The Big Story: No country for women
On Tuesday, the Thomson Reuters Foundation released a survey of global experts that concluded that India is the world’s most dangerous country for women. “The world’s second-most populous nation, with 1.3 billion people, ranked as the most dangerous on three of the topic questions – the risk of sexual violence and harassment against women, the danger women face from cultural, tribal and traditional practices, and the country where women are most in danger of human trafficking including forced labour, sex slavery and domestic servitude,” argued the report.
India had fared badly in an earlier iteration of this exercise as well. In 2011, it had ranked as fourth worst for women.
That India can be a violent country for its women is a point that can hardly be contested. Rather than focus on what this survey said about India, most conversation focussed on the somewhat tangential point of the survey’s methodology. On social media, pro-government commentators attacked the report. In a press release published on Wednesday, the Union government’s Ministry of Women and Child Development followed this up with its own criticism, arguing that the report has “used a flawed methodology to arrive at this claim”.
The ministry goes on to argue, “India is far ahead of many countries in most of these areas [healthcare, discrimination, cultural traditions, sexual violence, non-sexual violence and human trafficking] and has also seen significant improvement in indicators when compared with its own performance in previous years.”
It is troubling that, in their eagerness to debunk the report, some are making the argument that India’s is actually some sort of leader when it comes to parameters such as women’s health and safety.
In the case of Maternal Mortality Rate (the annual number of female deaths per 100,000 live births), for example, while India has made improvements, it is still one of the worst countries for a woman to give birth in. India’s has an abysmal female labour force participation rate – calculated as the share of women that are employed or are seeking work as a proportion of the working-age female population. The figure for Bangladesh is three times higher. Even more troublingly, the number is falling for India.
Safety is a prime concern in India, with most women having severely restricted freedom of movement as a result. In India, victims of sexual violence “face significant barriers to obtaining justice and critical support services”, as per a Human Rights Watch report released in 2017. Five years after the gang rape and murder of a student in Delhi sent shock waves through the country, little seems to have changed.
Moreover, the ministry’s contention that female genital mutilation does not take place in India is simply incorrect.
Ironically, even as the Union government and its supporters attack the report and its methodology, some of these same people had used the 2011 report to attack the United Progressive Alliance government in power at the time. In 2013, Narendra Modi has himself tweeted, “India is considered 4th most dangerous for women. When will she feel safe and symbol of positivity?”
A matter as critical for India as women’s health and safety needs to be a topic for serious introspection – not be treated as a political football.
- Updating of the National Register of Citizens in Assam and the Citizenship Amendment Bill could lead to a redrawing of the demographic map of South Asia, give new life to the discredited two-nation theory, writes Sanjib Baruah in the Indian Express.
- The high-handed way in which the Union government has gone about amalgamating regional rural banks ignores all corporate governance norms, argues MS Sriram in the Mint.
- The Kerala High Court’s judgment on obscenity in the wake of the appearance of the image of a breastfeeding woman on the cover of Grihalakshmi, a leading women’s magazine in Malayalam, will have monumental implications, contends J Devika in the Hindu. The ruling rejects the idea that the exposed female body is instantly obscene.
In Kashmir, another “human shield” incident scars a minor and four men, reports Rayan Naqash:
“One of the four adult men who were allegedly made to crouch by the vehicle said the soldiers, led by an officer, initially asked them to gather in the courtyard of the house, which doubles up as an automobile repair workshop. ‘They were discussing what to do about the stone pelting,’ he said of the soldiers. ‘They were saying that if we were in front of stone pelters, they would not throw stones at the soldiers.’ They were soon made to sit in front of the vehicles, he said, adding, ‘They used us as shields.’”