The third Millennium Development Goal (MDG) is to promote gender equality and empower women by 2015. In 2000, at the time of announcement of MDG, UNDP set the target under this goal ‘to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary level education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015. But, after ten years this goal is unlikely to be achieved by 2015.
Despite, some progress even UNDP seems not so hopeful in its MDG report, 2010. The report cites, “The developing regions as a whole are approaching gender parity in educational enrolment. In 2008, there were 96 girls for every 100 boys enrolled in primary school, and 95 girls for every 100 boys enrolled in secondary school. In 1999, the ratios were 91:100 and 88:100 for the two levels of education, respectively. Despite this progress, gender parity in primary and secondary education—a target that was to be met by 2005—is still out of reach for many developing regions.”
Education is not the only front where the other half of the population is facing gender disparity. In fact, at each and every level women feel spurned and despised. We love to sing a song of so called modernity but at the core of the system there are some serious problems, which create hurdles on the way of growth of women. This is not only true for developing nations but the story is not different in so called developed nations, too.
Although people around the world love to say that they firmly support equal rights for men and women, but a recent survey reveals that many still believe that men should get preference when it comes to good jobs, higher education or even in some cases the simple right to work outside the home. A survey conducted in April-May, 2010 by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project in association with the International Herald Tribune, shows that in both developing countries and wealthy ones, there is a pronounced gap between a belief in the equality of the sexes and how that translates into reality. The study found out that in nations where equal rights are already mandated, women seem stymied by the lack of real progress.
In India, sex based discrimination is not new. Even, no remarkable progress has been witnessed in the world’s largest democracy, even after 63 years of it’s Independence. Today, India’s President is a woman and the Super Prime minister Sonia Gandhi is also a woman. The speaker of Lok Sabha is also a woman and some of India’s states are being ruled by Women. A record number of 61 women got elected in the 15nth Lok Sabha. This is the highest number till date and almost a 30 per cent jump of 43 MPs in the outgoing 14th Lok Sabha.
But, despite that women of India are persistently facing the pain of discrimination. The other half of population starts facing discrimination even before taking birth. The clearest indicator of discrimination against Indian women is the skewed sex ratio. There were only 927 females per 1000 males in India (the world average is 990 women per 1000 men), according to the 1991 Census. Provisional figures for Census 2001 indicate that the trend has been slightly arrested, with the sex ratio at 933 females per 1000 males.
To understand the problem of gender based discrimination in this country, it is important to mention that India has been ranked in the bottom half among 134 countries in terms of gender equality, in World Economic Forum’s latest ranking. It assessed the distribution of resources and opportunities among males and females.
When it comes to education, women are in worst condition. According to an estimate, still 245 million Indian women cannot read or write, comprising the world’s largest number of unlettered women. It’s quite shocking to know that the average Indian female has only 1.2 years of schooling, while the Indian male spends 3.5 years in school. More than 50 per cent girls drop out by the time they are in middle school.
In 2006, at a national conference to oppose gender inequality Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, “No nation, no society, no community can hold its head high and claim to be a part of the civilized world, if it condones the practice of discriminating against one half of the humanity represented by women”. But, in reality the problem of discrimination is becoming worse and worse on every count.
Some media houses love to play the pictures of female corporate leaders, film actresses and sports celebrities in the name of women empowerment. Indeed, they are ignoring the ground reality. Some estimates say, women constitute 90 per cent of the total marginal workers of the country. Rural women engaged in agriculture form 78 per cent of all women in regular work. They are one third of all the workers on the land.
According to a micro study conducted in the Indian Himalayas, on a one-hectare farm, a pair of bullocks works 1,064 hours, a man 1,212 hours and a woman 3,485 hours in a year. But, the traditional gender division of labour ensures that these women get on average 30 per cent lower wages than men. Women employment in organised sector is only 4 per cent. These figures are enough to expose the rosy picture of women empowerment. Keeping the ground reality of gender based discrimination in mind, it seems quite difficult to achieve MDG-3 at least in India.
This is the third article of a series on MDG. The next will appear on Wednesday.
You can also read previous posts here-