 in World Economic Forum’s gender gap index and a rank of 130 in Human Development Index, having adolescent birth rate of 23 i.e. 23 out of 1000 girls between the age group of 15 to 19 deliver a baby, and only 39% of women population having secondary education, India’s growth remains not just unequal but unjust to its women population. The sorry state does not augur well for a country competing for a global spot being the 5th largest economy and chest thumping on becoming one of the superpowers in the world.

Data source: The Global Gender Gap Report 2017, World Economic Forum

It is crucial that India’s growth is made inclusive without leaping ahead leaving behind the women population. Emancipation of women in our country has been through various phases, from eradicating Sati to ‘permitting’ women to enter the sanctum of the temple. Observed from outside, all the measures seem to be ‘granted’ rather than ‘accessed’. It is high time women be made the authoritative power to acquire whatever they want themselves. The shift in women perspective has to move from protection to power. This shall be possible only when women in grassroots level acquire equal access and power.

More Women In Jobs

“Equal rights for someone doesn’t mean lesser rights for others”, they say. Same way, more jobs for women doesn’t mean lesser jobs for men. World Economic forum says “If women contribute as equal as men, our GDP will increase by 27%”, but the unsaid truth is women’s work is unaccounted and unpaid. Women’s unpaid labor alone equals 43 times the annual income of Apple Inc. That is the pathetic state of women in this country.

Image source Twitter

Why it is that majority of the women are termed “not-working” only because their work is not considered to be “working” at all. Whose mistake is that? While women are mostly engaged in the informal, unorganized sector, the ones in the organized sector are also hugely underpaid and overlooked.

In 1990 35% of Indian women were ‘working’ women but in 2018, the stats have come down to a shocking 27%. The trends look alarming. While our neighboring China has a whopping 56% of women in the age group of 15-24 contributing towards the economy, India’s recorded meager 16% tells us a different story. While it is argued that the majority of the women population has opted for higher studies, the reduction in the numbers cannot be ignored.

The main reason being, we have still not divorced our social stigmas associated with women. For example, one of the main reasons recorded for women quitting work after marriage is said to be to look after the baby. The onus of raising up a child is largely on women. Though we have better maternity leave offers with a paid 9 months leave, it is still not a clear cut method. A better effective approach is to unload the burden of women by mandating a compulsory paternal leave and making the men share the load.

It has a double advantage that men will be equally responsible from the beginning and employers will not refrain recruiting women over the fact that they will get a break post-marriage, as the break will become common to all the employees irrespective of gender. An extra advantage for women is that they will not be targeted for missing out, a very common problem faced by women across the globe as they miss out promotions immediately after a break. This will be considerably reduced – as the missing out becomes common and hence more understandable for everyone.

More women self-help groups need to be formed in rural areas to engage more women to become financially independent. This need to be given special importance as the primary concern has to be accounting all the work done by women in contribution towards GDP. As per reports of 2016, only 14% of business in India are run by women. In that too, a majority of the business is operated single-handed, which means small scale business shall be boosted by promoting easy and interest-free loans to woo more women to register their business and become job creators, putting them on top echelons of the society. 48% of women entrepreneurs still do not have a bank account and 75% of women-operated firms (excluding Northeast and UTs) are stagnant as per National sample survey reports.

As the elections are around the corner, national parties seem to be promising 33% reservation for women in Government jobs. This should not be stopped at this and just left as yet another election gimmick. Pooling more women in job sectors have to be the primary concern for any government as it directly yields more human resource utilization left unexplored largely. In private sectors, though reservation shall not be enforced, indirect measures shall be adopted by giving special benefits to private firms having equal employment ratio of men-women. This will encourage private firms to hire more women and thus making a balance in the job sector.

More Political Power To Women

It was the visionary leader Biju Patnaik, who introduced women reservation in politics, by reserving seats in local bodies’ election. Eventually, the 33% reservation in local bodies has become constitutionalized in the country. However, since 1996, the women reservation bill in parliament is stalled for a mind-boggling 2 decades and on. It is a question of the century, whether the bill will see the light of the day anytime soon.

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India has had only 334 women MPs ever since independence, which is less than 2/3 of elected representatives in a single Lok Sabha. This explains a lot. Women participation in the current parliament is a meager 11%. We are lagging behind countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, etc. on this front. India is one of the countries to have exercised franchise for women well ahead of other countries, but still, the political representation has not gained equal momentum.

The women reservation bill which was supported unanimously by all the parties while not in power, however, has never materialized into the paper. It is not surprising though as it just represents the patriarchal system we live in. While everyone claims to be in for women empowerment, no one (read men in deciding authority) wants it anyway. The bill saw male MPs tearing papers, raising slogans and rushing to the well of the house every time it was brought.

While the UPA-II managed to pass it in Rajya Sabha, it could not be cleared in the lower house owing to lesser support. However, the same opposition NDA included it in its 2014 election manifesto and came to power. Even though the Congress assured its full support, the NDA did not pass it and the Parliament sessions were concluded and all the parties had the nerve to include it again in their manifesto. Who are they fooling anyway? Now with BJP and TMC having reserved tickets for women, all the national parties making tall claims on women reservation have once again shunned away from doing something they could actually do themselves.

Anyhow the parliament favored another unexpected reservation just at the last moment to ensure the votes of economically poor unreserved. While no research has been done to substantiate the reason for 10%, the bill was passed with much fanfare without any hindrances. Apparently, a simple proof of having 50% share in population which is mostly underrepresented and exploited is still not a reason good enough for reserving 1/3rd women in politics.

Studies have found that women legislatures have outperformed male legislatures in India. UNU-WIDER (United Nations University-World Institute of Development and Economic Research) based its study in India for 4 election cycles i.e. a period of 20 years on the performance of Indian legislators. Some findings are as follows:

  •  When the average growth of India was 7% during the sample period, the constituencies of female legislators recorded 25% growth.
  • A difference of about 1.8% pts in GDP growth than their male counterparts.
  • More effective in clearing road projects to boost infrastructure and made water available to their constituency than male represented constituencies.

More Social Security To Women

Last but not least, all the discrimination against women boils down to one thing – women are more vulnerable to social injustice. While the laws are always there in the paper, it has never been easy for women to accessorize it, rather it was the perpetrators who have always managed to escape. Thanks to our age-old tradition of slut-shaming women and whatever-it-is-he-is-a-man syndrome.

Every day India records 106 rape cases and every 4 out of 10 victims are minors. And in 95% cases, the perpetrators are blood-related. While it is well known that most of the rape cases are unrecorded in this country, the recorded cases have actually increased after the Nirbhaya case. However, only 1 in 4 rape cases is convicted. The country needs stringent laws for violence against women.

Data source: NCRB

Compassion for women comes only when they are raped. Otherwise, they are just insignificant and never heard. The most important reason for violence against women is the normalization of degrading women and having a reckless attitude when it comes to dealing with women. There have been various instances on women coming under the attack of derogatory remarks. Even women in powerful places like politics have never ceased to escape this ill fate.  The Parliament and state assemblies have seen multiples cases of women coming under the flak of sexist remarks and actions by their male colleagues. The maximum action taken on such issues is removing those words from the records. This is the highest form of the travesty of justice. Only bringing them to books and making their actions accountable will reduce this menace. We need special laws and corrective measures on such accounts.

While Indian judiciary has become revolutionary lately by decriminalizing section 377 – embracing homosexuality and decriminalizing illicit relationship out of wedlock, the one that is still inhumanly violating the basic human rights of women is not even an offense – the reason being criminalizing marital rape will destroy the institution of marriage in this country. Since when did institution of marriage become a validation to rape women? It is time we do away with such injustices being shoved down in the name of one-sided culture and morals.

India cannot grow only with a 50% population. Equal space is what is an indication of a developed civil society. India can no longer hide behind the tokenisms of first woman this and that as full-fledged emancipation of women. India cannot achieve an international feat with the current gender gap. Let us not keep ignoring the elephant in the room.

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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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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