“How I wish we lived in a time when laws were not necessary to safeguard us from discrimination.”- Barbra Streisand
Gender based discrimination against the girl child is pervasive across the world. It is seen in all the strata of society and manifests in various forms. As per the literature, female child has been treated inferior to male child and this is deeply engraved in the mind of the female child. Some argue that due to this inferior treatment the females fail to understand their rights. This is more predominant in India as well as other lesser developed countries. Sex selection before the birth and neglect of the female child after the birth, in childhood and, during the teenage years has outnumbered males to females in India.
In India women are considered as pure, divine and worshiped. On the other hand, she is discriminated and victimized by the norms created by male dominant society. It is believed that in past (Vedic period) women had enjoyed equal status as men. The Upanishads and the Vedas have cited women sages and seers. But there were also the practices like sati, jauhar, devdasis and purdah which were prevalent. This proves that gender discrimination is prevalent from the Vedic period and is still there.
There are two main inequalities (as pointed out by Amartya Sen): educational inequality and health inequality. These are the indicators of a woman’s welfare in the society. In India irrespective of the caste, creed, religion and social status, the overall status of a woman is lower than men and therefore a male child is preferred over a female child. A male child is considered as a blessing and his birth is celebrated as opposed to a female child where her birth is not celebrated and is considered more of a burden. Therefore, education and health care of the female child in India is an important social indicator to measure equality between men and women. According to the 2001 Indian census, overall male-female ratio was 927 females per 1000 males. However, the 2011 Indian census shows that there are 914 females per 1000 males. During the last decade the number of female children to male children in the youngest age group fell from 945 per 1000 males to 927 per 1000 males. These numbers tell us quite a harsh story about neglect and mistreatment of the female child in India.
In Western nations women typically live about six years longer than men, but this is not true in India. Evidence shows that girls are given less food and health care than boys. Girls are breastfed for shorter periods, given less medical attention, fewer consultations and are often taken very late to the hospital in an emergency. Life sustaining necessities like food, nutrition and health care are denied to the female child. Female children are given less food, both in quality and quantity, and therefore are undernourished as compared to male children. This in turn leads to various health issues like anemia, and intrauterine growth restriction during pregnancy. Girls in India face higher risks of malnutrition, disease, disability, and retardation of growth and development. They have no access to or control over the resources because their work toward raising a family and in the household chores is undervalued. A popular Telugu saying (from Andhra Pradesh), “Bringing up a daughter is like watering a plant in another’s courtyard.” Due to this understanding, she is considered as a liability and outside commodity and is deprived of good food and nutrition.
Women’s education is the key for reducing discrimination against girls. The female child in India is often deprived off her right to education. The number of girls dropping out of school far exceeds the boys because girls are expected to help at home, either with household work like washing and cooking or with taking care of younger siblings. Since girls spend more time performing domestic duties, it perpetuates the myth that education is of no help to the girl and her primary job will be to look after the household work, get married early, have children and then raise them. If this is the job she has to do, then education is of no importance to her and it is not imparted. And this increases the gap between female and male equality in rural parts of India. It is through education in the early days of a child that we can bring about behavior changes and open doors to opportunities that will enhance their confidence, personality, and career.
If we talk about the educational and economically poor families in the villages then the first thing that comes to our mind is that women’s condition is Pathetic. The restriction on women is like that of a prisoner or a caged bird, who is not allowed to do anything without the permission of his husband or father. They believe their daughter is paraya dhan, which means property belonging to someone else. They actually think that if they will invest in their daughter then they will get no returns, as she will one day go to her sasural, as a result of which they do not educate their daughter, pay less medical attention, and less nutrition is given to the them. While the son is given all the freedom, nutrition and education.
The causes of gender discrimination are many. The first and foremost cause is society itself which portrays male as superior and female as inferior beings. Then comes the other things like religion, which does not give equal status to women, then caste, educational backwardness, culture, in the name of family history, races, low income, unemployment, family situation, customs and beliefs, more than that there is one factor which is not social i.e. physical factor, females are comparatively physically weak than their male counterpart, so they get victimized of gender discrimination. They become victim of eve teasing, rape and sexual harassment.
Now, as far as the solution of this problem is concerned, the most effective tool to erase the gender discrimination is LAW. Indian constitution provides Article 14 for equality, Article 15 for no discrimination based on sex, Article 16 for equal opportunities for both male and female, and Article 39(d) for equal pay for equal work. Besides this there are specific laws such as Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, Factories Act, 1948, Dowry act, 1961, and Domestic violence act, 2005. All these constitutional articles and other enactments reflect the aim of law to provide gender justice. But the implementation of all these provisions has been challenging. Do all the women actually know that constitution is providing some extra benefits to them? If we go and ask a poor, illiterate, village woman that are you aware of your rights then we will actually make fool of ourselves. And not to forget law cannot peep into the house and check gender discrimination. So what can we do to get rid of this? The answer is by educating and by creating awareness among the women masses about the gender justice in the society.
A country without women participation cannot achieve its full development. If gender discrimination is rooted out then women will be able to deliver their knowledge and skills for the development of the family, nation and ultimately of the whole world. But unfortunately it is a challenging task to keep gender discrimination away from a country like India. Discrimination is found in one form or the other. The discriminatory attitude towards men and women has existed for generations and affect the lives of both genders. Although the constitution of India has granted men and women equal rights, gender disparity still remains. Gender discrimination violates human rights. Indian government and various law institutes are coming out with different laws and policies for the empowerment of women, promoting gender justice and raising voice against discrimination. By putting sincere efforts this problem can be eradicated so that every individual will enjoy equal status. Everything is in our hands, we need to create awareness about the gender equality and urge the government to implement strict rules concerning the discrimination against women.
About the Author
Ayesha is a Final Year Law Student, pursuing B.L.S., LL.B. from Government Law College, Mumbai. She loves to research and pen down her views and ideas on various social and economic problems prevalent in India. She is fan of fashion, food, reading and travelling. Currently, she is interning with the Model Governance Foundation.