(Mint file)
(Mint file)

Health infrastructure helps raise women’s participation in labour force: Report

  • Social and cultural practices expose women to higher health risks
  • Female foetuses and infants are both subject to higher health risks due to negligence, less concern and poor nutritional support

New Delhi: While economic growth does not have an immediate positive impact on gender equality, lack of health infrastructure is majorly contributing to the diminishing women labour force in the country, revealed a study published in the Area Development and Policy (ADP) journal.

The study titled, ‘Growth, health and gender imbalance: evidence from India’, analysed the data for 16 major states in India for the periods 1993–94, 1999–2000, 2004–05 and 2011–12 for availability of male and female labour force participation rates. The major states and Union Territories covered in this study were Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Data for the infant mortality rate (IMR) was also used from the sample registration system for different years for analysis of the factors.

“Our research findings confirm health infrastructure not only improves health outcomes but also raises the survival possibilities of women and, especially girl children, thus enabling the female-male ratio to increase. Further, with higher gender ratios suggesting the beneficial effects of a greater presence of women in the population, the survival of the female foetus improves," said Arup Mitra, Department of Economics, National Institute of Labour Economics Research and Development (NILERD) and Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, the lead author of the study.

“A declining gender ratio (female to male) in the process of economic growth is discernible, implying that growth alone is not sufficient to curb gender inequality and female survival. The female labour force participation rate is seen to have favourable effects on the gender ratio, bringing out the wide range of social and economic implications of women’s access to resources," he said.

The study highlighted that social and cultural practices expose women to higher health risks. Female foetuses and infants are both subject to higher health risks due to negligence, less concern and poor nutritional support. Given the gender biases, poor health infrastructure and services affect the female foetus, girl children and mothers selectively in underdeveloped societies.

The study indicated that until 1991, the aggregate gender ratio in India declined continuously. With an improvement in the gender ratio in 2001, attention shifted to its decline in the age group 0-6. According to the study, among children masculinisation has been increasing across regions. The epicentre areas of female child deficit are intensifying, and the regions which were showing high child gender ratios are declining over time, while the potential high child gender ratio epicentres have no positive effect on their neighbouring regions. It reflects on the marginalisation of women in the process of growth and the use of female foeticide or infanticide as family planning measures.

“With better health infrastructure, even without any significant change in social biases, marked improvement can take place in the health outcomes of women, including a decline in maternal and infant mortality, which, thus, contributes to a balanced gender ratio in the region. Even women in the child bearing age due to inadequate nutrition and health facility witness higher mortality rates. So both health outcomes and gender ratio (female to male) can improve in relation to the availability of health infrastructure, women’s education and awareness and their access to resources," said Abhishek Kumar, co-author of the study.

“On average, females have been found to enjoy higher life expectancy due to behavioural and biological factors. But gender discrimination in nutrition, labour markets, education and other opportunities prevent them from realizing their full potential. For instance, more women suffer from acute illnesses like diarrhoea and fever or chronic illnesses like diabetes, TB, and asthma than men because of discrimination in nutrition," he said.