Thursday February 22, 2018

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

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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.

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Girls 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.

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Why Is India Still carrying The Social Stigma Of Women Infanticide?

The matter of female infanticide is something that has deeply touched our heart and we feel it as our prime agenda to raise our voice against it

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Female Infanticide has been going on for many years and has resulted in the deaths of countless girl foetuses. Wikimedia Commons
Female Infanticide has been going on for many years and has resulted in the deaths of countless girl foetuses. Wikimedia Commons
  • A lot of social evils which have disgraced our history are still very much prevalent
  • Female infanticide is known to be the intentional killing of female just-born owing to people preferring male just-born
  • In China and India alone, an estimated 2,000,000 baby girls go “missing” each year

Even after so many years of independence, we are not in a position to call our country a superpower. It is not hard to believe this because in an independent country like ours exist horrific acts like the merciless killing of the girl child. A lot of social evils which have disgraced our history are still very much prevalent. The matter of female infanticide is something that has deeply touched our heart and we feel it as our prime agenda to raise our voice against it.

Female infanticide is known to be the intentional killing of female just-born owing to people preferring male just-born. This has been going on for many years and has resulted in the deaths of countless girl foetuses. People are of the opinion that the girl child is inferior to the male child and this is clearly reflected in the fact that in many parts of the world, women are still not given a status equivalent to that of men. This is no doubt the highest level of brutality and the most destructive kind of bias existing in our country and in many other countries.

Also Read: Is The observance of Valentine’s day a Commination For The Indian Culture?

A direct proof of these facts comes from UNICEF which in its recent report concluded that 50 million girls and women are missing from the population of India because of this bias. As a matter of fact, in most countries for every 100 male births, there are approximately 105 female births. In our country, the 105 comes straight down to 93! This owes itself to 2000 odd abortions which happen illegally all over the country daily. Our people are of the opinion that only sons can provide income for the family. The system of dowry is still prevalent in some parts of the country. All these reasons have their roots in cultural beliefs of families and if female infanticide is to be stopped, then these beliefs have got to be challenged.

The government has initiated a lot of programmes to bring about a change in the attitude of people and stop these kinds of social evils. Wikimedia Commons
The government has initiated a lot of programmes to bring about a change in the attitude of people and stop these kinds of social evils. Wikimedia Commons

In countries with a history of female infanticide, the modern practice of sex-selective abortion is often discussed as a closely related issue. In several nations such as China, India and Pakistan, female infanticide remains to be a major cause of concern. It has been argued that the “low status” in which women are viewed in patriarchal societies creates a bias against females. The practice of female infanticide is found dominant among the indigenous peoples of Australia, Northern Alaska and South Asia, which seems to be “almost universal”, even in the West.

In 1990, Amartya Sen writes in the New York Review of Books estimated that there were 100 million fewer women in Asia that would be expected and that this amount of “missing” women “tells us, quietly, a terrible story of inequality and neglect leading to the excess mortality of women.”  Initially, the Sen’s suggestion of gender bias was contested and it was suggested that hepatitis B was the cause of the alteration in the natural sex ratio.

Also Read: Padman Review: Social Issue Presented Right

The numerical worldwide deficit in women is widely accepted due to gender-specific abortions, infanticide and neglect. Before Islamic culture became established in Arabic country in the seventh-century, female infanticide was widely practised.  According to scholars, the fact was attributed that women were deemed “property” within those societies. Some speculated that some women wanted to prevent their daughters from a life of misery, and thus would kill the child. But with the introduction of Islamic rule, the practice was made illegal.

People in India are of the opinion that only sons can provide income for the family. Wikimedia Commons
People in India are of the opinion that only sons can provide income for the family. Wikimedia Commons

In India, dowry system is one given reason for female infanticide; over a time period spanning centuries, it has become embedded within Indian culture. Although, there are several steps taken to abolish the dowry system but the practice still persists. For the rural families, female infanticide and gender-selective abortion are attributed to the fear of being unable to raise a suitable dowry and then being socially boycotted.

In 1789, during the time of British colonial rule in India, the Britishers discovered that female infanticide in Uttar Pradesh was openly acknowledged. A study by the scholars shows that the majority of female infanticides in India during the colonial period occurred for the most part in the North West. However, not all the groups were involved in this practice it was widespread. It was only after a thorough investigation by the colonial authorities in 1870 that the practice was made illegal.

Also Read: 7 new-age social issues in India that need a check

Some age-old practices seem to be deeply rooted in the Indian culture and making India undergoing a type of “female genocide”. As per one of the reports of the United Nations, India stands out to be the most deadly country for female children, and that in 2012 female children aged between 1 and 5 were 75 percent more likely to die as opposed to boys. One of the children’s rights group called CRY has acknowledged that of 12 million females born yearly in India 1 million will have died within their first year of life. According to the United Nations, there could be a possibility of such a severe crisis that less number of females will lead to a sharp increase in sexual violence.  A consequence of this will be a complete deterioration of social values. This practice of deselecting females is mainly due to factors like religion, economic factors and socio-cultural factors.

In several nations such as China, India and Pakistan, female infanticide remains to be a major cause of concern. Wikimedia Commons
In several nations such as China, India and Pakistan, female infanticide remains to be a major cause of concern. Wikimedia Commons

The economic factor arises from the belief that sons will provide economic stability to the family by earning wages, providing farm labour for family business and support parents during old age. People tend to think that after marriage, a son brings a female addition to the family who provides help in household work as well as dowry payment brings some sort of an economic advantage.

Coming to the socio-cultural factor, it is believed that having at least one male child is essential to continue the familial line and the respect of a family in the society is proportional to the number of male children in it. According to a certain Hindu tradition, only sons are permitted perform the funeral of their parents which assists in the attainment of salvation for the deceased.

Also Read: Today’s Social Issues and their Answers to Children

The government has initiated a lot of programmes to bring about a change in the attitude of people and stop these kinds of social evils by introducing various laws, schemes and acts which favour the education of the girl-child, equal rights and equal property share. In spite of all these steps taken, there is much left to be desired.

In China and India alone, an estimated 2,000,000 baby girls go “missing” each year. They are selectively aborted, killed as newborns, or abandoned and left to die. Other countries with similar cultural traditions, who have also faced this problem are South Korea and Nepal. The root causes of female infanticide are similar but not exactly the same in Confucian countries like China and South Korea, versus predominantly Hindu countries such as India and Nepal.