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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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Gender Inequality Strips Women to Control Sexual, Reproductive Options and Limit their Rights: Report

Director of UNFPA in Geneva, Monica Ferro, says gender inequality is often used to control women's sexuality and reproduction

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gender inequality
FILE - A woman adjusts cardboard boxes assembled to form a display highlighting the issue of teenage pregnancy in Mexico City, May 29, 2014. VOA

A new report finds gender inequality strips women of their ability to control their sexual and reproductive options and limits their right to choose when and if they wish to start a family. The United Nations Population Fund released this year’s State of the World Population report titled “Unfinished Business: The Pursuit of Rights and Choices for All.”

Since the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) was created 50 years ago, the number of births per woman has dropped by nearly half to 2.5 births. Also, there has been a significant decrease in fertility rates in the least developed countries, as well as deaths from pregnancy-related causes.

But the UNFPA reports more than 200 million women worldwide are subjected to unwanted pregnancies because they have no access to modern contraceptives. In addition, more than 800 pregnant women die each day from preventable causes because of limited access to reproductive health services. Two-thirds of maternal deaths today occur in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the report.

gender inequality
FILE – A community health worker holds up contraceptives during a lecture on family planning at a reproductive health clinic run by an NGO in Tondo city, metro Manila, Jan. 12, 2016. VOA

Director of UNFPA in Geneva, Monica Ferro, says gender inequality is often used to control women’s sexuality and reproduction.

“Gender inequality limits the ability of women to freely make fundamental decisions about when and with whom to have sex, about the use of contraception or health care, and about whether and when to seek employment, or whether to seek higher education,” Ferro said.

The report says hundreds of millions of women worldwide — typically poorer, rural and less educated — are being left behind, unable to enjoy their rights to sexual and reproductive health.

gender inequality
Director of UNFPA in Geneva, Monica Ferro, says gender inequality is often used to control women’s sexuality and reproduction. Wikimedia

Women fare best in countries that have invested most in gender-equality policies and programs, Ferro tells VOA, adding that most of these countries are in the developed world.

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“If you look at the countries who are the most challenged ones, it is countries where women still face many barriers in accessing health, in accessing especially sexual, reproductive, health and rights,” she said. “And this has to do also with specific challenges, be it specific economic crises, shortfalls.”

The UNFPA has set several goals timed to meet the sustainable development goals by 2030, including eliminating preventable maternal deaths, creating universal access to family planning, and achieving zero tolerance for violent and abusive practices that harm women and girls. (VOA)