As if unemployment, monetary issues, health concerns, natural calamities and others were not enough that we have brought in the problems of “existence” (purely gender-biased), out of sheer inclination towards self-made hypocrisy and unjust thinking. And, as we know nothing supersedes the question mark on life, as everything comes in only if life is kept alive. Some of the shocking facts reveal that India accounts for the termination of some ten million female fetuses over the past 20 years. So, what were the numbers in these years, and previous to that? A statistical study shows that male to female ratio on the count of 1000 has been varying significantly. Now, we have the figures of 972 females (per 1000 males) in 1901; 964 in 1911; and 955 in 1921 versus 933 in 2001, and 914 (girl child) in 2011 (child sex ratio), tentatively. What’s the difference now? Probably, girls these days are seen less as Goddesses and more as burdens.
In 2011, India’s child sex ratio was at 914 girls (1000 boys), which is the lowest since the country’s Independence with Haryana’s a child sex ratio 834 girls to 1000 boys, far worse than the national average. According to 2001 Census, in Punjab, the sex ratio (zero-six age group) declined from 875 to 793 (-82 points), in Haryana the decrease was from 879 to 820 (-59 points); in Himachal Pradesh this decrease was from 951 to 897 (-54 points); in Gujarat, it was from 928 to 878 (-50 points); in Chandigarh the reduction was from 899 to 845 (-54 points); and in Delhi from 915 to 865 (-50 points).
Some studies also reveal that young children of 7-8 years of age start working for long hours during the day while they should have actually been going to school and studying. In addition to this, a study also talk that about 300,000 girls going missing (in India) every year, and there is also a growth in the numbers of girls being trafficked for sex work. On 12 December 2002, the Government of India signed the Trafficking Protocol. The infant mortality rate, neo-natal mortality rate, incidence of low birth weight babies, maternal morbidity and mortality, etc. are at disturbing heights when the mother is an adolescent compared if the mother was older than 21 years of age. With these gloomy realities facing us time and again, are adding nothing but frustration to the system of life, country’s governance, and retarded growth of the country and the world. Happiness Quotient, yet malnourished or undernourished. On the occasion of the National Girl Child Day (January 24), the government of India promoted the campaign, “Stop Sex Selection, Save the Girl Child” with an objective to offer support & new opportunities to the girls & discourage sex selection. And, we are at International Day of the Girl Child now, eight months ahead of January, and we have to focus on the girls’ empowerment and fulfillment of the human rights; however, moving on without resolving the issue of “question mark on girl child’s life,” would be a like a blind movement in the darkness.
The 2018 theme of the International Day of the Girl Child is: “With Her: A Skilled Girl Force.” “On this International Day of the Girl, let us recommit to supporting every girl to develop her skills, enter the workforce on equal terms and reach her full potential.” – UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
Starting with the developmental steps addressing the roots of the issues hindering progess, we checked with Dr. Rita Bakshi, Senior Gynaecologist and IVF Expert, and Chairperson, International Fertility Centre, about the three effective measures to eliminate female infanticide and foeticide. She opined with the following measures:
a) Making the people get over their societal notions, grave thoughts and stereotypical mentality of seeing the girl child as a burden.
b) The sex determination and the involvement of the doctors should be completely done away with from the root level, which is usually in return of hefty payments.
c) The government should deliver incentives and monetary remunerations to families that have more than one girl child.
In this context, Ms. Lina Ashar, Founder of Kangaroo Kids Education Ltd. and an expert in the field of parenting, entrepreneurship and education shared, “In my opinion, we as a nation need to educate every strata of society on gender equality and really have people working at the grass root level to enforce this. Data suggests that the boy girl ratio is constantly dropping year after year which will be an issue in the future. Also our textbooks in schools need to address the topic of gender stereotypes and how to break them.”
She further added, “In a huge country like ours this is a subject that should be of utmost importance. Our Judicial System needs to be neutral. The male domination needs to be eradicated. Once of the important things is to recognize that women have a very strong nurturing Gene in them and in many cases daughters have taken care of their parents in the old age. These stories need to be highlighted. The current policy of our government of ‘Beti Padhao Beti Bachao’ is a great initiative.”
On the occasion of International Day of the Girl Child in 2014, the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi had extended a hand of support for the eradication of female foeticide. The following year on 22 January 2015, he launched, the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (BBBP) scheme, addressing the issue of the declining child sex ratio image. It got more highlighted when the sarpanch of Bibipur-Haryana village, posted a selfie with his daughter on Facebook, with hash tag #SelfieWithDaughter, a few months later, adding a new perspective of girl child in the rural context.
BBBP scheme, as the name suggests, is about Save and Educate a Girl Child, and when you educate a girl, you are investing in a potential and productive future of the family & country. Education is the foundation brick of a life and everyone has a right to be educated, but these days, educational institutions are not proving safe for the children.
On these lines, Dr Geeta Baruah Nath, Head of Deptt., Gynaecology, Artemis Hospital, Gurgaon, emphasized, “Parents play a big role in raising the male and girl child equally, and in teaching good values from the childhood, such as respecting women and social norms, and about bad touch; not to indulge in drugs or alcohol, which in a way catalyzes violence and promote rape. Finally, education in all sections of the society to enhance mental health is the key to prevent violence and rape for which we all must come together.”
Considering the incident of a ten-year old girl, who was repeatedly raped, and consequently got pregnant. She didn’t realize it until it was more than nineteen weeks of pregnancy. And, not to forget the incidents in the schools.
She also opined, “While boys and men too experience the abuse, but a majority of victims are female & a majority of the perpetrators of violence are boys and men. It’s unfair to generalize the blame as maximum number of men have never raped or sexually assaulted anyone; yet they play a crucial role in the prevention of rape. It’s a fact that sexual violence will not end until men become part of the solution. Men must stop considering women as a mere object and when they see women as inferior, it becomes easier to treat them with less respect, disregard their rights, & use derogatory language, which sends a message that females are less than fully human. Everyone must speak up whenever they witness any kind of intimidating behaviour that may promote violence and rape. We must contribute towards making a safe society by generating awareness and by supporting the rape victims to sail through the most difficult period of their life. Violence cannot be prevented by limiting the freedom of girls or by judging them how they choose to dress up. Men should not believe that expressing feelings is not masculine, so that they can have a deeper nonviolent more meaningful interpersonal relationship. To prevent rape and violence in married life or any relationship, men must understand that ‘No’ means ‘No’ and Silence does not mean Consent.”
In fact, even Dr. Parinita Kaur, Consultant – Internal Medicine, same opinion that education works as the best medicine or dose for the female infanticide and feticide. “Education for all and incentives to underprivileged girls for higher education. The awareness of fundamental rights for all and the outreach programs so that people are able to differentiate between right and wrong. Constantly highlighting the achievements of women of the world and advertising how each girl has the potential to reach such heights, given a chance.”
The educational system should also be designed keeping the needs of the students. The distance of school from the house, city, or a village is also a matter of concern. Safety needs to be ensured here. Another major concern for girls is being able to tread the growth of success without being hindered by menstruation problems. A lot of girl students drop out from schools due to this.
We asked Dr. Bakshi about the possible solutions to resolve this issue. She said, “There are a numerous reasons behind girls dropping out from schools after they attain puberty. They are expected to take over the house and help in domestication after a certain age. Also, the onset of periods amongst them cultivates inhibitions and hesitations as menstruation is associated with a lot of social taboo and stigma. Detachment from these threads of preconceived notions can really bring in a change. Alongside, classroom lessons on menstruation must be given to both boys and girls schooling them about these changes in the women’s body.”
Ms. Ashar added, “Once parents are educated and facilities are provided by the government and schools on hygiene (Mainly sanitization) and safety this issue will not arise. Dr. Kaur is also of the same opinion that the importance of education and need to know the world needs to be emphasized to the Girls and their families. Better sanitation and separate toilets for girls may probably be an incentive. Dr Kaur also added that the schools providing sanitary napkins may be a good idea, but along with it, separate and neat toilets will also be required. As apt she is saying, “we need to understand, menstruation is physiological and not a disease. If a girl is uncomfortable or unwell, she can very well take a leave, but mandatory leave is not advisable.”
Dr. Bakshi sees positive impact in the idea of schools providing sanitary napkins. “Yes, schools must provide the girls with sanitary napkins and week-off, if needed. This shall help in evading the disgrace and humiliation from grass level. This will reduce the hesitation and disinclination among them while promoting its need. Many girls in the rural areas reuse old clothes in their house during their periods. Thus, this initiative shall improve the sanitation situations.”
Here, Ms Ashar added, “the schools can opt to provide sanitary napkins through vending machines; they should also provide medical assistance and counseling sessions to cope with the monthly cycle.”
We checked with Dr. Bakshi to throw some light on hygienic situations of girls /women that need to be taken care of in rural context. “It is very essential that each house must have at least one toilet. Girls should be averted from peeing in open places to prevent any kind of urinary infections. They must clean their genitals while bathing or after using the washroom. Young Girls must be intercepted from reusing old and underlying cloths during periods.”
Highlighting the hygiene and sanitation issues, we asked Temsutula Imsong, Social Activist from Nagaland, and a Pioneer of Mission Prabhughat, shared “Whichever religion, race, culture, and society you talk about, the basic tenets advocate respect for women. When there is a violation it’s easy to understand that we are following none of them. Having said that, I wanted to convey and point out that hygiene for all, be it personal or of surroundings, is a basic need that we have to pay attention to on priority to. Many years after independence when I get to see that a paramount importance is being given to the construction of toilets it makes me happy because I have come across many females who shared their experiences that will shrink your heart. What they’ve underwent was no less than being raped. Rather than lamenting we should take charge to do whatever is possible in our own capacity to ensure that women are respected.”
Temsutuala’s views drift our thoughts towards another dimension of susceptibility for harassment, which is rarely spoken about i.e. the security issues that open defecation brings in to women. This contributes to disease, childhood malnutrition, and loss of economic productivity (due to early deaths) and sexual harassment of women. In 2011, Rithika, who now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, was repeatedly raped by a man from her village, when she used to go to the forest to defecate. According to UNICEF, 50% of the rape cases happen when women defecate in open. Not just this, domestic violence is another grim reality of India’s girl population.
Ms. Ashar, who supports the motives of putting an end to domestic violence on girls and women, expressed, “Parents should encourage their daughters to become financially independent. We also need to have stringent laws against domestic violence and educating people at the grass root level about domestic violence and the repercussions.”
She went on to mention that for her “health is about both, physical and mental health both”. Studies show that depression is on the rise and we need to focus on making our kids emotionally strong. It is essential to educate children at a young age and provide them with the right support system.” And, she quoted, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men’ – Frederick Douglass.
Here Ms. Ashar added three of her inputs regarding a few changes or introductions of the policies of the government regarding girl’s health and education. “Firstly, our government and Judicial system needs to move from being male dominated to having neutral policies. Secondly, we need to continuously reinforce and make Parents aware about the basic gender stereotypes and how to combat them. Thirdly, giving incentives to parents for sending their girls to schools would be helpful too. Fourthly, the government should introduce strong pension schemes will reduce the dependence of parents on the male child.”
On its website, UN has briefly mentioned about the soul and sole objective of International Day of the Girl Child (11 October). “Today’s generation of girls are preparing to enter a world of work that is being transformed by innovation and automation. Educated and skilled workers are in great demand, but roughly a quarter of young people – most of them female – are currently neither employed or in education or training. Of the 1 billion young people – including 600 million adolescent girls – that will enter the workforce in the next decade, more than 90% of those living in developing countries will work in the informal sector, where low or no pay, abuse and exploitation are common. On 11 October, International Day of the Girl, we are working alongside all girls to expand existing learning opportunities, chart new pathways and calling on the global community to rethink how to prepare them for a successful transition into the world of work.”
Working women contribute to one-sixth of economic output, among the lowest shares in the world and half the global average, as studies reveal. However, this unrealized contribution of women might be one of the possible reasons for India being poorer. In fact, on the worst part, the female employment rate in India (both formal and informal economy), has dropped from 35% in 2005 to just 26% now. Improved female employment rates compared with males would provide India with more than 200 million workers, which is much more than the European Union has of either gender, and sufficient to fill the employment demands in the factories of the rest of Asia.
“To let the empowerment of girls brew, it is the need of the hour to prepare them for parity at workplace, in terms of pay package, perks etc. with their male counterparts. This is possible only if girls are educated and encouraged to take up professions in the formal sector,” shared Vasavi Acharya Bora, Early childhood educationist, Managing Director, Tender Petals preschool chain. She further added, “Generally it is seen that girls are more encouraged to take up courses that would help them in future to take up jobs in informal sectors. This results in a huge gap in workplace and henceforth, leads to dependence on every ground. This acts as a block to their career growth, financial and economic empowerment. As an early childhood educationist, I truly believe that discrimination and biasness should be nipped at the bud. Children should be treated with respect, given equal rights and freedom, irrespective of their gender type. It is important to encourage girls to take up skilled training and also to build up a workforce that is led by women.”
When a woman starts earning, she spends some parts of her earning on the future of her children, who are also the future of the country and on improving their scale of living, which means improving the levels of the country. Hence, encouraging and preparing female skilled force is of utmost importance and nearly equal to welcoming Goddess Lakshmi, and letting her shower blessings on the country. evidently, and needless to say, with a skilled force of females, a family or country is likely to succeed and make it big.