When forces of development clash with cultural norms in making employment smoother for women, it is development that needs “all the support it can get”, the Economic Survey, tabled in Parliament on Monday, said. India should prioritise gender equality as much as it is committed to moving up on Ease of Doing Business rankings, the annual document proposed.
The survey’s cover is pink this year as a symbol of support for “the growing movement to end violence against women, which spans continents”, the preface said.
The first volume of the Economic Survey for 2017-’18 has a chapter on gender and India’s missing girls. With the #MeToo hashtag appearing just below the poetic opening of the chapter, it comes in the backdrop of a global movement against sexual harassment and gender injustice over the past few months.
The chapter called for “collective self-reflection by Indian society” on its preference for the male child. It also described “meta preference” for sons as the situation where parents have children until they have a desired number of sons – this has taken the number of “unwanted” girls to 2.1 crore, the Economic Survey said.
“In some sense, once born, the lives of women are improving, but society still appears to want fewer of them to be born,” the document said. Moreover, development has not proven to be an “antidote” to the problem of “son preference”, with more access to sex-selective abortions.
The Economic Survey also flagged the dismal prevalence of reversible contraception among Indian women. As a result, women have “little control over when they start having children, but only seem to have control over when they stop having children”.
“This could affect other milestones early on in a woman’s life – for example, women may not get the same access to employment that men do,” the report said.
“Just as India has committed to moving up the ranks in the ease of doing business indicators, it should perhaps do so on gender outcomes, as well,” the Economic Survey said. “Here, the aim should be broader. Many of the gender outcomes are manifestations of a deeper societal preference, even meta-preference for boys, leading to many ‘missing’ women and ‘unwanted’ girls.”
The chapter ended with the suggestion that the Indian society “as a whole should perhaps resolve – the miles to go before society can sleep in good conscience – to consign these odious categories [‘missing’ or ‘unwanted’ women] to history soon.”