Of missing girls and missing the point

Published: May 03, 2009, 09:18 IST | Nandana Sen |

WHAT would we want any new government to achieve for women?

WHAT would we want any new government to achieve for women?  Of course we'd like to see a day when women aren't beaten up in pubs, when a woman artist's beautiful renditions of womanhood aren't thrown out of Mumbai's leading gallery on charges of obscenity, when a Delhi schoolgirl does not die from her teacher's brutal blows or an "untouchable" infant isn't burnt alive because she trespassed into the forbidden zone. And I know that day will be welcomed as much by men as women, because gender equity cannot be reached without men being equally aware of the enormous need for it. 

What I've gathered as much from reading the papers as from collaborating with organisations like UNICEF, UNIFEM and RAHI is that there are no quick fixes here. Election promises aside, any sincere approach to empower women needs to be long-term, systematic, and vigilant if the goal is to address the most pressing issues.

We're proud to have a female President, but the proportion of seats held by women in the national parliament has declined significantly surely a signal of growing gender inequality. Don't we need a stronger voice among policymakers, to be heard?  For instance, the government needs to address the dismal state of women's nutrition and healthcare most critically, extreme malnutrition, debilitating anemia, and inadequate reproductive health and hygiene (including AIDS awareness). It is impossible for women to fulfill their potential unless these are remedied and countered by education. While ratios of girls to boys in schools have improved, they are still far from the goal of parity. I recently spent a day in an adolescent girls' workshop with UNICEF it was stark to see that as bright and full of hope as the girls are, most don't expect to study beyond 8th grade. The gap between male and female literacy rates is still enormous. 

Perhaps the most disheartening warning of discrimination is the massive decline in sex ratios in recent years, especially among 0-6 year-old children. The ratio of girls to boys has fallen drastically we have a staggering number of "missing" girl children who were meant to become the future women of India. The figures for female foeticide and infanticide are frightening as ever, as are everyday atrocities like child sexual and physical abuse, child marriage and child labour, trafficking of girls and exploitation of institutionalised children. To name a few.
Isn't it time for generations of governments to stop missing the point?  Isn't it time for us to take concrete steps toward prioritising a safe, empowering environment for women and girls whether in cities or villages? In Bihar or Mangalore? On the streets or in institutions? For the born as well as the unborn?

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