India has a 48.20% female population compared to a 51.80% male population. They make up half of India’s population. The status of women in India has been subject to many great changes over the past few millennia. From equal status with men in ancient times through the low points of the medieval period, to the promotion of equal rights by many reformers, the history of women in India has been eventful. In modern India, women have held high offices including that of the President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Leader of the Opposition. However, women in India continue to face atrocities such as rape, acid throwing, dowry killings, and the forced prostitution of young girls.

Traditions such as Sati, Jauhar, and Devadasi among some communities have been banned and are largely defunct in modern India. However, some instances of these practices are still found in remote parts of India. Child marriage remains common in rural areas, although it is illegal under current Indian law.

The condition of women in India has always been a matter of grave concern. Since the past several centuries, the women of India were never given equal status and opportunities as compared to that of their male counterparts. The patriarchal nature of Indian society, which even though gives respect to women as they are our mothers and sisters, has greatly hampered both the independence as well as the safety of women. Women in India continue to face violence from womb to the tomb. While in womb they face the ever looming threat of feticide and after birth, they are subject to various forms of violence and harassment at different points of their lives, at the hands of different actors, ranging from their parents to their husbands to the members of general public to their employers.

This state of affairs exists even when the Constitution of India guarantees to all Indian women equality (Article 14), no discrimination by the State (Article 15(1)), equality of opportunity (Article 16), and equal pay for equal work (Article 39(d)). In addition, it allows special provisions to be made by the State in favor of women and children (Article 15(3)), renounces practices derogatory to the dignity of women (Article 51(A) (e)), and also allows for provisions to be made by the State for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief (Article 42).

Despite all these constitutional and legal measures there is lot of atrocities and injustices prevailing in India. It is an irony that, a country where religious and cultural traditions keep women in high esteem, and women are worshiped in the form of many deities, atrocities against them are on the rise. According to 1992-93 figures, only 9.2% of the households in India were headed by females. However, approximately 35% of the households below the poverty line were found to be headed by females.

Every single day single women, young girls, mothers and women from all walks of life are being assaulted,
molested, and violated. The streets, public transport, public spaces in particular have become the territory of the hunters. While the ones already hunted down weep in silence or in disdain, the rest fight their way to a basic life with dignity. There is an unspoken war on the streets. Young school and college going girls use books to shield themselves, other women wear full-covered attire to protect their bodies, and others avoid the mere glance of the roving gaze.

We don’t need to look at statistics to confront the horrid truth. News stories of women from all over India being raped, beaten, killed are flashed across us day after day – and we all are aware of it. The fatal Nirbhaya gangrape saw an outpouring on the streets of Delhi – protests decrying the fragile status of women in India. Candle light marches, editorials examining the patriarchal and sexist traditions of our country, an awakening on social media – even conversations on streets revolve around the night they cannot forget: the night that took Nirbhaya.

Before going into the various dimensions of crimes against women and causes thereof let’s first trace a brief history of Women’s movement in India.

Movement for women’s welfare and security

Feminist activism in India gained momentum in the late 1970s. One of the first national-level issues that brought women’s groups together was the Mathura rape case. The acquittal of policemen accused of raping a young girl in a police station led to country-wide protests in 1979-1980. The protests, widely covered by the national media, forced the Government to amend the Evidence Act, the Criminal Procedure Code, and the Indian Penal Code; and created a new offence, custodial rape. Female activists also united over issues such as female infanticide, gender bias, women’s health, women’s safety, and women’s literacy.

Since alcoholism is often associated with violence against women in India, many women groups launched antiliquor campaigns in Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and other states. Many Indian Muslim women have questioned the fundamental leaders’ interpretation of women’s rights under the Shariat law and have criticized the triple talaq system.

In 1990s, grants from foreign donor agencies enabled the formation of new women-oriented NGOs. Self help groups and NGOs such as Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) have played a major role in the advancement of women’s rights in India. Many women have emerged as leaders of local movements; for example, Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan.

The Government of India declared 2001 as the Year of Women’s Empowerment (Swashakti). The National Policy for the Empowerment of Women was launched in 2001. Under this policy various policies and programmes were launched for the empowerment of women. Of late under this policy, the ongoing policies for women empowerment were merged for better coordination.

Despite all these, there is an unspoken truth that women in India are subjected to lot of hardships. Perhaps, the biggest crime against humanity is perpetrated against women, threatening their safety and security. Let’s discuss some crimes against women.

Constitutional safeguard for Women in India

  • Article 14: 
    • It guarantees equality before the law and equal protection of law within the territory of India.
  • Article 15: 
    • It prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth. According to article 15(3), the State can make special provisions for the benefit of women and children.
  • Article 16: 
    • Equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment. No citizen can be denied employment on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth residence, or any of them.
  • Article 39: 
    • Article 39(a) provides for an adequate means of livelihood for all citizens. 
    • Article 39 (b) has provisions for equal pay for equal work for both men and women. 
    • Article 39 (c) has provisions for securing the health and strength of workers, men and women, and not to abuse the tender age of children.
  • Article 42: 
    • It guarantees the just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief.
    • Article 42 is in accordance with Article 23 and 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • Article 325 and 326: 
    • They guarantee political equality, equal right to participate in political activity, and the right to vote, respectively.
  • Article 243 (D): 
    • It provides for the political reservation to women in every panchayat election.
    • It has extended this reservation to elected office as well.

The various issues faced by women and their solutions

Violence against Women

  • According to a WHO report, one in every three women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime most frequently by an intimate partner.
  • As per the NCRB data in India cruelty by a husband or his relatives accounted for the highest number of cases recorded in the crime against women category in 2017.
  • The safety and security of women have been accorded top priority by the govt in India and several steps have been taken over the years to tackle this issue.
  • Statistic:
    • 1 in 3 women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, most frequently by an intimate partner.
    • Only 52% of women married or in a union freely make their own decisions about sexual relations, contraceptive use, and health care.
    • Worldwide, almost 750 million women and girls alive today were married before their 18th birthday; while 200 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM).
    • 1 in 2 women killed worldwide were killed by their partners or family in 2012; while only 1 out of 20 men were killed under similar circumstances.
    • 71% of all human trafficking victims worldwide are women and girls, and 3 out of 4 of these women and girls are sexually exploited.
    • The National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) suggests that 30 percent women in India in the age group of 15-49 have experienced physical violence since the age of 15. The report further reveals that 6 percent women in the same age group have experienced sexual violence at least once in their lifetime.

Forms of violence

They start with the practice of sex-selective abortion and infanticide, and continue through adolescent and adult life with high levels of female infant mortality, child marriage, teenage pregnancy, lesser wages for women, unsafe workplaces, domestic violence, maternal mortality, sexual assault and neglect of elderly women.

  • Domestic violence
    • Domestic violence is abuse by one partner against another in an intimate relationship such as dating, marriage, cohabitation or a familial relationship.
    • It is also categorised as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, battering, family violence, dating abuse and intimate partner violence (IPV).
    • It can be physical, emotional, verbal, economic and sexual abuse as well as subtle, coercive or violent.
  • Killings 
    • Female infanticide and sex-selective abortion
      • Female infanticide is the elected killing of a newborn female child or the termination of a female fetus through sex-selective abortion.
      • In India, there is incentive to have a son, because they offer security to the family in old age and are able to conduct rituals for deceased parents and ancestors.
      • In contrast, daughters are considered to be a social and economic burden
    • Dowry deaths
      • A dowry death is the murder or suicide of a married woman caused by a dispute over her dowry.
      • In some cases, husbands and in-laws will attempt to extort a greater dowry through continuous harassment and torture which sometimes results in the wife committing suicide.
    • Honor killings
      • An honor killing is a murder of a family member who has been considered to have brought dishonour and shame upon the family.
      • Examples of reasons for honor killings include the refusal to enter an arranged marriage, committing adultery, choosing a partner that the family disapproves of, and becoming a victim of rape.
      • Village caste councils or khap panchayats in certain regions of India regularly pass death sentences for persons who do not follow their diktats on caste or gotra.
    • Witchcraft accusations and related murders
      • Witchcraft is the practice of what the practitioner believes to be magical skills and abilities, and activities such as spells, incantations, and magical rituals.
      • Murders of women accused of witchcraft still occur in India.  Poor women, widows, and women from lower castes are most at risk of such killings.
  • Sexual Abuse/ Molestation/ Rape
    • Rape is one of the most common crimes in India.
    • According to the National Crime Records Bureau, one woman is raped every 20 minutes in India.
  • Marital Crimes
    • Marital rape
      • In India, marital rape is not a criminal offense.
      • India is one of fifty countries that have not yet outlawed marital rape.
  • Forced Marriage
    • Girls are vulnerable to being forced into marriage at young ages, suffering from a double vulnerability: both for being a child and for being female.
    • Child brides often do not understand the meaning and responsibilities of marriage.

Reasons for rise in crime against women in India

  • Gender roles and relations
    • Men’s agreement with sexist, patriarchal, and sexually hostile attitudes
    • Violence-supportive social norms regarding gender and sexuality
    • Male-dominated power relations in relationships and families
    • Sexist and violence-supportive contexts and cultures
  • Social norms and practices related to violence
    • Lack of domestic violence resources
    • Violence in the community
    • Childhood experience of intimate partner violence (especially among boys)
  • Access to resources and systems of support
    • Low socioeconomic status, poverty, and unemployment
    • Lack of social connections and social capital
    • Personality characteristics
    • Alcohol and substance abuse
    • Separation and other situational factors
  • No fear of law: Various laws like Sexual harassment at workplace, Vishakha guidelines are in place. Unfortunately, these laws have failed to protect women and punish the culprits. Even law has a lot of loopholes. For example, under Sexual harassment at workplace act, the law states that there has to be an annual report that needs to be filed by companies, but there is no clarity with the format or filing procedure.
  • Lack of accountability and conviction:  Lack of accountability of the law and order institutions and lack of conviction of culprit lead to increase in crimes against women. A lack of centralised mechanism to collect data on women harassment, makes it difficult to analyse patterns on harassment that women face leading to poor law implementation.
  • Patriarchy: Despite the increased education levels and various government efforts like Beto Bachao Beti Padao, women status has not improved much. People are not shedding their patriarchal mind-set. Honour killing, domestic violence are on rise due to increasing women’s voices that is challenging patriarchal mind-set.
  • Police failure: Indifferent attitude of Police leads people to take law in their own hands. Police delays and inability to catch the criminals lead to more crime against women. The state police attitude is not good in implementing laws against sexual crime. Many cases of misbehave with women by police have been reported.
  • A lack of public safety: Women generally aren’t protected outside their homes. Many streets are poorly lit, and there’s lack of women’s toilets. Women who drink, smoke or go to pubs are widely seen in Indian society as morally loose, and village clan councils have blamed a rise in women talking on cell phones and going to the bazaar for an increase in the incidence of rape.
  • More reporting:  A recent report reveals that there is a 12% increase in sexual offences. With women shedding their shyness and more women being educated, reporting of crimes has increased. More women are raising their voice as was seen in #MeToo movement. This has led to increased reported cases as reflected in NCRB report.
  • A sluggish judicial system: India’s court system is painfully slow, because of a shortage of judges. The country has about 15 judges for every 1 million people. This leads to delay in justice. The Indian justice system has failed to investigate, prosecute, and punish the perpetrators and failed to provide effective redressal for victims.
  • Traditional and cultural practices:
    • Female genital mutilation: Can lead to death, infertility, and long-term psychological trauma combined with increased physical suffering.
    • Acid attacks: Acid attacks have emerged as a cheap and readily accessible weapon to disfigure and sometimes kill women and girls for reasons as varied as family feuds, inability to meet dowry demands, and rejection of marriage proposals.
    • Killing in the name of family honour: In several countries of the world including Bangladesh, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Turkey, and India, women are killed to uphold the honour of the family due to varied reasons such as-alleged adultery, premarital relationship (with or without sexual relations), rape, falling in love with a person the family disapproves, which justify a male member of the family to kill the woman concerned.
    • Early marriages: Early marriage with or without the consent of the girl, constitutes a form of violence as it undermines the health and autonomy of millions of girls.
  • Judiciary and law enforcement machinery: An insensitive, inefficient, corrupt and unaccountable judicial system and law enforcement machinery fails to deter against various forms of crimes.
  • Sociocultural factors disfavouring women: Stereotypes of gender roleshave continued over the ages.
    • The primary roles for women have been marriage and motherhood.
    • Women must marry because an unmarried, separated or divorced status is a stigma.
    • The custom of dowry is still prevalent in Indian marriages.

Legal Provisions:

  • POCSO:
    • Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) law was enacted to protect minors.
    • This is one of the first laws which is gender-neutral.
  • IPC:
    • The Indian Penal Code(IPC) has many stringent provisions in itself.
    • After the Nirbhaya case, amendments were made in the code in 2013 on the recommendations of the Justice Verma committee.
    • The amendments have made the code further stringent.
  • POSH Act:
    • The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act (POSH Act) was enacted in 2013
    • It is comprehensive legislation that provides a safe, secure and enabling environment, free from sexual harassment to every woman at the workplace.
  • Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005
  • Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
  • Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986
  • Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006
  • The Government has also taken a number of initiatives for safety of women and girls, which are given below:
    • Nirbhaya Fund for projects for the safety and security of women
    • One-Stop Centre Scheme to provide integrated support and assistance to women affected by violence, both in private and public spaces under one roof
    • Online analytic tool for police called “Investigation Tracking System for Sexual Offences” to monitor and track time-bound investigation in sexual assault cases in accordance with Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2018.
    • National Database on Sexual Offenders (NDSO)to facilitate investigation and tracking of sexual offenders across the country by law enforcement agencies
    • In order to coordinate various initiatives for women safety, MHA has set up a Women Safety Division.

Suggestions:

  • Gender sensitization:
    • About gender equality and women’s rights should be instilled in boys and girls from a very early age in order to bring about a change in the mindset of the future generation.
    • In families, there should also be a relationship of authority and respect between parents and their children.
    • Women should be respected at home. When women are respected at home, then children also learn about the importance of respecting women. Parents cannot treat their sons and daughters differently.
  • Stop stigmatization:
    • The stigma attached to victims of violence should be removed by concretizing the community through outreach programs.
    • Encouraging and adopting family-focused practices that promote equal access for both girls and boys to high-quality education, and ensure opportunities to successfully complete schooling, and to making educational choices
  • Legal literacy:
    • Camps should be conducted on a regular and systematic basis at the local community level.
    • People should be made aware of Zero FIR.
  • Proper Counseling
    • Special court with a woman judge and magistrate in each district to handle domestic violence cases
    • The government should ensure proper enforcement of existing laws.
    • Police should be trained and sensitized to be respectful and courteous to women in distress.
  • Others:
    • Media should be used to sensitize the officials and the public about violence so as to develop a positive attitude towards women in general, and women victims, in particular
    • Strengthen the research capacity to assess interventions to address partner violence.

Education

  • As per the census of India 2011, an increase in the pace of female literacy in the rural areas has been noticed (from 46.13% in 2001 to 58.75% in 2011) but, still, rural women are facing a lot of inequalities in terms of educational opportunities as compared to those of men.
  • While the literacy rate of men is 82.14%, the female literacy rate is 65.46%, i.e, a gap of 16.95 between male & female literacy rate.
  • Estimates show that for every 100 girls in rural India only a single one reaches class 12 and almost 40% of girls leave school even before reaching the fifth standard.
  • Gross enrolment ratio at the elementary level is 94.32% as against 89.28% for boys, at the secondary level is 81.32% as compared to 78% and at the higher secondary level girls have achieved a level of 59.7% compared to only 57.54 %.
  • Due to the Swachh Bharat Mission, about 14 lakh schools now have a functioning girl’s toilet, an increase of 4.17 % points in comparison to 2013-14. The impact of the mission has resulted in an increase in enrolment of girls by 25% points in 2018-19 from 2013-14.
  • The number of girls in NITs has grown from 14.11 % in 2017-18 to 17.53 % in 2019-20 and in IITs from 8 % of the total student body in 2016 to 18 % in 2019-20 for B.Tech programmes.
  • According to a survey report by NCERT, it has been reported that women formed only 23% of the primary teachers in rural areas compared to 60% in urban areas. Thus it clearly shows that there is an acute shortage of competent and eligible women teachers, especially in rural India.
  • Although the enrolment ratio among girl students is rising but still, the high rate of dropout among them continues to be a major problem.
  • According to the ‘World Employment and Social Outlook Trends for Women’ 2018 report, more women than ever before are both educated and participating in the labour market today.

Issues related to women education in India:

  • In traditional Indian society, sons are considered assets while girls are considered liabilities so spending on their education is not considered a priority.
  • As per the traditional Indian society, the role of woman in society is only to look after the house and children which does not require any schooling.
  • There is concern that if the woman is educated, then she will start earning and will become independent which might hurt the ego of a male.
  • The structure of Indian society is patriarchal in which everything revolves around males and women is reduced to a negligible role.
  • In poor families, the girl child has to look after her siblings as well as do household chores so she could not have the luxury of money and time to spend on education.
  • Further poor sanitation in schools especially for women deters them from enrolling in school education.
  • Infrastructure issues like lack of roads, the distance of the school from the village, etc act as a constraint for women’s education.

Why educating women is important?

  • Health benefits:
    • Female literacy is one of the most powerful levers to improve a society’s health and economic well-being.
    • Ensuring that the girl child is educated sets off a virtuous chain reaction; improved literacy leading to delayed age of marriage, fewer and healthier children, and the corresponding reduction in poverty.
  • Poverty:
    • Women’s education help in removing families out of poverty through employment to women.
    • Women’s labour force participation in India is low at 26% in 2018.
    • Thus women’s education is important to increase women’s labour participation.
    • Also, women have fewer bad habits like drinking and they often have a nature of saving.
  • Social development:
    • Woman’s education will help to solve many issues faced by society.
    • Kothari commission of 1968 recommended education as a tool for social development.
    • By pacing woman education India can achieve the goal of social development.
  • Gender equality:
    • The woman is part of the unprivileged section of society. Education will help to close the gender gap in society.
    • Co-education institutes will help children to give respect to females.
  • Economic productivity:
    • It will bring economic gains not only to women but will also raise the GDP of a nation.
  • Reduction in infant mortality:
    • A well-educated woman will have more chances of making better decisions for her family’s health.
    • Studies have shown that increased literacy among women will bring down the infant mortality rate.
  • Inclusive growth of society:
    • As a developing nation, India strives for growth in each sector for all sections of society and education is a way to achieve this goal.
  • Women empowerment:
    • Education is a powerful tool for woman’s emancipation and empowerment.
    • For a long woman has been deprived of her rights. By educating herself she can achieve a place in society.
  • Strengthening of democracy:
    • Education will create awareness among women which will cause increased participation in politics which ultimately leads to the strengthening of democracy. They could secure their rights through mobilization.

Government measures undertaken in women education

  • Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao scheme:It aims to generate awareness and also improve the efficiency of welfare services for the girl child. The initial aim of the campaign was to address the declining child sex ratio but it also include propagating education, survival and protection of the girl child.
  • Digital Gender Atlas:Ministry of Human Resource Development has prepared a digital gender atlas for advancing girls’ education in India.
  • National Scheme of Incentive to Girls for Secondary Education (NSIGSE):The objective of the scheme is to establish an enabling environment to reduce the drop outs and to promote the enrolment of girl children in secondary schools.
  • Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan:In order to ensure greater participation of girls in elementary education, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has targeted interventions for girls which include opening of schools, appointment of additional women teachers, separate toilets for girls, teachers’ sensitisation programmes etc. In addition, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas has been opened in Educationally Backward Blocks (EBBs).
  • Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA): It envisages enhancing the quality of education by providing a secondary school within a reasonable distance of every habitation, improving quality of education imparted at secondary level, removal of gender, socio-economic and disability barriers.
  • Udaan:CBSE has launched ‘Udaan’ to provide free online resources to girl students of Class XI and Class XII for preparation. The special focus of the scheme is to address the low enrolment ratio of girl students in prestigious institutions.
  • STEM education:To increase the participation of women in STEM education, supernumerary seats have been created in the IITs and NITs.

Suggestions

  • Increasing awareness in society about the importance of female education.
  • In order to suit the convenience of the girl student, non-formal education facilities should be provided.
  • Increasing the number of competent and eligible female teachers especially in the rural areas.
  • The establishment and proper functioning of schools in the villages must be insured.
  • Ensuring the safety of girl students & female teachers.
  • Mass media should play an active role in creating a conducive environment in the favour of girls’ education.
  • Special arrangements & provisions must be made for the disabled girl child.
  • The quality of female education should also be taken care of.

Health

  • Women in India face heavy gender biases and are subsequently more likely to experience disadvantages in their lives, especially when it comes to healthcare.
  • Malnutrition, lack of basic sanitization, and treatment for diseases all contribute to the dearth of healthcare resources available to women in India.
  • Here are the important women’s health issues that need to be addressed.
    • Immunization
      • Vaccinations are one of the most effective ways to prevent the harmful short- and long-term effects of serious but preventable diseases.
      • Their importance cannot be stressed enough.
      • According to UNICEF, India has 7.4 million children who are not immunized – this is the largest number in the world.
      • Unfortunately, gender also plays a role in whether children are immunized or not, with girls reportedly receiving fewer vaccines than boys.
    • Malnutrition
      • India is thought to be among the countries with the highest rates of malnourished females in the developing world.
      • This is especially serious in scenarios where economic inequality is rampant, leaving poorer citizens unable to get enough food or food with adequate nutrition.
      • Being malnourished makes individuals more susceptible to contagious diseases which, in some cases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis, can have fatal consequences.
      • Poor nutrition also affects maternal health and the health of babies.
    • Maternal Healthcare
      • Poor socioeconomic conditions in India limit a great many women’s access to adequate healthcare, resulting in their children’s poor health as well as the mother’s abilities to lead full, productive lives at home, in society, or even in the economy.
      • In many areas, maternal mortality is still high due to poverty, backward practices and views, and the lack of access to proper medical care.
    • Menstrual Hygiene
      • With billions of people, it’s surprising and disappointing that only a small percentage of women in India have access to clean hygiene when it comes to menstrual care.
      • Culturally, a large percent of the population still associates the menstrual cycle with uncleanliness, and women are often prohibited from going to religious places or even preparing food when on their period.
      • It is usually a taboo topic, which makes it even more difficult for young girls and women to break out of the vicious cycle of misconceptions.
      • Even today, millions of women in India do not have access or cannot afford to buy sanitary pads because of their cost, relying on unhygienic methods such as cloth, leaves, or husks. This can result in infections, rashes, and discomfort.
    • Gender bias in access to healthcare
      • Gender is one of the main social determinants of health—which include social, economic, and political factors—that play a major role in the health outcomes of women in India and access to healthcare in India.
      • The role that gender plays in health care access can be determined by examining resource allocation within the household and the public sphere. 
      • Societal forces of patriarchy, hierarchy, and multigenerational families contribute to Indian gender roles.
      • Men use greater privileges and superior rights to create an unequal society that leaves women with little to no power.
      • It has been found that Indian women frequently underreport illnesses. The underreporting of illness may be contributed to these cultural norms and gender expectations within the household.
      • Gender also dramatically influences the use of antenatal care and the utilization of immunizations.

Health scenario of women

  • Sex Ratio at Birth: The UNFPA State of World Population 2020 estimated the sex ratio at birth in India as 910, which is on the lower side of index.
  • Health of Adolescent Girls: At the adolescent age 70% of the girls are anaemic and their problems related to their menstrual health and hygiene often go unaddressed.
  • Adolescent Fertility Rate (AFR):The United Nations defines Adolescent Fertility Rate (AFR) as the annual number of births to women aged 15-19 years per 1,000 women.
    • Among 22 surveyed states as per National Family Health Survey-5, Tripura recorded the highest AFR with 69 births per 1,000 women.
    • The lowest adolescent fertility was recorded in Goa with 14 births per 1,000 women.
  • Teenage Pregnancies: There are 3 times more chances of deaths of girls in teenage pregnancies. Reproductive and sexual health needs of women are often ignored.
    • About 113 women in India every year lose their lives as a result of libels due to teen pregnancies. Moreover, under-reporting of such deaths are also there.
  • Reproductive Health Issues: 70% of women of India are suffering from reproductive tract infections which may lead to infertility, abortions and similar kind of problems that are perceived as normal.
  • Maternal Mortality Rate:Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) is defined as the number of maternal deaths during a given time period per 1,00,000 live births during the same time period.
    • MMR of the Country has declined to 113 in 2016-18 from 122 in 2015-17 and 130 in 2014-2016.
  • Women Amid the Pandemic:Women who are working amid the pandemic as frontline workers, many of them don’t have access to simple necessities at such times like PPE kits which makes them more vulnerable to infections.
    • There is an unmet need for women’s menstrual products while wearing PPEs. unmet need for contraception.
    • Women, besides frontline workers, who get infected also have to face double trouble as they are supposed not only have to look after themselves but also other family members who are infected.
    • Even the women suffering from covid-19 who are admitted to the hospital, their mean number of days of admission are much less as compared to their male counterparts.
    • Among the school dropouts, the majority of them are girls.

Government Initiative to Ensure Health Facilities to Women

  • Health and Wellness Centres: India has about 76,000 health and wellness centres which perform screening of 5 types of health issues; hypertension, diabetes, breast cancer, oral cancer and cervical cancer.
    • Total footfalls in these health and wellness centres is about 46.4 crores. Out of these 24.91 crore i.e. 53.7% are women.
  • Adolescent Friendly Health Services Program:Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram is there where female adolescents are sensitised about their health.
    • The programme also focuses on reaching out all adolescents including Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ).
  • Auxiliary Nurse Midwife: Auxiliary Nurse Midwife, commonly known as ANM, is a village-level female health worker in India who is known as the first contact person between the community and the health services.
  • Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY):Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY)is a safe motherhood intervention under the National Health Mission (NHM).
    • It was launched on 12th April 2005 and is being implemented in all states and UTs with special focus on low performing states.
    • JSY is a 100% centrally sponsored schemeand it integrates cash assistance with delivery and post-delivery care.
  • Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY): PMMVYis a scheme for pregnant women and lactating mothers.
    • The scheme has crossed the mark of 1 crore beneficiaries.
    • Is a direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme under which cash benefits are provided to pregnant women in their bank account directly to meet enhanced nutritional needs and partially compensate for wage loss.

Malnutrition situation in India

  • An average girl child aged less than 5 years is healthier than her male peers. However, over a period of time they grow into undernourished women in India.
  • Malnutrition and anaemia are common among Indian adults.
  • A quarter of women of reproductive age in India are undernourished, with a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18.5 kg/m (Source: NFHS 4 2015-16).
  • Both malnutrition and anaemia have increased among women since 1998-99.
  • 33% of married women and 28% of men are too thin, according to the body mass index (BMI), an indicator derived from height and weight measurements.
  • Underweight is most common among the poor, the rural population, adults who have no education and scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
  • 2% of women and 24.3% of men suffer from anaemia, and have lower than normal levels of blood haemoglobin.
  • Anaemia has increased in ever-married women from 1998-99. Among pregnant women, anaemia has increased from 50% to almost 58%

The various causes for gender gaps in nutritional status are

  • Patriarchal mindset: Despite social progress, women largely continue to navigate through systems that are defined by masculinity. Class and caste hierarchies further sharpen the patriarchal grip, making it difficult for women to escape discrimination.
  • Early Marriage: Which make them deprived of iron reach diet and also leads to early sex and child bearing.
  • low social status: Preference of male child over the girl child affecting the girl health the most.
  • Low diet diversity: The diets of women in India are often too poor to meet their nutritional needs. Iron deficient and other micronutrient diet affects the most.
  • Poverty: Low income lead to less availability of food to people.
  • Low literacy: Low literacy among the mother’s and girl child make them vulnerable to less nutritious diet and physical changes in body.
  • Lack of awareness: Lack of awareness among the people about the importance of particular nutrition and vitamins make the situation worst.
  • Women’s reproductive biology and lack of access to healthcare & proper medicines: When mothers take only short intervals between pregnancies and have many children, this can exacerbate nutrition deficits, which are then passed on to their children.
  • Sociocultural traditions and disparities in household work patterns can also increase women’s chances of being malnourished.

Government measures undertaken to tackle Malnutrition

  • Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme.
  • National Health Mission.
  • Mid-Day Meal Scheme.
  • Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojna (IGMSY).
  • Mother’s Absolute Affection.
  • SABLA.
  • National Nutrition Mission (POSHAN Abhiyaan) seeks to ensure a “malnutrition free India” by 2022.
  • Strengthen MGNREGA to ensure better food security.

Suggestions

  • Improvement in the health indicators of women can significantly contribute to the overall health of the family and the newborns.
  • Since the significant amount of earnings of the underprivileged are spent on medical treatment, improved women’s health and their newborns can drastically reduce household expenditure.
  • Access to family planning and maternal health services, as well as education for girls, typically results in improved economic opportunity for women and lower fertility.

Low female Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) 

  • India’s female labour force participation is among the lowest in the world.
  • The Economic Survey 2017-18 revealed that women comprise only 24% of the Indian workforce.
  • The global share of women in the workforce is 40%, which means India is well below average.
  • India can increase its GDP by up to 60% by 2025 by enabling more women to participate in its workforce, a 2015 study by the McKinsey Global Institute.
  • While 37.1 per cent of the youth are in the labour force, there is a stark difference between the participation rate of men (57.1 per cent) and that of women (12.7 per cent).
  • India lacks a coordinated labour structure and gender parity.
  • 3 out of every 4 women in India do not take part in any recognized economic activity.
  • In such a scenario, when more than half of our youth do not participate in the formal labour force, it is difficult to realise India’s demographic advantage.
  • One of the ways to narrow the gender gap in India’s workforce is to focus on the country’s 253 million youth (aged 15-24 years), of which 48.5 per cent are young women.
  • Between 2004 and 2018 — unlike the shrinking gender gap in educational attainment — the gender gap in workforce participation did not, demonstrating one of the lowest labour participation rates for women, which have been consistently declining since 1950.
  • The recently released Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), 2018-19 indicates a dramatic fall in absolute employment for men, and more so women, who faced a decline in labour participation rates (from 2011 to 2019) in rural areas from 35.8% to 26.4%, and stagnation in urban areas at around 20.4%.
  • The gender wage gap is the highest in Asia, with women 34% below men (for equal qualification and work), according to a 2019 Oxfam report. This stifles women’s labour force participation, despite the guarantees of India’s Equal Remuneration Act, 1976.
  • Women also disproportionately populate India’s informal economy, and are concentrated in low-paid, highly precarious jobs.
  • Agriculture employs nearly 60% of women, who form the bulk of landless labourers in an almost completely informal sector, with no credit access, subsidies, little equipment, and abysmal asset ownership.
  • According to IndiaSpend, only about 13% of women tillers owned their land in 2019.
Challenges faced by women labour force in India
  • Lack of Economic Empowerment:
    • Women’s Labor force participation globally is 51% while it is 80% for men as per World Development Report 2012. In India it is 23% as per the latest PLFS Survey.
    • Women are underrepresented in senior managerial position and overrepresented in low paying jobs. Oxford Survey shows that globally only 19% firms have a female senior manager.
  • Access to productive capital:
    • It is harder for women to access funds and capital for farming, starting a business or for other developmental works.
    •  Women tend to lack access to informal networks that provide opportunities to work in high-profile projects, which include attending conferences abroad or on-the-job opportunities.
  • Crisis of regular employment:
    • When women are not reported as workers, it is because of the lack of employment opportunities rather than it being on account of any “withdrawal” from the labour force.
    • This crisis of regular employment will have intensified during the pandemic and the lockdown.
  • Nonfulfillment of particular criteria required for women:
    • Younger and more educated women are often not seeking work because they aspire to skilled non-agricultural work, whereas older women are more willing to engage in manual labour.
    • Secondary Education for women is lower than man in majority of countries while this stands at less than 80% in India.
  • Unequal pay:
    • Women’s wages are rarely equal to men’s wages, with a few exceptions.
    • Globally women still earn 20% less than men. In a recent ILO report, India was among the bottom five countries, with a gender pay gap of 34 per cent.
    • That is, women get 34 per cent less compared to men for performing the same job with same qualifications.
    • The gap between female and male wages is highest for non-agricultural tasks — the new and growing source of employment.
  • Glass Ceiling effect:
    •  Corporates: Women still earn on average 79 percent of what men earn, hold only 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions, and represent on average 17 percent of global Board positions.
    •  When it comes to peer recognition, women are at loss as they muster less support.
    • As per Mckinsey report women were overlooked for promotion even in companies like Google for their reproductive choices.
    • Women continue to face the same kind of discrimination at work as they face in society.
    • According to a recent Accenture research report, the gender pay gap in India is as high as 67 percent in corporates.
  • Exceedingly long woman’s workday:
    • Counting all forms of work — economic activity and care work or work in cooking, cleaning, child care, elderly care — a woman’s workday is exceedingly long and full of drudgery.
    • In the FAS time-use survey, the total hours worked by women (in economic activity and care) ranged upto a maximum of 91 hours (or 13 hours a day) in the peak season.
    • No woman puts in less than a 60-hour work-week.
  • Safety Issues:
    • Concerns about safety and Harassment at work site, both explicit and implicit.
  • Social norms:
    • Social norms about household work are against women’s mobility and participation in paid work. Childbirth and taking care of elderly parents or in-laws account for the subsequent points where women drop off the employment pipeline.
    • The cultural baggage about women working outside the home is so strong that in most traditional Indian families, quitting work is a necessary precondition to the wedding itself.
    • When increases in family incomes are there, due to the cultural factors, women leave the work to take care of the family and avoid the stigma of working outside.
    • Social norms and stereotypes: Classifying men as “bread winners” and women pursuing jobs as “career women” was reported by Oxford University Survey. It also highlighted that most of the unpaid work is seen as a women’s job.
    • Deeply ingrained bias: Ironically it exists among both men and women – against genuine equality. According PISA test data, the notion that “boys fare better at maths” is unfounded. Yet this belief still exists.
  • Motherhood penalty:
    • Many women who join the workforce are unable to re-join after having a child.
    • The landmark legislation Maternity Benefit Act, 2017, which entitles a woman to 26 weeks of paid maternity leave, is becoming a big hurdle as start-ups and SMEs have become reluctant to hire them.
  • Lack of appropriate opportunity:
    • According to NSSO, urban males accounted for 16% of India’s population but held 77% of all jobs in computer-related activities in 2011-12.
    • This shows, how gender has become a discriminatory factor for certain white collared jobs.
Suggestions:
  • Non-farm job creation for women:
    • There is a need to generate nonfarm based jobs in rural areas in the industrial and services sectors
  • Childcare Facility:
    • Local bodies, with aid from state governments, and NGOs should open more crèches in towns and cities so that women with children can step out and work.
    • The crèches will open employment opportunities for women.
  • Education and Empowerment:
    • Higher social spending, including in education, can lead to higher female labor force participation by boosting female stocks of human capital.
  • Skill Development:
    • Initiatives such as Skill India, Make in India, and new gender-based quotas from corporate boards to the police force can spur a positive change. But we need to invest in skill training and job support.
    • The private sector could also take an active part in training women entrepreneurs.
    • For example, Unilever’s Shakti program trained rural women in India as micro-entrepreneurs to sell personal-care products as a way of making its brands available in rural India.
  • Equal pay:
    • The principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value that is protected by Indian law must be put into actual practice.
    • Improved wage-transparency and gender-neutral job evaluation are required to achieve this end.
  • Safety access to work:
    • It is important to improve existing transport and communication networks and provide safe accommodation for women who travel to or have migrated for work.

‘Invisible’ Women farmers in India

  • The Food and Agriculture Organization(FAO) says that if women farmers had the same access to resources as men, they would increase output by 20-30% which would mean a dramatic reduction in hunger.
  • This could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by up to 4%.
  • Women make up about 33% of cultivators and about 47% of agricultural labourers in rural India.
  • Overall, the percentage of rural women who depend on agriculture for their livelihood is as high as 84%.
  • Women have just a dismal 12.8% of land holdings despite being crucial to the whole production chain.
  • Swaminathan, the famous agricultural scientist describes that it was woman who first domesticated crop plants and thereby initiated the art and science of farming.
  • Over the years, there is a gradual realization of the key role of women in agricultural development and their vital contribution in the field of agriculture, food security, horticulture, processing, nutrition, sericulture, fisheries, and other allied sectors.
  • Women have played and continue to play a key role in the conservation of basic life support systems such as land, water, flora and fauna. They have protected the health of the soil through organic recycling and promoted crop security through the maintenance of varietal diversity and genetic resistance.
  • The rate of women in poultry farming at household level is the central in poultry industry.
  • Women farmers in India perform most of the big farming jobs, from sowing to harvesting, yet their access to resources is less than their male counterparts. Closing this gender gap is essential in order to accelerate the pace of growth in the agriculture sector.
  • Maintaining the ancillary branches in this sector, like animal husbandry, fisheries and vegetable cultivation, depends almost solely on women.

Problems faced by women farmers:

  • Unrecognized:
    • The work by women farmers, in crop cultivation, livestock management, or at home, often goes unnoticed.
  • Lack of support:
    • Attempts by the government to impart them training in poultry, apiculture and rural handicrafts are trivial given their large numbers.
  • Lack of representation:
    • Women farmers have hardly any representation in society and are nowhere discernible in farmers’ organizations or in occasional protests.
  • No Land ownership:
    • The biggest challenge is the powerlessness of women in terms of claiming ownership of the land they have been cultivating.
    • In Census 2015, almost 86% of women farmers are devoid of this property right in land perhaps on account of the patriarchal set up in our society.
    • Only 14% have landholdings
  • Lack of credit facility:
    • Systemic barriers to finance, inputs, extension services, and land rights have limited their potential and recognition as the mainstay of the agrarian ecosystem.
    • The lack of ownership of land does not allow women farmers to approach banks for institutional loans as banks usually consider land as collateral.
  • Less access to resources:
    • Women have less access to resources and modern inputs (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides) to make farming more productive.
    • Getting loans, participating in mandi panchayats, assessing and deciding the crop patterns, liaising with the district officials, bank managers, and political representatives, and bargaining for MSPs (minimum support prices), loans and subsidies still remain as male activities.
  • Migration:
    • Over the last decade, as farming became less and less profitable and small and marginal farmers began migrating to cities, rural jobs for full-time women daily-wage labourers.
    • They are left with no choice when men move to urban areas for work.
  • Farmer suicides:
    • In 2014, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, of 8,007 farmer suicides, 441 were women.
    • Also, 577 women labourers committed suicide that year.
  • Lack of Mechanization:
    • Designed farm tools available are mainly used by male farmers, and rural women are left to use traditional tools and procedures resulting in low efficiency, drudgery, occupational health risks, and low income.

Suggestions:

  • Credit Facility:
    • Provision of credit without collateral under the micro-finance initiative of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development should be encouraged.
    • For example NABARD’s  SHG bank linkage program
  • Collective Farming:
    • The possibility of collective farming can be encouraged to make women self-reliant.
    • Training and skills imparted to women as has been done by some self-help groups and cooperative-based daily activities (Saras in Rajasthan and Amul in Gujarat).
    • These can be explored further through farmer producer organizations.
  • Women-centric approach:
    • Farm machinery banks and custom hiring centres promoted by many State governments can be roped in to provide subsidized rental services to women farmers.
    • Krishi Vigyan Kendras in every district can be assigned an additional task to educating and training women farmers about innovative technology along with extension services.
    • Agricultural extension efforts should help women improve food production while allowing them to shift more of their labour to export production.
  • Education and Awareness:
    • Changes in legal, financial, and educational systems must be undertaken in order to enhance women’s social and economic contributions to rural development in the long term.
    • Women need direct access to information on improved agricultural practices and links to markets.
    • In today’s digital world, it is also important to think critically about the information and communication tools that can help women farmers who may not enjoy much physical mobility to reach out to markets.

The political inequality of women in India

  • India was ranked 149 in terms of representation of women in executive government and Parliament as per UN Women in Politics 2019 report.
  • The Economic Survey 2018 called for more representation of women in the decision-making process in the country, saying their political participation has been low despite them accounting for 49% of the population.
  • The Economic Survey 2018 said there are developing countries like Rwanda which has more than 60% of women representatives in Parliament in 2017.
  • As of 17th LS, only 14% were women.
  • In India, between 2010 and 2017 women’s share rose 1 percentage point in its Lower House (Lok Sabha).
  • As on October 2016, out of the total 4,118 MLAs across the country, only 9 per cent were women.
  • The highest percentage of women legislators come from Bihar, Haryana and Rajasthan (14%), followed by Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal (13%) and Punjab (12%).
  • The factors such as domestic responsibilities, prevailing cultural attitudes regarding roles of women in society and lack of support from familywere among main reasons that prevented them from entering politics.
  • Lack of confidence and finance were the other major deterring factors that prevented women from entering politics.
  • Ahead of any election campaign in the country, sexist and derogatory remarksstart doing the rounds against women contestants, in some cases forcing them to withdraw their nomination.
  • The introduction of the Women’s Reservation Bill in 1996 that would reserve 33 percent of seats in Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies for women on a rotational basis, lapsed in 2014 with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha.
  • The constitution allocates total seats to states by population, the resultant women’s representation at 12% is far below the actual population of women. So, on grounds of fairness, this is an anomaly.

Reasons for low participation:

  • Social:
    • The factors such as household responsibilities, prevailing patriarchal attitudes regarding roles of women in society, and lack of support from family were among the main reasons that prevented them from entering politics.
    • Ahead of any election campaign in the country, sexist and derogatory remarks start doing the rounds against women contestants, in some cases forcing them to withdraw their nomination.
  • Economical:
    • Lack of confidence and finance were the other major deterring factors that prevented women from entering politics.

Significance of women leader:

  • Women legislators in India raise economic performance in their constituencies by about 1.8 percentage points per year more than male legislators.
  • When average growth is 7%, this implies that the growth premium associated with female legislators is about 25%.
  • Lower Criminalization of Politics: Male legislators are about three times as likely as female legislators to have criminal charges pending against them when they stand for election. This explains the growth difference mentioned above.
  • Policy Making– Better representation of women’s and children’s concerns in policymaking. Eg: Panchayat Raj institutions serve as a good example in this front.
  • Lower Corruption: The rate at which women accumulate assets while in office is 10 percentage points lower, per year than among men. These findings line up with experimental evidence that women are more just, risk-averse and less likely to engage in criminal and other risky behaviour than men.
  • Economic growth: It was found that male and female politicians are equally likely to negotiate federal projects for road building in their constituencies. However, women are more likely to oversee completionof these projects.
    • Eg: The share of incomplete road projects is 22 percentage points lower in female-led constituencies.
  • From a feminist viewpoint politics needs to follow a road that moves women out of the traditional social and political marginalization.
  • Despite so many favorable points for women, women make up 14% of the Lok Sabha and 11% of the Rajya Sabha.
  • There is documented evidence both at the international level and at the gram panchayat (village) level to suggest that a greater representation of women in elected office balances the process and prioritizations that elected bodies focus on.
  • In terms of policy styles, the inclusion of women adds behind-the-scenes discussion rather than direct confrontation on the floor of the House.
  • In terms of agenda (as measured in Rwanda), a wider range of family issues get tackled.
  • Esther Duflo and Raghabendra Chattopadhyay (NBER Working Paper 8615) showed that in a randomized trial in West Bengal, women pradhans (heads of village panchayats) focus on infrastructure that is relevant to the needs of rural women, suggesting that at least at the local level outcomes can be different.

Suggestions:

  • India should have an Election Commission-led effort to push for reservation for women in political parties.
  • Reservation for women in political parties is a more viable option.
  • Reservation quotas for women in Parliament as envisaged in the Women’s Reservation Bill.
  • Awareness, education, and role modeling encourage women towards politics and wipe out Gender stereotypes that perceive women as weak representatives.
  • Inclusive economic institutions and growth, both necessary for and dependent on social empowerment, require inclusive political institutions.
  • Women’s leadership and communication skills need to be enhanced by increasing female literacy especially in rural areas.
  • They should be empowered in order to break socio-cultural barriers and improve their status in society.

Women Reproductive Right

  • The Indian state’s approach to reproductive rights historically has focused on population control rather than enhancing individual autonomy and removing structural barriers to reproductive health services, which is reflected in the barriers to the provision of services.
  • As a consequence of the early adoption of family planning and population control measures in the 1950s, India was one of the first countries to legislate on abortion and legalize conditional abortion.
  • While contraception was also made available, the focus was on meeting targets for sterilization rather than temporary spacing methods.
  • This has shifted focus away from the universal provision of abortion and contraception to meeting top-down targets for population control.

Reproductive rights of women include:

  1. Right to legal and safe abortion;
  2. Right to birth control;
  3. Freedom from coerced sterilization and contraception;
  4. Right to access good-quality reproductive healthcare; and
  5. Right to education and access in order to make free and informed reproductive choices.

Concerns:

  • Lack of freedom of Choice:
    • Millions face structural, institutional, and cultural barriers to using accredited abortion services—things like stigma, not knowing the law, expense, fears about confidentiality, and lack of access to healthcare institutions.
    • Such barriers disproportionately affect poorer women, who often live in remote, rural areas.
  • Lack of awareness
    • Early marriage, pressure for early childbearing, lack of decision-making power within the family, physical violence, and coercion in sexual and family relations lead to lower education and in turn poor incomes for females.
  • Patriarchal mindsets
    • Until a requisite number of sons are born without proper spacing between children makes her physically weak and threatens her life.
    • The fear that educated women cannot be controlled by the husband and his family further curbs her education rights.

Suggestions:

  • Healthcare and Awareness:
    • A focus on the health needs of women, their nutritional status, the risk of early marriage, and childbearing is a sensitive issue of concern and requires urgent attention if the condition of women has to be improved.
    • At the same time, there is a need to provide health care information to the grass-roots level through awareness programs on a large scale.
  • Legal Framework:
    • There is an urge to have legislation as Reproductive Rights (Protection) Act in order to protect and promote reproductive rights of women and to look after all the issues of reproductive health of women whether it is as regard to providing medical facilities or creating awareness or having health policies and programs concerning women.

Women and Social Media

Today ‘s era is the era of social media whose presence and active involvement has swiftly and widely spread the ideologies for women empowerment. Social media  has become the agent of  social change which helped and supported women‘s empowerment in various aspects such as mobilizing attention of glocal community towards women‘s rights and challenges discrimination and stereotypes across the globe. Social  media  has given  platform  to  discuss  issues  and challenges  of  women  through  blogs,  chats,  online  campaign, online  discussion  forums,  and  online  communities which  is  mostly  not  disseminated  or  propagated  by  mainstream  media.

Significance of social media in the lives of women

  • Social media is easily accessible and it’s also the meeting point of today’s internet savvy audience.
  • Women’s rights
    • concrete relationship definitely exists between social media and women’s rights
    • Social media has opened doors  and made  everything available  for  everybody everywhere,  thus  eliminating gates and gatekeeping of  any sort.
    • Intrinsically, women’s rights  violations  and women’s rights movements  have  been  quickly  capitalized  on  social  media’s  unparalleled  awareness-raising potential.
    • social media has become a tool for women to campaign against issues like gender stereotyping, gender suppression etc.
  • Curbing violence against women
    • Internet and social media can enable activists and others to challenge myths and stereotypes as well as create new forums for the perpetuation of violence against women.
    • Hashtag movements  to  end  violence  and discrimination   against
    • Social media   is   a   strong platform   to   discuss   and   share   views,   experiences   to channelize  hashtag  movements  to  stop  sexual  violence  and discrimination  against
    • It is  a  new  frontier  to  organise campaign or rally by women‘s rights activists to come forward and  fight  for  gender
    • Through  social  media,  women across  the  globe  are  connected  and  supporting  each  other such  as  lawmakers,  politicians,  business  owners  for  gender equality.
    • Twitter’s hashtag function in particular allows women to easily follow issues that matter to them and forge coalitions based upon shared concerns, from immediate personal needs to calls for large-scale social change. E.g: #MeToo movement, #SelfieWithDaughter etc.
  • Women Entrepreneurs
    • Social media  is  becoming  one  of  the  most  powerful  tools where women can start new companies, venture or start-up as they can contact and converse with customers and consumers directly.
    • Female entrepreneurs   can   do   marketing   through social  media  which  is  very  cost  effective  and  can  be  easily channelized.
    • Social media with the help of new technology pave the ground for millions of people to find online jobs for themselves or create businesses for others globally.
    • For instance, Shradha Sharma is   the   Founder   and   Chief   Editor   at Yourstory.com,   which   is   an   online media  platform  for  start-ups  and    It  is  India‘s leading  online  media  technology  which  has  narrated  more than  20,000  stories  in  12  Indian  languages  of  entrepreneurs which  reaches  to  more  than  10  million  readers  very  month.
  • Making the voices heard
    • In digital platforms, the cost of participating for a cause or in a protest is cheaper. This encourages more people to participate and force governments to pay heed.
    • While women still remain underrepresented, social media provides a level playing field by allowing individual voices from a wider range of backgrounds to be heard, with or without the traditional power.
    • It fills up the lacunae presented by the traditional media, where women receive only 38% of bylines.
  • Global Communities
    • Female-based communities are evolving in a way that cuts through particular companies and physical limitations and connects female players throughout industries and geographies.
    • Because the internet bypasses so many barriers that separate us, women who were formerly isolated can now access high-profile players in their field and, conversely, build an accessible, highly visible platform for self-promotion.
    • Women have historically had a more difficult time capitalizing concepts and proposals, but the interplay of social media and crowdfunding is turning that paradigm on its head.
    • For instance, In July of 2020, women took to instagram to post black-and-white pictures of themselves with the caption “#challengeaccepted”. Women who participated in the challenge would nominate another woman and tag them in the post of their selfie, challenging them to post a black-and-white picture of themselves and nominate someone else.
  • Breaking barriers
    • Social media breaks cultural barriers, legal restrictions, economic barriers and more, enabling the better representation of women from across the globe, even from countries following misogynistic systems.
    • It has played a critical role during the pandemic in enabling the continuation of activism even amid the lockdown and social distancing.

Challenges faced by women on social media

Challenges faced by women on social media
  • Women are the most vulnerable to cyber abuse like online harassment.
  • Increased attention of women in social media often makes them the target of repressive activities. This results in gendered barriers for women online as in public places.
  • Online offences are often normalised due to the difficulty in tracing offenders and the complexity and inaccessibility of the justice delivery mechanisms
  • This creates mistrust of the public towards the justice system, leading to the further marginalisation of women.
  • In this backdrop, social media has become a tool for the rapists to threaten their victims to not report the crime.
  • Such platforms are used by harassers to silence women who strive to break the misogynistic social norms.
  • A study revealed that a third of the surveyed women stopped opinionating online due to the fear of abusers.
  • Online trolling is now going beyond the digital realm, leading to cases like suicides.
  • An international survey found that 20% of women being harassed offline believe that those attacks were connected to online abuse they receive.
  • Some are even vulnerable to stalkers because of their online presence. This is especially prevalent in regions where law enforcement is weak, patriarchy is strong and online trolling is commonplace.
  • Fake profiles are often created for sullying victims’ reputation.
  • In recent years, the internet has become a tool to discriminate against women, with a high prevalence of hate campaigns across the world. E.g. Revenge porn.
  • With the worldwide restrictions due to the pandemic pushing more people online, cases of online gender abuse have escalated.

Measures needed in Women and Social Media

  • Government level:
    • National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal shall be designated as the national portal under-reporting requirements in the POCSO Act in case of electronic material
    • Union Government shall be empowered through its designated authority to block and/or prohibit all websites/intermediaries that carry child sexual abuse material
    • Law enforcement agencies should be permitted to brake end to end encryption to trace distributors of child pornography.
    • A cyber crime portal was launched in 2018 to enable citizens to report obscene contents.
    • Cyber police stations and cyber crime cells were set up in each state for reporting and investigating cybercrime cases.
  • Use of Artificial intelligence:
    • Tools can be developed which can analyse the behaviour of every internet user. So it can help prevent the user from falling into cyber bullying.
    • Developing some mobile applications that can alert parents if the child is under threat of cyber bullying.
    • Prevent malware attacks by tying up with antivirus agencies.
  • Multipronged approach to handle cases:
    • Need to handle the cases of cyber bullying through multipronged approach such as counselling through Psychiatrist, approaching police, etc.

Way forward

  • Social media platforms have moral obligations to safeguard their users.
  • They must strive towards ensuring transparent and efficient reporting systems so that people can use them to curb cyberbullying.
  • Making social media platforms accountable
  • Countermeasures against online trolling must be encompassed within the women empowerment policies
  • Online women-specific crime reporting unit must be set up for quicker disposal for complaints regarding targeted harassment of women users of social media.
  • Increasing political representation of women for removing societal inequality, discrimination and misogyny
  • The cybercrimes in social media platforms are mainly addressed under the IPC provisions that deal with conventional offences like sexual harassment, privacy violation etc.
  • They are largely inefficient in dealing with techno-motivated crimes, which have more impact on victims than those traditional offences due to the lack of justice.
  • Therefore, the cyber crimes under the IT Act must be repealed and IPC must be modified to cover all cybercrimes, including those currently covered under the IT Act.

As part of a knowledge society in the new media era, social media considerably contribute to women empowerment by offering information and education that presents women users with strategies offering better informed  decision making from anywhere and  everywhere which may not be possible otherwise.


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