How Are Women Doing?

Hello 2019, how are we women doing across the world? Same same, this UN Women report released this month says.

Some progress has been made, yes, but institutional discrimination continues to exist in the shape of family laws, impinging upon women’s status in marriage and family structures, labour force participation and access to income and assets.

Disturbing realities persist. Women of the world even today work three times harder at unpaid care and domestic work when compared to men. Of course, when women work at home more, they are removed from opportunities for paid work and education.

I would sum up the key findings from India, you can read the entire report here:

  • Mothers-in-law still control the choices of their daughters-in-law, whether it is about choosing their clothes or making decisions over childbearing or children’s marriages.
  • Arranged marriage continues to be the most preferred way to marry.
  • Dowry as a practice is far from obsolete, hail feminism (or its failure in prohibiting the ugly practice)! Dowry practices continue to result in violence against women. Available data on dowry-related killings from the National Crime Records Bureau in India indicate that female dowry deaths account for 40 to 50 percent of all female homicides recorded annually between 1999 and 2016.
  • The total fertility rate within the Southasia region is projected to drop from 5.6 live births per woman in 1970-1975 to 2.4 births in 2015-2020 (same rate as the global average). This rate is predicted to further decline in the region to 2.2 by 2025-2030.
  • Son preference is going strong and sex-selective abortions happen with impunity. Countries with abnormally high sex ratios (greater than 105 males per 100 females) in Southern Asia are Afghanistan, Bhutan, Maldives, Pakistan, and hold your breath, India.
  • Marriages below the legal age of marriage still continue to happen in some regions.
  • Same-sex couples enjoy few rights or legal entitlements despite the Supreme Court of India repealing Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, thereby legalizing same-sex relationships.
  • Unpaid work or other economic activities that happen within the families have the weakest potential for transforming women’s lives, yet they are a dominant feature of women’s work in the region.
    • Women who own assets such as land and housing have a greater degree of protection against violence and abusive marriages.
  • Only a fraction of women aged 15-49 in India (estimates ranging from 17 to 26 percent) receive a wage or income of their own, meaning that the great majority of women are financially dependent on their spouses, fathers, in-laws and other extended kin.
  • A majority of divorced women are still dependent on their parents and brothers for financial support and living arrangements after separation.
  • Women are overwhelmingly concerned about the adverse implications of their long working hours (paid and unpaid) for their children.

All of these, especially the last three findings, are alarming facts. Women’s guilt over giving less of their time to their children exists because they are trapped in family structures where women do most of the childcare and other unpaid work, often comprising heir personal and professional goals. Discrimination and son preference within households restricts women’s access to education and hence, jobs, leaving them financially crippled and vulnerable especially after a divorce or breakdown of the marriage. We may have seen changes in family law and criminal procedure code over the years but we have a long way to go. I have always believed that a lot of this comes from cultural underpinnings that influence every decision parents make for the girl child. A revolution is needed, nothing less.

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