Friday, September 02, 2005

Women's Issues - An Overall Picture

A group of volunteers here have formed a group to lobby for Women's Issues specially in the developing countries. As part of this effort we intend to do a thorough research on status of women - across various aspects. Going further we plan to network with other groups to lobby for women's rights. This is the second blog in this series. First Blog is here.
Feel free to comment and join us.

===Posting on behalf of Sandhya====

Even before I started my research on women’s issues with focus on empowerment I realized it is a very wide in scope & it is very difficult to identify all the issues involved. However, this is an initial attempt to provide a brief outline, and the issues covered below are based on online resources/links.

Global State– Poverty – Around 1.2 billion people in less developed countries, majority of whom are women and children are living in extreme poverty. Poverty has a devastating effect on entire population but with a disproportionate impact on women and girls. It effect all aspects of live including education, nutrition, water and sanitation, employment, income and consumption, and most importantly health including reproductive health and increasing risk of AIDS.

Education of women has proved to be the most influential factor in improving child health and reducing infant mortality, and an extra year of schooling for girls reduces fertility rates by 5-10 percent(More on this later blogs). However, globally nearly 600 million women are illiterate compared to 320 million men.

Health of women is a major concern as 35% of pregnant women in developing countries (45 million) each year, receive no prenatal care. Every minute a woman dies in childbirth, which means more than 500, 000 deaths per year.

Violence against women often disregarded worldwide & categorized as personal issue causes more deaths and disability for women between ages 15 & 44 than cancer, traffic accidents and war. One out of three women in the world has been beaten, coerced into sex or abused in some other way, and most often by a man she knows, including her husband or other male relatives. UNFPA Global Survey indicates that 97 of 147 responding countries worldwide had established laws punishing gender-based violence, however only 24 countries actually enforcing them.

Economic empowerment of women has many obstacles including persistent gender discrimination in hiring and promotion related to pregnancy in the workplace, as well as the lack of national legislation ensuring women’s rights to own land & other property.
Political power is still sphere of men and traditional gender roles limit women’s choices in education & career, and compel women to assume the burden for household responsibilities, and share of women in parliament still doesn’t reach the level of 30% in most countries of the world. Only 14 countries have met the Beijing Platform for Action target of 30% of seats in national parliament held by women.

Environment and women’s interrelationship needs to be focused. While being responsible for household resources, women often lack secure access to land & other productive natural resources. Even So, Women are most affected by environmental degradation; soil erosions, water shortages, & crop failures; Deforestation & contamination increase the time women must look for fuel and clean water; while other responsibilities for house do not diminish toxins in the air & passed on to infants through the breast milk. National laws, local law and customs often effectively deny women the right to secure title or inherit land.

Media lacks gender sensitivity and degrading, violent and negative images of women in media had increased in different forms since the adoption of Beijing platform.

====Posting on behalf of Sandhya====

In the next blogs on this topic we will look at some of the issues in detail and particularly the status of women in India.


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At 9:21 AM, Blogger Sunil said...

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At 9:41 PM, Blogger pc said...

Hi...I was going through the blog. One very contentatious issue is why poverty affects women disproportionately compared to men. This is a very well-known fact but can we rationalize this?
Another important issue to consider is what is the status of women in inheriting property in India. What are the rules? If the rules haves changed to allow women inheriting property rights, then what are the socio-economic consequences of that?
And noted something curious. You mentioned "an extra year of schooling for girls reduces fertility rates by 5-10 percent"...I think you meant that education reduces "unwanted pregnancies" and not "fertility". If getting educated means getting more and more infertile, then we'd have major issues with it!

At 8:42 AM, Blogger Rahul said...

1. Poverty affecting women dispropatenatley?
-- I will ask sandhya to elaborate on this.

2. Inheritance rights?.
This is a pretty important issue. There are different inheritance rules in India depending upon religion & region you belong to. There are pretty important questions around dowry abolishing & inheritance. Dowry in some cases was considered as the inheritance of women as formally they didnt receive any inheritance. Anyway I have only a cursory knowledge of thsi issue. In advocacy group we might not cover this topic as we are focussing more on girls education & other aspects of women's empowerment. Hansa has pretty good knowledge about this and you can ask her more.

3. Fertility rates?
Let me first define fertility rate. Fertility rate is defined as average number of children a women will have over her lifetime. A fertility rate of 2.1 is considered equivalent to replacement rate (number of deaths in population = number of born). When a country has fertility rate equal to replacement rate then popluation growth is stable(nil). Population growth is directly linked to fertility rate. India has fertility rate currently of around 3.1. More on fertility rate and link to population on later blogs. To answer your question - women's education decreases fertility rate. Thsi means more women are educated it tends that less number of kids they have. This is because of several reasons to be covered later. I think this as a important benefit of women's education and not a problem.

At 5:26 PM, Blogger Sandhya said...

Thank you for raising the questions and also I appreciate you Rahul for prompt responses. My own thoughts are as follows:

1) How can we rationalize why poverty affecting women disproportionately –

The fundamental issue/reason is gender discrimination & oppression against women in every aspect of life.

If I can oversimplify, in a household family, women’s interests (health, economy etc) are never for consideration; she is least priority in family structure and may be I should correct my self to say she is not even in the priority list. Simple example can be women usually take their meals only after husband and children, and in general we glorify so much about mother’s and wife’s sacrifices. Glaring example can be if a family lack enough resources to continue to provide education for both daughter and son, the obvious choice is to pull the daughter from the school.

Important to note that high percentage of people under poverty are in rural areas, and rural women lack access or limited access to power, education, training, economic power, opportunities, productive resources etc. In India we have issue of social discrimination & women are hardly recognized as independent and they are subjugated.

May be I can state what I know/heard from personal visits/experience of close friend to our own district in A.P., in some of the villages there is utter poverty either due to famine in the region or lack of economic opportunity, farming men are forced to become daily laborers resulting in migration to other regions. However, the women are left in their homes without any resources. They don’t have any rights over property either in their house or land and absolutely no power in decision making. Additionally, they carry burden of household duties including elder’s care/child care, property maintenance, and work in their lands without any pay or recognition. Thus it shows that they are in completely helpless conditions definitely worse than men in their family.

You may check the following UN link on this issue; (Women and Poverty) (discusses how women are overworked than men along with other issues of poverty)

2. Inheritance rights?.
My two cents -
Though there is an attempt to bring some changes through legal reforms, what I have seen around me in A.P. is in spite of recognition of women’s property right in 1986, the practice of dowry is still prevalent and accepted social custom in all sections including well educated and NRIs . There might be some truth and to some extent for certain period of time probably dowry ensured women’s right in some property as a safety net when she gets married, but in present times in almost all the cases turns out to be paying price to get married.

Again, the social structure/discrimination/customs makes it very difficult for women/girls to claim their rights on their own choice in addition to their own lack of awareness. To some extent women as mother or wife are able to claim right to maintenance but most of the cases it usually meager amounts.

Recently an amendment to Hindu Succession Act recognizing daughter’s right in the ancestral property in par with son’s rights was passed, though it is definitely positive change, its enforcement and claims depend much on social change and acceptance.

You may read the following link about the amendment. (discusses most recent amendment to Hindu Succession Act recognizing the daughter’s right in ancestral property)

At 5:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now there is a great ability to discuss women issues in women's information network!


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