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Women in India Still Struggle to Attain Equalilty and Emancipation

By Shobha Shukla, is the Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS)

The 8th of March 2011 marks the centenary of the very first International Women’s Day which was celebrated in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. More than one million women and men attended International Women’s Day rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote and end discrimination. The UN theme for International Women’s Day 2011 is: “Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women.”

The new millennium has definitely witnessed an attitudinal shift in both woman’s and society’s thoughts about woman’s equality and emancipation. There have been many new laws recognizing equal opportunity status for women. While women do enjoy greater equality in legislative rights, they are still not present in equal numbers in business.

The inequities still exist. The common woman has yet to reach, wherever she wants to reach, despite a few female astronauts, prime ministers and board room directors.

It would be worth mentioning here that, according to the latest NHFS Survey report 2005-2006 for India, just over half (55%) of the women in age group 15-49 are literate.

Only forty-three percent of women in age group 15-49 are employed (majority of them -59%–being agricultural workers), compared with 87 percent of men in the same age group. Two-thirds of employed women earn cash, compared with 91 percent of employed men. More than half of the women are married before the legal minimum age of 18 years. By contrast, men in the same age group get married six years later. One in every three women has a body mass index below normal.

The sex ratio of the population age 0-6 years (girls per 1,000 boys) has worsened to 918 from the 2001 census figure of 927. What else would have one expected when one in five women and men say that they would like more sons than daughters and only 2-3 percent say that they would like more daughters than sons?

This is the ground reality of the much touted woman’s equality in the Indian context. Poor levels of education, employment and health, coupled with age old gender biases make the way forward difficult, if not insurmountable.

A social activist, working with abused women, Mamta Singh, who was conferred upon Shabri Samman 2011 to mark the International Women’s Day, voiced her frustration at age old gender biases fed to us with mother’s milk. She said that it is not uncommon for a victim of domestic violence to plead– It is okay if he beats like a husband, but why should he beat like a raakshas (animal)?

This is the stand taken by many women against physical abuse as they have been taught by family elders to take some beating as part of their marital duties. Emotional torture is not only difficult to document, it is rarely recognized by many of us as an offense.

To be forgiving is indeed noble, but to allow oneself to be exploited should not be extolled as a virtue.

And so as we celebrate the positives, let us collectively strive to minimize the negatives, in order to make this world a more just and livable place for all of us women and men. The pathway to a decent living has already been laid. We just have to make it walkable by freeing it of stones and thorns. (CNS)

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