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India’s Abysmal Sex Ratio Reflects Its Sickening Obsession With The Male Child

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Uttarkashi grabbed the eyeballs of the whole nation, when shocking reports came out claiming that in 132 villages in Uttarkashi, no girl child was born in three months May–July).

According to the data, out of the total 216 births in the last three months, there wasn’t a single girl child. Naturally, the district administrators were shocked and baffled. We, the ordinary citizens, too, were stunned by this data, especially with the government pushing for “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao”.

Why is a girl child considered a liability?

Though, this slogan itself contains a tinge of authority and patronising tone. It is as if some higher authority will save the betis in true ‘damsels in distress’ style. They will ‘let’ the betis live and study. Rather, the betis have every right to be born and to live however they wish to! In a country where this kind of awareness campaign is needed even after 70 years of independence, and even a women-empowering campaign has such strong patriarchal undertones, it is not surprising that this is the result we yield.

Let us be honest. It is not as if ‘no girl child was born’; it’s more like ‘no girl child was allowed to be born’. And this is not an anomaly; this is the situation in major parts of India. Yes, Uttarkashi grabbed attention because ‘not a single girl’ was born. So, the sex ratio at birth is stark.

India’s apathy towards the girl children is historically evident in the census reports after 1947. According to the Census of India, the sex ratio was healthy during independence, but it started showing steady signs of decline over the years.

However, the 2011 census showed a slight improvement in statistics than the 2001 census. In 2001 census, the overall sex ratio of India was 933, which went up to a meagre 943 in 2011. Even then, this upward trend suffered a loss when it came to child sex ratio, which was 927 in 2001 census, and saw a steep decline to 919 in 2011.

This trend proves Uttarkashi is no exception. We, as a nation, despise the girl child; we see her as a burden, a liability, which gets manifested in India’s obsession with the male child.

Our girls are disappearing every day. Some are not even allowed to see the light of day; some are killed upon birth, some are trafficked. In a seminal article, economist Amartya Sen referred to the ‘missing women’ for the first time in 1992. It was an estimate of the total number of women who have died prematurely due to gender discrimination. He estimated the number of women missing globally to be 100 million and 30 million for India. This sheer number shook the world, our conscience, and stripped us, forcing us to take a look at the mirror. However, this was not the boiling point. Gender disparities manifested in stark contrast in sex ratio, continue to make its presence felt across the world, and in India too.

India’s growing fondness and obsession of the male child goes hand in hand with its strive for development. The changing demography of India bears testament to this alarming, violent fact. According to the Sample Registration System Survey, the country’s sex ratio at birth is showing a worrying decline. From 900 in 2013-14, it witnessed a fall to 898 in 2014–15, which again registered a seminal fall and the figure stood at 896 for 2015-17.

We ought to remember this Bharat in the face of shining digital India. Where female foeticide, infanticide, trafficking, and mysterious suicides are taking our girls away from us every day. Formal education has proved to be of little help to combat this. According to Kamla Bhasin, gender disparity is more pronounced in the developed areas of the country compared to the rural areas. The evil nexus of patriarchal ideology with improved access to medical practices and financial power puts the people in the urban areas in a better position to exploit this practice.

Perhaps, besides planning to launch Chandrayaan, we have to think of saving India’s girl child too. India is a baffling land indeed, where its majoritarian religious population will worship the Goddess, and go for sex-selection tests and subsequent abortions simultaneously. Let’s hope Uttarkashi will be an eye-opener in this long chain of historical discrimination prevalent through centuries. Let us recognise the pattern of violent patriarchy and insane obsession for the male child, and take it upon ourselves to spread this awareness among those who are not yet conscious of it. Let alone the humanitarian angle to this practice, in this utterly market-oriented world, let’s talk numbers!

Let’s talk of the sheer loss in GDP India is suffering by killing its girl child. Let’s not only focus on increasing the literacy level, but also the education level. Let us teach our children not ‘what’ to think, but ‘how’ to think. Empowerment has only one synonym—educating the masses. Let’s hope, the reel world of “Matrubhoomi….A Nation Without Women” does not overlap with the real India.

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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.

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.

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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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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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.

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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