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Higher gender inequality in India than Pakistan, Bangladesh

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New Delhi: India lags way behind Pakistan and Bangladesh in the 2014 Gender Inequality Index (GII), with a rank of 130 out of 155 countries, according to the latest Human Development Report (HDR) 2015 by the United National Development Programme.

While Bangladesh and Pakistan respectively hold a rank of 111 and 121, among South Asian countries, India is at a better position only compared to Afghanistan, which is at 152.

The GII takes into account the inequalities seen in gender-specific areas such as, women empowerment measured through the number of parliamentary seats occupied by women and women’s education level; reproductive health of women measured by adolescent birth rates and maternal mortality ratio.; and economic contribution measured by the rate of labour market participation.

India has fallen behind its neighbors with respect to almost each of these parameters.

  • Indian women hold merely 12.2 per cent of parliamentary seats, while the percentage is 19.7 in Pakistan and 20 in Bangladesh.

  • For every 100,000 live births, 190 mothers die in India. The country has a high maternal mortality rate compared to both Bangladesh and Pakistan, where there are 170 pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 births.

  • At 34 per cent women receiving secondary education, Bangladesh is far more developed than India, which is at 27 per cent.

  • Bangladesh has 57 per cent women participating in its labour force, while India has just 27 per cent.

India’s performance, according to the above indices, is even lower than the South Asian average. It is just in the sector of adolescent birth rate that India’s figures are better than Bangladesh and over the South Asian average, though Pakistan marginally out-performs it.

The adolescent birth rate refers to the number of births per 1000 women aged between 15 and 19 years. A lower rate is indicative of a female population who marries and conceives late, thus showing their control over their own choices.

In the last couple of years, improvements in maternal mortality rate and women’s representation in parliaments have slightly pushed up India’s GII values from 0.61 to 0.563, said UNDP officials. Other indicators however remained stagnant during this time.

A global drop was documented by the HDR 2015 in the female labour force participation rate, which refers to the working age female population in paid employment or looking for paid work. “This is mainly owing to the steep reduction for India, from 35 per cent women in 1990 to 27 per cent in 2013, and China from 73 per cent to 64 per cent in the same period,” said UNDP resident representative in India, Yuri Afanasiev.

National coordinator of Self-Employed Women’s Association, Renana Jhabvala stated that women’s workforce participation is missed by government surveys many a time due to the fact that they are virtually invisible.

“For instance, these surveys fail to capture details on large number of women in agriculture since land is in the name of the man. Due to this invisibility in official data, such women are often bereft of benefits such loans or seeds which the land-holding men are eligible for. This creates in India what we call a ‘sticky floor’ situation, where a majority of women cannot rise above a certain level of earnings, skills and benefits. It is the opposite of what the West refers to as ‘glass ceiling’,” said Jhabvala.

In case of Human Development Index (HDI), however, India out-performs both Pakistan and Bangladesh. While India ranks 130 out of 188, Pakistan is at 147 and Bangladesh at 142.

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Millions of Women Still Face Poverty, Discrimination and Violence: UN

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls himself a proud feminist

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Women rights
About 200 women form a human chain calling for an end to gender violence, on the eve of International Women's Day in central Mexico City. VOA

Calling himself “a proud feminist and supporter of women,”  U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres lashed out at men who abuse power and declared before Sunday’s observances of International Women’s Day that the fight for gender equality is “the biggest human rights challenge we face.”

Twenty-five years after 189 countries adopted a 150-page road map for achieving equality for women, a new report by UN Women says the reality is that millions of women still face poverty, discrimination and violence. It notes more than 70% of lawmakers and parliamentarians and managers are men and nearly 500,000 women and girls older than age 15 are illiterate.

Bias against women

The U.N. Development Program’s new Gender Social Norms Index also had some bad news for women. It found that close to 90% of both men and women hold some sort of bias against women.

Women rights
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press briefing at United Nations headquarters. VOA

According to the index, about half the world’s men and women believe men make better political leaders and more than 40% think men make better business executives and have greater rights to a job. Further, 28% feel it is justified for a husband to beat his wife.

Guterres told the U.N.’s International Women’s Day observance Friday that “gender inequality is the overwhelming injustice of our day.”

“Deep-rooted patriarchy and misogyny have created a yawning gender power gap in our economies, our political systems, our corporations, our societies and our culture,” he said. “Women are still very frequently denied a voice; their opinions are ignored and their experience discounted.”

The secretary-general cited examples in recent months, including high-profile peace agreements being signed with no women at the table and emergency health care meetings on the new coronavirus held with few or no women participating.

Scaled-down event

International Women’s Day is taking place a day before the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women holds a drastically scaled down one-day event so delegations in New York can adopt a draft political declaration commemorating the 25th anniversary of the 1995 U.N. conference in Beijing that adopted the wide-ranging plan to achieve gender equality.

The commission had been expecting up to 12,000 people from its 193 member nations to be at its annual meeting. But it decided to postpone the major event until a later date because of the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Bold platform, slow progress

The Beijing platform called for bold action in 12 areas for women and girls, including combating poverty and violence, ensuring all girls get an education, and having women at the top levels of business and government as well as at the table in peace negotiations.

It also said for the first time in a U.N. document that women’s human rights include the right to control and decide “on matters relating to their sexuality, including their sexual and reproductive health, free of discrimination, coercion and violence.”

The draft declaration expected to be adopted Monday reaffirms the Beijing platform for action and expresses concern “that overall, progress has not been fast or deep enough.” It pledges to take “concrete action to ensure the full, effective and accelerated implementation” of the road map.

Olof Skoog, the European Union’s top diplomat at the U.N., said the EU wasn’t happy with the initial draft but “we played hardball, I think it’s fair to say,” to produce “the most detailed and action-oriented political declaration ever adopted” by the commission.

He said there are advances in some areas and the declaration avoids “backtracking on some of the issues where there was huge push back.”

Among those issues was the definition of the family, with traditionalists insisting on a mother, father and children and progressive countries wanting to include LGBT families as well, he said. Another was on how to mention sexual and reproductive health and rights for females.

In the end, Skoog said, direct references to both issues were dropped in the declaration. But since the declaration affirms the Beijing platform, what that document says about the family and women’s rights and health will stand.

Women rights
Members of a civil society take part in a pro-women demonstration ahead of Women’s Day in Peshawar, Pakistan. VOA

‘Positive sign’

Francoise Girard, president of the International Women’s Health Coalition, said it was critical that governments recommit fully to the Beijing platform and called it heartening that they did so. She said governments also recommitted to achieving U.N. goals for 2030 that include sexual and reproductive rights for females, “so we feel that that is an extremely positive sign.”

What could really change the trajectory to achieve gender equality, Girard said, is ensuring that young girls can control their bodies, and there is still a long way to go.

“Controlling your body — sexual and reproduction and free of violence — is critical to everything else,” she told The Associated Press. “It’s critical to education, to employment, to political participation, to sitting on boards of companies. All these things won’t happen unless you control your body.”

Also Read- Know About the Similarities and Differences Between the Healthcare System of India and USA

On Friday, Guterres urged young women to keep up activism, and “please hold the world to account.”

“Twenty-five years after the Beijing conference, progress on women’s rights has stalled and even reversed,” he said. “We must push back against the push back. … It is more important than ever for men to stand up for women’s rights and gender equality.” (VOA)