Gender gap still wide despite improvement

Gender gap still wide despite improvement

New Delhi: India has markedly improved the access of girls to education, besides bringing down fertility and infant mortality rates, but the World Development Report 2012 on ‘Gender and Development’ issued warnings on other fronts—women’s labour participation rates remain stagnant and domestic violence is alarmingly high.

The report, launched on Thursday at the World Bank, also highlighted high rates of domestic abuse and their relationship to reproductive health apart from high maternal mortality rates as areas of key concern in India.

Among the positive findings was a drop in fertility rates: Between 1960 and 2009, this fell from six children per women to 2.3, with some states (Kerala, Goa, and Maharashtra) having birth rates similar to developed countries such as the US.

India has also achieved near parity in the number of girls and boys enrolled in primary, secondary and tertiary schooling, according to the press release.

Despite these improvements, maternal mortality remains high: With one out of every 70 women dying in childbirth, maternal death rates are at the high end of the global spectrum, above both Swaziland and Honduras, and nearly six times that of neighbouring Sri Lanka. (Only one in 1,400 Chinese women die in childbirth.) High home birth rates, supply gaps and the inability to reach hospital were among the reasons cited.

Sudhir Shetty, one of the report’s authors, highlighted the stagnation of women’s labour participation as an area of key concern in India.

According to the most recent National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) data, rates of participation for women in the labour force have remained nearly the same for the past 30 years: From 36% in 1983, they dipped to 33% in 1993, and settled at 35% in 2005.

This marks India as an outlier in relation to developing countries in Latin America and Asia, which have all seen significant increases in the number of women working, and puts it on a par with rates in many Middle Eastern and African countries.

Wage differences may partially explain women’s hesitance to enter the labour force: Indian women earn 75% what men do when it comes to salaried work, and 56% for casual work.

The wage gap alone is not sufficient to explain the discrepancy, Shetty said. “We need to ask questions about what it is that determines whether women work," said Shetty, suggesting that the burden placed on women in terms of housework and child care may be a significant contributing factor. The statistics on domestic abuse throw some light on a little-discussed aspect. One-third of all Indian women surveyed by the NSSO reported experiencing domestic abuse at some point in their lives, and a quarter had experienced domestic abuse within the past year.

In addition to being widely prevalent, the report found spousal abuse to be linked closely to maternal and child health: Women who had been abused were 1.5 times more likely to have a terminated pregnancy or stillbirth, their children were 1.14 times more likely to be stunted than their peers, and abused women were less likely to have received ante-natal care.