Girls Count: Uprooting patriarchy by recognizing the role of civil society


By Rukma Singh

In 1901, there were 3.2 million fewer women than men in India – a hundred years later the deficit increased over 10 times to 35 million at the time of Census 2001. The most disturbing decline is seen in the age group 0-6 years. The sex ratio (number of girls for every 1000 boys) within this age group plunged from 1010 in 1941 to 918 in 2011.

To recognize and mobilize support for the broader problem of gender-based discrimination, many organizations have sprung up in the past few years. But one organization which has concentrated focus on the utmost important issue of sex selection is Girls Count.

Girls Count is a coalition of organizations :  NGOs, Activists, individuals working all over the country around the related issues of gender discrimination, gender inequality and various forms of violence against women. The main motive of setting up the organization was to address the decline in the number of girls. It is very important to understand the role that the state, the media, and most importantly the civil society has played, to tackle the problems of sex selection.

Recognizing the role of civil activism

To create a cohesive strategy to tackle an issue as pressing as sex selection and declining sex ratio, the wisest thing to do is to build a base in the civil society. Instead of having a dispersed group of people who don’t know about the activities of each other, it’s better to create an interconnected team that can plan and execute the strategy.

10703921_682662405165046_1042670891661405425_nGirls Count decided to focus on challenging patriarchy and effective implementation of Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostics Technique act. They had carried out country-wide dialogue with civil society, media and government officials.

Usage of Media and communications

When it comes to reaching out to people, sensitizing them at a large scale, it is imperative to bring about the proper usage of media and communications to get the right message across. Girl Count recognized the power of media to send messages across effectively. People were mobilized, petitions were signed, an online country wide community was built.

Geographical variations
The problem of sex selection is more prevalent in the Northern region of India as compared to the other parts. One would argue that the main reason behind this is the difference in literacy rate. However, the main issue is prosperity which gives more choices to the people. They have a greater decision-making power. So the main problem comes not from the absence of literacy, but from the abundant presence of prosperity. 10687034_681213801976573_2942313692869556197_n

What adds to it is how the two don’t go hand in hand. In today’s time, one does not have to be literate to be prosperous.

Cultural differences
There are several culture-based differences between North India and the rest of the country. In North-East India, for example, the condition of women and preference given to them is better and higher.  Some states in North East also break the age old custom of dowry and decline it. Females aren’t considered an economic liability in most of the North East.

The sex selection practices started from the northern states of Punjab and Haryana, and soon extended to Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh etc.

Following a lot of protest and agitation, the PNDT law was first passed in Maharashtra. But it was a state specific law.

Usage of advertisement

Equipments relating to sex selection, like sex selection kits and books teaching methods to increase chances of having a boy are very easily available. Girls Count decided to look at e-retailers to find out how easy it is to source ‘Sex selection publications’ in India. To everyone’s surprise, there were four e-retailers who were dealing in the sale of such products, which included some big names like Flipkart, Naaptol, Amazon.

For mainstream e-retailers like these to be dealing in the sale of such publications was a huge encouraging factor for people who’re used to shopping online. For public, if it can be bought, it’s legal.

With the continued efforts of Girls count in the form of a petition and mobilizing support for it, the websites were pressurized to take these products down. This was one of the biggest successes of the organization.

Pre-Natal sex determination continues to be a pressing problem all throughout the country. But with the combined efforts of organizations like these who understand the true essence of activism, as well as continued participation from the civil society, it is a problem that can hopefully be uprooted.