Culture of India

Women’s lives are undergoing demographic transformation and change

World Population Day (July 11) is an occasion to reflect on India’s demographic journey and its transforming impact on the lives of its residents, particularly women. This article discusses how population expansion, fertility decline, and social norms have changed many elements of women’s lives in India.

Central idea

  • India has grown from a population of 340 million at independence to a whopping 1.4 billion today, thanks to advances in public health, reduced famine, and medical achievements. This demographic shift has had far-reaching consequences for Indian women throughout their lifetimes, bringing both positive and negative effects.

Indian Women’s Obstacles Son Preference and Gender Bias

  • The sex ratio imbalance reflects Indian society’s desire for sons. Between 1950 and 2019, the number of females per 100 boys under the age of five fell from 96 to 91. This drop can be related to practises such sex-selective abortion and neglect of sick daughters, which result in reduced prospects and prejudice against girls.
  • Early Marriage and Childbearing: For Indian women, early marriage and childbearing remain significant obstacles. The average age at first birth has remained low, with women born in the 1980s still having their first child while they were under 22 years old. Women’s educational and employment opportunities are hampered by early childbirth, prolonging gender inequality.
  • Access to Quality Education: Despite recent gains, access to quality education remains limited for many girls and women in India. The article emphasises that, while more than 70% of females enrol in secondary school, early marriage and motherhood limit their educational options, limiting their skill development and access to better job opportunities.
  • Gender-based Violence and Harassment: Gender-based violence and harassment are prevalent, including domestic violence, dowry-related violence, and sexual harassment. Such instances have a severe influence on women’s physical and psychological well-being, limit their freedom, and make it difficult for them to fully engage in society.
  • Economic Opportunities are Limited: Gender wage disparities, occupational segregation, and hiring and promotion prejudices all contribute to women’s economic possibilities in India. Women bear a disproportionate share of the burden of unpaid domestic and caregiving duties, limiting their ability to engage in paid job and attain economic empowerment.
  • Inadequate Social and Financial Support: Widowed or elderly women frequently do not have enough social and financial support systems. Dependence on male family members for financial support, particularly sons, can perpetuate gender inequity and expose women to economic hardship, social isolation, and limited access to healthcare and pension benefits.

Women’s Ageing and Its Consequences

  • Proportional Increase: The proportion of women aged 65 and up has increased dramatically throughout the years. The proportion of women aged 65 and more climbed from 5% to 11% between 1950 and 2022, and is expected to reach 21% by 2050.
  • Financial challenges: Widowed women frequently encounter financial challenges because they may lack access to savings, real estate, and other financial resources. This reliance on their husbands, followed by reliance on their children, particularly sons, can continue the son preference cycle.
  • Restricted Decision-Making Power and Agency: Widowed women may have restricted decision-making power and agency in their later years. Their reliance on sons for financial assistance can limit their ability to make autonomous decisions, contributing to a sense of social and economic vulnerability.

Changing Circumstances for Indian Women

  • Difficulty in assuring a son’s birth: The risk of not having a son increased as families had fewer children. Sons were preferred because of social standards, patrilocal kinship structures, and financial uncertainty. This resulted in practises such sex-selective abortion and the abandonment of sick daughters.
  • Reduced active mothering years: As fertility rates fell, women had more time for school and jobs. According to the NFHS, the number of years women spend caring for children under the age of five has decreased from 14 in 1992-1993 to eight in 2018-20; the number of years spent caring for children from six to fifteen has decreased from 20 to 14.
  • Persistent early marriage and childbearing: While women’s educational attainment has grown, with more than 70% of girls participating in secondary school, early marriage and childbearing continue to be the major forces shaping women’s life. According to a recent article by Park, Hathi, Broussard, and Spears, the average age at first birth has remained around 20 for women born in the 1940s and is still considerably below 22 for those born in the 1980s.

What exactly is a Gender Dividend?

  • The concept of Gender Dividend refers to the idea that countries may increase productivity and equity by investing in women and girls and narrowing gender gaps, notably in the labour market.
  • It emphasises that countries may become more productive and egalitarian by realising the economic potential of women and girls through increased investments and opportunities.

Education and Skill Development

  • Strategies for Harnessing the Gender Dividend Ensure equitable access to quality education for girls and women to promote gender equality in education. Encourage girls’ school enrolment and retention, eliminate educational hurdles, and provide skill development programmes that equip women with job-relevant abilities.
  • Economic Empowerment: Create an enabling environment for women’s economic engagement by resolving labor-market gender gaps, encouraging entrepreneurship, and assuring equal pay for equal effort. Implement policies and programmes that promote women’s access to financial resources, credit, and entrepreneurial opportunities.
  • Women’s Leadership and Decision-Making: Increase women’s representation and participation in positions of leadership in all areas, including politics, business, and government. Encourage women’s participation in decision-making at all levels to guarantee that their opinions and voices are heard.
  • Gender Equality and Legal Reform: Adopt and enforce legislation to defend women’s rights and promote gender equality. Discriminatory practises such as early marriage, dowry, and violence against women must be addressed. Improve the enforcement of existing laws to secure women’s justice and protection.
  • Health and Happiness: Increase women’s access to healthcare services such as reproductive health, maternity health, and preventive care. Address specific women’s health challenges, such as gender-based violence, reproductive health issues, and mental health.
  • Establish social support structures that provide safety nets for women, particularly vulnerable populations such as widows, elderly women, and single mothers. Develop public awareness efforts to address social conventions and attitudes that contribute to gender inequity and violence against women.
  • Engaging Men and Boys: Include men and boys as allies in the promotion of gender equality and the challenge of harmful gender norms. Encourage males to take on caring and domestic chores, as well as to advocate for women’s rights.
  • Data Gathering and Monitoring: Collect and analyse gender-disaggregated data to identify gaps, track progress, and support evidence-based policymaking. Evaluate and measure the effects of gender equality programmes on a regular basis to ensure accountability and to guide future interventions.

Strategies for Expanding Access to Childcare

  • Take advantage of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS): Consider making staffing crèches a permissible form of employment under NREGS. This would entail utilising NREGS personnel to assist in the staffing of childcare centres, hence increasing access to cheap childcare services.
  • Make Use of the Self-Help Group Movement: Use the self-help movement to build neighbourhood childcare centres in both urban and rural regions. Using the network and resources of self-help groups to set up and administer childcare facilities is one example.
  • Increase the number of Anganwadis: Expand the reach and scope of Anganwadis, which are government-funded centres that provide integrated childcare and early education. Increase their capacity and incorporate crèche services to accommodate working parents.
  • National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM): Integrate childcare services into the NRLM framework, which strives to improve rural households’ lives. This can include incorporating daycare within the NRLM-supported skill development and income-generation activities.
  • Childcare Financial Support: Consider implementing subsidy programmes or financial support schemes to make childcare more affordable for low-income families. Income-based subsidies, vouchers, or tax credits could be used to reduce the financial burden of childcare fees.
  • Neighbourhood Childcare Centres: Encourage the creation of neighborhood-based childcare centres, particularly in urban areas, to meet the childcare needs of the local community. This method maintains parents’ proximity and accessibility, making it easier for them to manage work and childcare commitments.
  • Recognise Childcare as Work: Recognise the important work of childcare providers and advocate for the professionalisation of the childcare industry. This can involve providing training programmes, certification, and support systems to help childcare professionals enhance the quality of care they give.
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