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Essay writing - Discrimination against Girl Child and Women Empowerment

Discrimination against Girl Child and Women Empowerment

The status of the girl child is the key to achieving women’s equality and dignity which is, in many ways, a litmus test of the maturity of a society. Girls are to be the future mothers besides future policy makers and leaders. The importance of women hardly needs emphasis. Woman is the mother of race and is the liaison between the generations. Our culture attaches much importance to women, therefore, India has been symbolized as ‘MOTHER INDIA’. Jawaharlal Nehru once said, “To awaken the people it is the women who must bye awakened. Once she is on the move the family moves, the village moves, the nation moves.” But we see girls facing discrimination everywhere, in each corner of the world. As observed by Beijing Platform for Action in Paragraph 259:
                “The girl child is discriminated against boys from the earliest stages of life through her childhood and into adulthood. In some areas of the world, men outnumber women by 5 in every 100. The reasons for this discrepancy include harmful attitudes and practices, such as female genital mutilation, son preference …….. early marriage … violence against women, sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, discrimination against girls in food allocation and other practices related to health and well-being.”
                In this connection, some vital statistics cited by the United Nations may also be added:
  • By age 18, girls have received an average of 4.4 years less education than boys.
  • Of the more than 110 million children not in school, approximately 60 per cent are girls.
  • Of the more than 130 million primary - school-age children world-wide who are not enrolled in school, nearly 60 per cent are girls.
  • In some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, adolescent girls have HIV rates upto five times as high as adolescent boys.
  • Pregnancies and childbirth related health problems take the lives of nearly 1,46,000 teenage girls each year.
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, a woman faces a 1 in 13 chance of dying in childbirth. In Western Europe the risk is 1 in 3200.
  • At least one in three girls and women world-wide has been beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime.
  • An estimated 450 million adult women in developing countries are stunted, a direct result of malnutrition in early life.
  • Every year, two million girls and women are subjected to female genital mutilation.
Indian society is still largely male dominated, and women are often looked down upon. The birth of a female child is often regarded as a disaster, and female foeticide is common in Parts of India (despite the Pre-Natal Diagnositic Techniques Act 1994). When a male child is born everyone rejoices, but when a female child is born many seem dejected and crest-fallen, as if a tragedy has occurred (See Sharat Chandra’s novel Parineeta). According to the Demo-graphic Health Survey and the World Fertility Survey, parents not only in India but also in other South Asian countries and North Africa strongly prefer sons to daughters. Socially, sons are preferred for continuation of family line, for looking after parents in their old age and for performing their last rites. Besides, poor parents of a daughter feel humiliated due to dowry demands when her marriage is to be settled. Practice of dowry is very disgusting. It is said that an IAS officers dowry price is Rs.1 crore, and that of an engineer or Doctor is Rs.25-50 lakh. Is this not disgusting, this practice of treating women as cattle and of actually paying the purchaser.
                In most Indian households, girl child is discriminated and neglected for basic nutrition, education and health care. Adverse sex ratio, high malnutrition, high maternal mortality rates, high dropout rates, poor school environment levels, low skill levels, low value for girl’s household works in society are all indicators of high preference for a male child due to the belief that girls are less of an asset and more of a liability. In Bangladesh about 60% of boys seek free treatment of diarrhoea centres and parents buy and seek medical help three times more often for boys than for girls. Studies in India and Latin America show that girls are often immunized later than boys or not at all. The overwhelming social discrimination against girl child affects her birth or even before birth. In many communities and in rural areas, an adolescent girl is married off by her parents around puberty. Early pregnancy, in turn, undermines her health, physical development and the health of the new born babies. A young and adolescent girl is denied the right to education, depriving her of vita information regarding healthcare, nutritious food, immunization, proper upbringing of children, family planning and reproductive rights etc. thus leading to the second stage of bondage in her life-a bondage much larger and more unbearable than years spent at parental home. The girl is treated as a transit passenger on her way to marital household and investing in her survival, safety and education is considered non-productive.
                Family, workplace, community and anywhere, the act of violence in forms of aggression, the act of violence in forms of aggression, exploitation and discrimination is clearly evident and experienced by female and girl children. Broadly speaking, communal, caste and regional tension within the country have undermined and damaged the social fabric making women, especially from the socioeconomically disadvantaged classes, more vulnerable to violence. Also, the acts of violence directed at the young girls and females consists of spouse battering and forced sex, eve teasing or intimidation of the female in public spaces, sexual harassment on the job or at the workplace, rape, acid throwing, kidnapping etc. Absence or insufficiency of dowry become a source of the bride’s maltreatment, victimization and even ‘accidental death’. The latter amounts to clandestine murder, often made to look like suicide. Rape, prostitution, drugs, smuggling, riots and terrorism are increasingly affecting women. The trafficking of girls has been on rise lately. A large number of such young girl children are being pushed into flesh trade trafficked from countries like Nepal and Bangladesh. Innocent and poor girls, on false lures and promises of jobs, marriage or confession of undying love by men, are being sold or deserted or forced into prostitution. Police raids indicate that the phenomenon is no longer confined to demarcated red light areas and the net has spread far and wide into slum areas, resettlement colonies, middle class residential areas, guest-houses in posh localities, luxurious hotels and massage parlours. Indian courts are flooded with cases of crimes against women including dowry deaths, wife beating and other forms of cruelty to women are rampant. In fact, such acts seem to have grown by leaps and bounds. Barkha Singh, the President of Delhi Women’s Commission says that such incidents of rape occur mostly in slum areas or resettlement colonies wherein parents go outside to earn their livelihood leaving their child alone in the house. Prominent Sociologist Dr.Randhir Kumar considers it to be the after-effect of economic crisis and poverty.
                If survival of girl child is necessary for the existence of the world, their education is equally important for her development. As such education, employment opportunities and a supportive home and societal environment are keys to their empowerment. The MD of the World Bank, Washington DC, Mr.Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, while addressing the annual meeting of World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland in 2009, pointed out the importance of girl effort on development in these words:
                “Investing in Women is smart economics. Investing in girls-catching them upstream-is even smarter economics.” Educating girls yields a higher return in improving the local economy rather than any other type of investment. For example, an educated girl will use 90% of her future income towards her family, while boys invest only 35%. Similarly, former UN Secretary-General, Mr.Kofi Annan, pointed out that “short-changing girls is not only a matter of gender discrimination, it is a bad economics and bad societal policy. Experience has shown over and over gain, that investment in girls’ education translates directly and quickly into better nutrition for the whole family, better health care, declining fertility, poverty reduction and better overall economic performance.
                Obviously, these are long term and far reaching benefits of education to end the struggle against gender discrimination. Education is the greatest weapon in knowing their rights and how to protect and promote them. When girls are educated, they have better career and employment opportunities in life. They are better able to avoid commercial sexual exploitation. They gain self confidence, learn the life, technical and practical skills to demonstrate their capabilities and challenge stereotypes about women.
                In order to help girl children survive and reach their full potential, the Beijing Platform for Action recommended that governments, agencies and private sector to:
  1. Eliminate all forms of discrimination against the girl - child;
  2. Eliminate negative cultural attitudes and practices against girls;
  3. Promote and protect the right of girl - child and increase awareness of her needs and potential;
  4. Eliminate discrimination against girls in health and nutrition;
  5. Eliminate the economic exploitation of girl labour and protect girls at work;
  6. Eradicate violence against girl-child;
  7. Promote the girl-child’s awareness of and participation in social, economic and political life.
  8. Strengthen the role of the family in improving the status of the girl-child.

All forms of discrimination against the girl child and violation of her rights must be eliminated by undertaking strong measures both preventive and punitive within and outside the family. These would relate specifically to strict enforcement of laws against parental sex selection and the practices of female forticide, female infanticide, child marriage, child abuse and child marriage, child abuse and child prostitution etc. Removal of discrimination in the treatment of the girl child within the family and outside and projection of a positive image of the girl child must be actively fostered. There should be special emphasis on the needs of the girl child and earmarking of substantial investments in the areas relating to food and nutrition, health and education, and in vocational education. In implementing programmes for eliminating child-labour, there should be a special focus on girl children. Added to these, special care should be taken to reduce gender disparities, infant mortality and malnutrition, to prevent female foeticide and infanticide to increase enrolment and retention of girls in schools besides elimination of child labour.
                Discrimination against girl child is a curse for the society. Mass campaigns in favour of survival of girl child and giving her human right including education, must be initiated to bring a positive change. Once the platform for girl’s survival is taken up by the public, not only will the girls survive but their health and education can also be taken care of. Such campaigns need to be organized particularly in the villages highlighting the threat to the life of the girl child and creating awareness in the villages about the dangerous consequences which the society as a whole will have to face without the girl children. The issue has to be discussed on religious, cultural, economic, political and social level. Computer literacy and enhancement of technical skills among girls must be ensured. Added to this, self-defence trainings, as KARATE, must be introduced and made compulsory for girl children to make them self reliant and cope with unforeseen circumstances. If the society has to grow into a civilized social fabric, the enlightened mass has a responsibility to shoulder and share and that is not only discussions in seminars but also mobilizing the woman and organizing the society for equality in all spheres of social and national activities where any discrimination of gender basis is entrenched.
                The realities of women especially in rural India are difficult to comprehend. Women, most of the time are even deprived of some of the fundamental human rights and this denial is justified often in the name of tradition. In rural areas women are generally relegated mainly to household duties and cheap labour. They are not perceived as substantial income generating source. Without the power to work and earn a good income, their voices are silenced, as they are economically dependent and have no capacity to work and earn a living for them. The question that needs to be answered is that in a society where men control the destiny of women how it is possible to protect the human rights of women and make the women empowerment a reality. The year 2001 was declared as women empowerment year by the Central government. 24th of January has been decided to be observed as National Girl Child Day. There are different steps taken by the government in India regarding women empowerment. Some of these steps are, constitutional provisions, enactment of social legislations, enactment of labour legislations, women welfare in five years plans, reservation in representation and education, constitution of women commission and women cell, subsidized loan facilities, etc.
                The issue of women’s empowerment seems to have fallen by the wayside despite all the hype over the UPA’s ‘Aam Admi’ agenda. Apart from the hyperboles over the Women’s Reservation Bill, which are bound to see when it comes up again in the Parliament, real tools of empowerment like literacy, employment, matrimonial choices and family planning among others, are hardly talking points anymore.
                For socio-economically disadvantaged class women empowerment literally means the ability to survive against the harsh odds stacked up against them in a feudal and patriarchal society. They have experienced that being a woman means being the most marginalized in any socioeconomic strata. It is perhaps a pipedream but it has given them the will to fight on even when the justice seems elusive and distant. The notion of empowerment for them does not mean a seat in Parliament, but at best a few crumbs at Panchayat level that may ensure that they get a fair hearing. The spurt in so called KHAP PANCHAYAT verdicts suggests a resurgence of a patriarchal order aimed at silencing women rather than any adherence to tradition.
                The women’s movement in India suffers from the drawback that it is fragmented. The fight that women have on their hands ranges from domestic violence, social and religious discrimination, to sexual harassment. The Reservation Bill has become such a hoary old chestnut that debating its finer points has become an academic exercise. At the prospect of any resolution, our political magicians are able to ensure that, like a snakes and ladders game, the women’s empowerment advocates slide down to the starting point. Yet, perhaps, at no other time has so much lip service been paid to gender sensitisation, gender budgeting, gender equality and so on. It is almost as though by talking about them incessantly, our policy makers feel that they have fulfilled their duty to women. But for women like Bhanwari Devi a Dalit of Rajasthan who was gangraped by five upper caste men in 1992 and Musharrat, whose husband had his legs cut off when she a panch in Rajasthan, refused to be an accomplice to an upper caste sarpanch’s crookery. These are the forgotten stories of India. But they all hope that the tide will turn once the controversial bill is passed.
                The foolish argument that women’s reservation will only empower the ‘Biwi-Beti’ brigade stands exposed. Party bosses like the NCP or the DMK, to give two examples, need no reservations to ensure that their women are automatically elevated to positions of power with no particular merit other than their lineage. But for millions of dispossessed women, the myth that the Women’s Reservation Bill will give them a level playing ground still persists.
                In its new improved avatar, may be, just may be, the UPA government will line up to its middle name PROGRESSIVE and put just a little bit of power into the hands of women for whom survival is a daily challenge. We must spread scientific thinking on a massive scale, and encourage people to give up superstitions and backward feudal ideas, like casteism and communalism. This is only possible by means of complete revolution in thinking and attitude towards women. If women are allowed to be enlightened the world will appear in all its glory.

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