Key Data

  • According to the 2011 census, women account for 586.47 million in absolute numbers and represent 46 per cent of the total population of the country.
  • While there has been an appreciable gain in the overall sex ratio of 7 points from 933 in 2001 to 940 in 2011, the decline in child sex ratio (0–6 years) by 13 points from 927 in 2001 to 914 in 2011 is a matter of grave concern.
  • There has been an increase in literacy amongst women from 53.67 per cent (Census 2001) to 65.46 per cent (Census 2011). The challenge however remains in bridging the gender gap which stands at 16.68 per cent.
  • From 1993–94 to 2009–10 women’s participation in the labour force has decreased substantially from 36.8 per cent to 26.1 per cent in rural areas and from 17 per cent to 13.8 per cent in urban areas as indicated by NSSO data.
  • Violence against the women has increased. Data from National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that the total number of crimes against women increased by 29.6 per cent between 2006 and 2010.
  • The 2005–06 National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) also reported that one-third of women aged 15 to 49 had experienced physical violence, and approximately one in 10 had been a victim of sexual violence. Early marriage makes women more vulnerable to domestic violence.
  • According to the NFHS 3 data, the median age of marriage for women in the 20–49 years age group ranges between 16.5 years to 18.3 years.
  • India’s Gender Inequality Index value of 0.617 in 2011 placing the country at 129 among 149 countries globally is reflective of the high gender inequality that is prevalent.

Barriers to Women’s development.

  • The Barriers to women’s development include the deep-rooted ideologies of gender bias and discrimination like the confinement of women to the private domestic realm, restrictions on their mobility, poor access to health services, nutrition, education and employment, and exclusion from the public and political sphere continue to daunt women across the country.
  • The lower attainments of women in key human development indicators are indicative of the sharp disparities in opportunities available to women and men.

The Key Elements for Gender Equity and Women’s Empowerment

Key elements for Gender Equity and Women’s empowerment include the following:

  1. Economic Empowerment
  2. Social and Physical Infrastructure
  3. Enabling Legislations
  4. Women’s Participation in Governance
  5. Inclusiveness of all categories of vulnerable women
  6. Engendering National Policies/Programmes
  7. Mainstreaming gender through Gender Budgeting

 Economic Empowerment of Women

  • Review and strengthen the implementation of the Equal Remuneration Act and the Maternity Benefits Act.
  • To pass the legislation from the Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment at Work Place Bill.
  • Providing a 33% reservation to women in the skill development programmes of National Skills Development Council.
  • Modify the insurance and retirement policies and make them suitable for women headed families and single women.

 Empowerment of Women in Agriculture

  • Kisan Credit Cards should be issued to women farmers, with joint pattas as collateral.
  • Facilitate women’s access to credit
  • To ensure that SHGs are classified under priority sector and given loans at concessional rates.
  • Women must also be included in land and water management, pani panchayats, preservation of soil fertility and nutrition management, sustainable use of soil etc. etc.
  • To enhance women’s land access from all three sources (direct government transfers, purchase or lease from the market and inheritance) a range of initiatives are needed, including joint land titles in all government land transfers, credit support to poor women to purchase or lease land from the market, increase in legal awareness and legal support for women’s inheritance rights, supportive government schemes and recording of women’s inheritance shares etc.
  • In irrigation projects, any new land arrangements (that is compensatory land given to displaced persons) must be in the joint names of the man and the woman, or exclusively in the name of the woman where she is the main economic provider.

Empowerment of Women in Manufacturing

  • This includes the efforts on skill development of women belonging to marginalized sections.
  • More focus should be on women in traditional industries like leather, handlooms, handicrafts and sericulture.

 Empowerment of Women in Unorganized sector

  • Women in the unorganized sector require social security addressing issues of leave, wages, work conditions, pension, housing, childcare, health benefits, maternity benefits, safety and occupational health, and a complaints committee for sexual harassment.
  • Labour protection to these sectors should be increased.

 Changes needed in Social and Physical Infrastructure

  • This includes the better coverage and implementation of the programmes related to women’s health such as Janani Suraksha Yojana and IGMSY. The education sector needs better conditions to be created for women teachers under the programmes such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.
  • Lack of sanitation, especially toilets, in rural areas is a major weakness in our system and one that impacts most adversely on women. Apart from the effective Total Sanitation Campaign, there should be toilets with water in all schools and anganwadi centres and the active involvement of women in determining the location of sanitation facilities.
  • There are women-specific transport needs. Dedicated exclusive services such as ladies special buses and trains are also necessary in our social circumstances. Women’s needs require better route planning. The provision of special buses, increased services for women travelling during off-peak hours or services on less-travelled routes all need more attention.

 Enabling legislations

The 12th plan document discusses a review and more teeth for the following legislations

  • Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PC-PNDT Act)
  • Maternity Benefit Act
  • Equal Remuneration Act, 1976
  • Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA)

Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act

  • The ultrasound techniques gained widespread popularity in India in 1990s.
  • In our country, there has been a tendency to produce children until a male heir is born. The mis-use of ultrasound for prenatal sex determination has given rise to a ` 1000 Crore Industry.
  • The technique has also promoted the social discrimination against women.

 The Dwindling Sex Ratio

  • As per the Census 2011, India had 109.4 male children per 100 Female children in the age group of 0-6 years. The ratio is significantly higher in states such as Punjab and Haryana (126.1 and 122.0 in 2001).
  • The latest census in 2011 shows that the child sex ratio has dropped to 914 females against 1000 male—the lowest since independence. Also, there is ample evidence to suggest that this practice of sex determination and female foeticide has grown among the upper and middle class of the society and has moved to cities and towns.
  • An estimated 15 million girls were wiped out—simply not born—in India over the last decade due to sex selection and female foeticide. And not surprisingly, India ranks 113th out of 135 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index for 2011.

The PNDT Act 1994

  • Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 (PNDT) was passed in 1994 to stop female foeticides and arrest the declining sex ratio in the country.
  • This act banned the use of sex selection techniques before or after conception. However, this was not followed up by effective implementation, mainly because it did not specify the techniques of sex selection and did not bring all techniques within its ambit. Then, the nee for smaller families – led to even more intensified misuse of such technologies, cutting across barriers of caste, class, religion and geography to ensure that at least one child, if not more, is a son.
  • With the advent of new sophisticated pre-conception sex selection technologies like sperm separation, the girl child’s elimination started becoming more subtle, refined and probably also more socially acceptable.
  • With these happenings, a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court and the honourable Supreme Court directed the Government to provide the act more teeth by covering new preconception sex selection techniques (also known as sex pre-selection techniques). Thus the PNDT act was amended and thus the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act 2003 came into existence.
  • With the enactment of this act, the use of prenatal diagnostic technique for sex selective abortion was made an offensive crime.

 Salient Provisions PCPNDT Act 2003

  • The act not only prohibits determination and disclosure of the sex of the foetus but also bans advertisements related to preconception and pre-natal determination of sex.
  • All the technologies of sex determination, including the new chromosome separation technique have come under the ambit of the Act.
  • It regulates the use of pre-natal diagnostic techniques such as ultrasound and amniocentesis. They sonographers are allowed only to use ultrasound for the following diagnostics:
  • Genetic abnormalities
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Chromosomal abnormalities
  • Certain congenital malformations
  • Haemoglobinopathies
  • Sex linked disorders.
  • The Act has also made mandatory in all ultrasonography units, the prominent display of a signboard that clearly indicates that detection/revelation of the sex of the foetus is illegal.
  • Further, all ultrasound scanning machines have to be registered and the manufacturers are required to furnish information about the clinics and practitioners to whom the ultrasound machinery has been sold.
  • The act empowered the appropriate authorities with the power of civil court for search, seizure and sealing the machines and equipments of the violators.
  • The act mentions that no person, including the one who is conducting the procedure as per the law, will communicate the sex of the foetus to the pregnant woman or her relatives by words, signs or any other method.
  • Any person who puts an advertisement for pre-natal and pre-conception sex determination facilities in the form of a notice, circular, label, wrapper or any document, or advertises through interior or other media in electronic or print form or engages in any visibl representation made by means of hoarding, wall painting, signal, light, sound, smoke or gas, can be imprisoned for up to three years and fined ` 10,000.
  • The PCPNDT act mandates compulsory registration of all diagnostic laboratories, all genetic counselling centres, genetic laboratories, genetic clinics and ultrasound clinics.

The Issues and Proposed amendment to the PCPNDT Act

  • The PCPNDT act has not made much headway. The results are disappointing.
  • The ineffective implementation of this Act has led to minimum number of convictions and dented the fight against female foeticide.
  • Other technologies are threatening to allow much earlier sex determination including a noninvasive blood test. Then, the problem has its deep-seated roots in society.

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