INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY
(The writer is a faculty of Geography in Biswanath College, Chariali. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
The status of women refers to the position of women in the society in relation to men. Geographically, men and women share the same space everywhere in the world, but women are accorded a lower level status than men. The inequality of status among men and women are reflected in the women's access to education, healthcare, physical and financial resources as well as opportunities in the political, economic, social and cultural backgrounds.
The north-eastern region, basically comprises of eight States; and Assam is one of them. The States of the NE region are considered backward in terms of per capita income. There is a slow pace of development in these eight States. The geographical area of Assam is 78,438 Sq. Km. i.e., about 2.4 per cent of the country's total geographical area. Assam has population of 31,160,272 according to the 2011 Census; of which, 15,954,927 are males and 15,214,345 are females. The sex ratio (female per 1000 male) is 954 and the female literacy ratio is 67.27 per cent. The socio-economic setup of the State has not been favourable affecting the overall progress of the State. Since, it is a multiethnic State with heterogeneous cultural background, it has been experiencing insurgency and ethnic conflicts for last three decades. As a result, not only its economy, but also its social structure came under threat. The worst sufferers in the process are the womenfolk of the State.
The women's status is determined to a great extent in terms of the socio-economic indicators, such as income, poverty, education, and skills that open up opportunities of employment and better health. These indicators are also interlinked with the concept of power and position.
In the field of education, women in Assam are in a better position compared to the all-India average. As per 2001 Census, the literacy rate of Assam is 64.28 per cent as against 65.38 per cent of India. While male literacy is 71.93 per cent (India: 75.85 per cent), female literacy stands 56.03 per cent (India: 54.60 per cent).
According to the Census-2011, an encouraging rise from 54.61 per cent in 2001 to 67.27 per cent in 2011 demonstrate a sharp rise of about 31 per cent female literacy rate. The report of the overall rate of the State is at 73.18 per cent. The male-female gap in the literacy rate is still declining and it is much below the all-India average. The dropout rate of both boys and girls in Assam remained higher than the all-India average from 2001 to 2011. The dropout rate of girls was higher in most of the years.
The sex ratio is a very important indicator, as it reflects the status of women society. It reflects whether she enjoys those rights to survival, protection and development. In 2001, the male-female ratio in Assam was 1000:932, which was lower than the all-India average of 1000:933. According to the Census-2011, the sex ratio of Assam is 1000:954, which is lower as compared to four other States of the north-eastern region -- Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura. The imbalance in the male-female ratio is due to the blind faith as well as the result of illiteracy. Such factors have resulted in destruction of the fetuses of baby girl at parental stage due to sex-determination test, and also resulted in the deliberate malnutrion and neglect of the girl child, which has resulted in this imbalance.
Female work participation is another indicator of women's status in the society. The more the number of women in paid jobs, the better their status for most women in the world are engaged in unpaid or in low-paid jobs. Assam's case is not the worst among the major States of the Indian Union in terms of human development and gender equality; but, it is ranked quite low. Assam has a largely rural-agrarian economy, which is characterized by high rate of work participation of the womenfolk. The work participation rate of the women in Assam is considerably lower than man in general except in the Primary sector, where the rate is in favour of women. However, the participation of women in the Secondary and the Tertiary sectors is lower in Assam.
According to the 'Economic Survey, Assam 2009-10', women constitute 32.50 per cent of all the organized-sector workers, as opposed to only 19 per cent on the all-India level in the same sector. Since the 1990s, women employment in the organized sector has been approximately around 30 per cent, where the majority of women employed in this sector are employed either as permanent, temporary or casual labourers by the Tea industry -- one of the largest organized sectors in Assam. The gender gap in the work-participation rate is obviously in favour of women, in the Primary sector, and in favour of men in the other two sectors.
Health is another prominent factor to determine the status of women in a society. Looking at the different health indicators of Assam, the status of women in the State is in a bad shape. Assam has a high maternal mortality rate (MMR); and, there has been an increase in the rate over time. Presently, it is 480 as compared to the all-India MMR of 254. The workers of tea plantation garden also have high MMR and IMR (Infant Mortality Rate). According to the report 2011, Sample Registration System, Registrar General of Assam has recorded 390 MMR against 1,00,000 per live birth, whereas 381 MMR against 1,00,000 live births.
It is a fact that the status of women in Assam is poor in terms of their position also in the decision-making bodies. In 1991, though seven female candidates contested for the Lok-Sabha from Assam yet none was elected. No women from Assam contested in the 1984 and 1989 elections. In 1996, only one woman was elected to the Lok Sabha out of the nine candidates who contested. Assam has 14 Lok-Sabha seats and 7 Rajya-Sabha seats. Since the first general election, women from Assam have not got proper representation in both the Houses of the Parliament.
The position changed a little and improved since the elections in 2009 and onwards, where out of 158 candidates, 11 female forwarded their candidature and two managed to win the election. Hence, 2009 onwards 14 per cent of MPs from Assam in the recent Lok-Sabha are women. Participation of women are low not only in the elected bodies, but also in administrative posts. However, there are much possibilities and potential for increasing the participation of women of Assam in the national mainstream. There are various schemes for women in Assam, which are Centrally as well as State sponsored. These schemes focus on issues of employment, education and health, besides the other valid important parameters.
Under the Social Welfare Department, Assam there are many beneficiaries right from children to women and aged person. Under this scheme in Assam, there are 24 members of ICDS Project Blocks. The various schemes for women have helped women in many ways right from their health in the form of different nutritional supplements, their economic condition also improved with the schemes for formation of various SHG's. The Government of Assam through national, Rural Health Mission has introduced various schemes for women like Janani Surakha Yojana, Mamoni, Majoni, Mamata, Arunodoy, among others.
The Constitution of India provides equal rights and privileges for men and women, and declares them as equal before the law. Besides educational provisions made by different Commissions and statutes, women are enjoying equal status with man, which is very essential for their empowerment.
What is more, the role of women as prominent public figures is a cause for concern among her family members and also male members. This is due to their dependency on the womenfolk. It is mainly due to illiteracy, lack of confidence, lack of experience, and general isolation from the public life. The prevalent social culture and norms also make the functioning of women in these positions difficult.
There is an urgent need to create awareness among the women in particular about the social evils of the society. The Government along with voluntary organizations should take up concrete steps to uplift the status of women by providing them safety, security, and a peaceful as well as prosperous life.