India is a land where women are equated with goddesses. However, the real scenario can often be contrasting. In many situations, women are barely even treated as humans! Be it urban areas or rural, women in India face a daily struggle against misogyny.
Despite the adverse circumstances, women continue to survive. And there are many reasons why they bear these: pressure from family, financial pressures, no support from family. And the biggest driving force of course: What will society say?
Lack of awareness among women has led to this situation. The main reason for this is illiteracy among women. According to the 2011 Census, female literacy stands at 65.5% while male literacy at 82.1%. The gap is more in rural areas. Apart from the poor educational opportunities, women face a number of other problems and challenges that require attention.
FEMALE INFANTICIDE & FOETICIDE
A female starts experiencing discrimination before she is even born. A girl child is considered a burden to the family whereas a boy is considered an asset. After marriage, women in India are expected to live with their in-laws. Thus, investing money in their education is considered to be a waste of resources.
Moreover, socio-cultural practices like dowry make girls undesirable. To skip the financial burden, some parents kill the unborn foetus or the newborn daughter.
Due to such practices, sex determination of the baby is now illegal. However, thousands continue to break the law to get rid of daughters. Several government programmes are also trying to reduce the stigma around the girl child through initiatives like ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’.
“If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family.” These words are absolutely true. The most important weapon for a girl to fight discrimination is education. When a girl is educated, she has the power to make her own decisions, improve the standard of life for her family and children, expand her career opportunities, and reform society as a whole. When a girl is educated, she is empowered. But due to the lack of educational opportunities in rural areas, girls are expected to take care of household work only or are employed in minimum wage jobs to support the family. Even if a girl manages to go to school, there are chances that she might experience gender-based discrimination, face sanitation problems after reaching adolescence, and face the risk of being sexually abused on the way to school.
HEALTH CARE AND SANITATION
Rural areas and urban slums are bereft of proper healthcare, sanitation, and infrastructure. People die due to what are considered to be trivial diseases in developed areas. Sanitation has been one of the biggest problems in India. Due to a major lack of toilets, around 600 million rural Indians are forced to defecate in the open, spreading diseases like cholera and contaminating unprotected water sources. Women are also exposed to the risk of being harassed or raped during such times.
Pregnant women in villages have to travel very far on a daily basis to get water or use a toilet. Instead of going far to give birth, they stick to midwives, which later on affects the health of both the mother and the child, increasing maternal deaths and neonatal deaths. Adolescent girls often contract infections due to lack of sanitation and sanitary pads during menstruation and have no proper medical assistance to get through it.
WORK GAP & WORK POLITICS
Women face gender discrimination and abuse in the working community as well. This ranges across the pay, the promotions, or the work politics. As per the March 2019 MSI survey, women in India earn 19% less than men. The survey revealed that the median gross hourly salary for men in India in 2018 was ₹242.49, while it was ₹196.3 for women. Women are also exposed to sexual abuse in the workplace. There is a great stigma even in reporting the wrongful conduct of a co-worker.
And in the urban workforce, promotions work only till a certain level when it comes to women. Everything seems and feels transparent but women are often deprived of higher posts in an organisation due to gender bias. Out of every 100 CEOs and managing directors of companies listed on the National Stock Exchange, only about three are women. The number of women who break through the glass ceiling happens to be very low. In urban areas, even in the 21st century, women are looked down upon as the ‘lesser’ sex, someone who should be staying at home and taking care of the kids.
CHILD MARRIAGE, DOWRY SYSTEM, & DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Women in India are often considered as burdens, and thus married off at a very early age when they do not even know what marriage is. Child marriage is a strongly ingrained societal norm that shows the widespread gender inequality and discrimination rooted in Indian minds. Child marriage is a violation of a child’s rights, putting them at risk of violence, exploitation, and abuse. When a young girl is married, she is pressurized into quitting school to work for the home and bearing children. These expose her to venereal diseases at a young age and she might even lose her life while giving birth.
The dowry system is very much still prevalent in urban as well as rural areas. Often the bride’s family is harassed for more and more money, and if their needs aren’t met the girl is tortured or even killed. In 2017, the National Crime Bureau of India recorded nearly 7,000 dowry-linked deaths.
Abusing women is an accepted practice in the Indian patriarchal setup. Domestic violence against women occurs in many forms. Even though many laws have been created to prevent and punish domestic violence, it is still rampant.
The sex ratio in the northern states of India is so skewed that a single woman is married to multiple men in the same family, a recipe for abuse, violence, and harassment. Polyandry and fraternal polyandry is practiced in most of the north Indian states due to low female ratios and in villages, where the societies are male-dominated and which still follow ancient rituals and customs
SWABHIMAN PROGRAMME FOR WOMEN IN INDIA
Smile Foundation’s Swabhiman programme seeks to help and empower marginalized women from rural and semi-urban backgrounds. Some of the initiatives under the programme include providing ration and health kits to girls, providing educational support, and inform and educate parents. Reproductive health and child health services are also among the major intervention areas of Swabhiman.
The initiative is based on the premise that the best hope of empowering women is through attitudinal and behavioural changes in the community, including men.
So far, Swabhiman has made a difference to the lives of over 560,000 women and girls. More than 7500 girls and women received health care support at their doorstep. Many more were provided with adequate knowledge of reproductive and sexual health issues.
Over 100 women and adolescent girls have been trained to be ‘change agents’. They are now serving as health educators, health volunteers, and peer educators in their communities.
Educational support has been provided to 555 underprivileged girls for secondary and senior secondary education through full scholarships