The fifth National Family Health Survey (NFHS) released its report on November 24th, stating that statistically, women are more than men in India for the first time. The survey was carried out from 2019 to 2021 from around 6,36,699 households that recorded 1020 women per 1000 men. Although the nation holds the number on a pincer grip, the reality of women suffering in India lurks behind the statistics sensationalized by new media.
Despite women outnumbering men in India, the NFHS has collated further data on women’s predicaments across India during the fifth surveyed stint of time. India is certainly not a country of ‘missing women’ anymore, as Nobel laureate Amartya Sen described in his essay early in 1990.
While the sex ratio shows an improvement in the world’s second-most populous country, the holistic statistics of women’s education, employment, and health lurch unnoticed in the NFHS report.
Poonam Muttreja, the executive director of Population Foundation of India, makes no bones about calling a spade a spade while referring to the vague relevance of sex ratio until the release of census report 2021 that was deferred further during the teething wave of the pandemic.
The survey also suggests that the gender ratio at birth remains at 929 women to 1000 men due to ill practices like sex-selected abortions or female feticide that have not yet been eliminated.
According to the survey reports, India is perceived as an ageing country with a median age of 24 years calculated in the 2011 census. Therefore, the approach towards women’s health needs a more substantive life cycle than merely prioritising reproductive health. Hence, women in India fight tooth and nail every day to sustain a nourished life.
Also, NFHS data reveals that anaemic women in India have risen from 53.1% to 57%. Most of them are anaemic teenage girls aged between 15 to 19 years. Obesity and malnutrition are other two starkly deduced issues in the report that have seen a dramatic surge in numbers at par with the previous census.
Malnutrition and anaemia raise significant concerns about maternal mortality and childbirth defects. However, one cannot deny the fact that women’s health is mainly driven by psychological and physical well-being. This may increase their ability to participate in economic activities producing developmental results at a mammoth margin.
Menstrual and reproductive healths, along with a bevvy of other nutritional concerns, have taken a toll on women’s health, like poor maternal health and breast cancer. The NFHS data on menstrual health reports that states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Meghalaya comprise less than 65% of women using menstrual products.
However, education is the prerequisite for empowering young girls to make informed decisions about products. The absence of menstrual awareness arises from persisting taboos and stigma around menstruation and poor access to menstrual products contributing to its lower use.
Various educational schemes such as ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ are marked as one of the progressive initiatives by the government. However, 60% of the spending goes into advertising these schemes with very little focus on grassroots-level engagements.
Furthermore, 30% of women in India have justified violence by husbands from 14 states, according to a recent NFHS survey. Digging deeper into the survey, it has been found that the share of married women employed and getting paid in India stands at just 28%, indicating an improvement of only 2% since 2015. Significant participation of women in the country’s labour force continues to dangle at imponderable levels.
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Rural mechanization and socio-cultural factors like safety concerns, household responsibilities of a married woman, the burden of unpaid care, and in-laws not allowing them to work are some of the common reasons women are withdrawing from the workforce.
The NFHS report also adds teeth to collated data on women by suggesting that the number of women owning lands and homes has reduced dramatically, let alone household decision-making. The report encapsulates other prevailing concerns like persisting child marriage, which hasn’t seen any improvement in the last five years.
NFHS, in its survey, gathered reports from 7, 24, 115 women across India who have reported a much broader purview of data that may topple the sex-ratio narrative pushed in front of the public to celebrate.
These factors, when pieced together, would certainly not jazz up the new media reports on women outnumbering men. It somewhat dampens it. According to the National Health Portal, Women’s health, education, and employment will ultimately improve the aggregate economic structure of India by contributing to financial gain if all these factors are effectively taken care of.