True Independence for Girls in India

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) recently released the State of the World Population 2020 report which drew attention to 19 forms of human rights violation against women and girls, one of which is son-preference resulting in sex selection. According to the report, one in three girls missing globally due to gender-biased sex selection is from India — 46 million out of the total 142 million missing girls. The number of girls missing due to female foeticide reflect the deep-rooted bias against daughters and the poor status of girls in the country.

“It should be shocking but it isn't that while 5 lakh COVID-19 deaths worldwide is causing such a furore, there is not a word on 460 lakh deaths of girls in the country”.

Kamla Bhasin, Social scientist and activist 

Tomorrow, India celebrates its 74th Independence Day. We can be proud of how far we have come as a nation. The Constitution of India resolved to assure the dignity of every individual and to secure to all its citizens:  JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; and EQUALITY of status and of opportunity. We have, as a sovereign republic, delivered on several of these constitutional promises. However, even today, women and girls in India suffer the effects of son-preference, sex-selective abortion and other rigid patriarchal norms. 

The Vanishing Girls Campaign pledge to #giveherLIFE - Love, Inheritance, Freedom, and Equality is aimed at realizing true independence for girls in India. 

Love: Every girl has the right to be born into the world and be loved and cherished just as sons are. The progress of our country would not have been possible without the contribution of women and girls. From the freedom struggle movement to the current COVID-19 pandemic, India’s daughters have been at the forefront, developing and supporting the country hand-in-hand with men. Daughters are no less than sons, and they deserve equal love, care and respect.

Inheritance: The right to inheritance is imperative for the empowerment of women and girls. India’s Child Sex Ratio continues to drop because girls are seen as an economic burden. The right to inheritance is linked to the value of daughters. Recently, in a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court of India held that a daughter will have an equal share in the family property after the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005. “Daughters must be given equal rights as sons. Daughter remains a loving daughter throughout life. The daughter shall remain a coparcener throughout life, irrespective of whether her father is alive or not”, stated Justice Arun Mishra. This is an important step towards securing equal inheritance rights for women.

Freedom: A patriarchal society like ours gives most of the decision making power to men in households, in communities and even in governments. This practice in turn suppresses women and girls to stereotypical gender roles, thereby withholding their independence. They are discouraged from speaking their minds or showing leadership skills, and limited by the dangers of a crime-ridden society. In our work with the campaign, we have even seen mothers being forced to abort their daughters against their will. 

Equality: Gender bias and inequality meted out to women and girls across the country have resulted in unequal access to resources and opportunities for them. By placing nearly half the population at a disadvantage, India will only hinder its own growth. 

There is an urgent need for policy initiatives to bring gender parity in our society. More than ever, we need to stand with women and girls to guarantee their fundamental rights, as provided by the Constitution, so that they can enjoy true freedom in India.

ADF India, through its Vanishing Girls campaign, aims to eradicate sex-selective abortion in our lifetime and save the lives of thousands of girls who are killed in the womb every day. We are advocating for the strict enforcement of the Pre-Conception Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994.

On July 4, 2020, the Delhi Government’s Health and Family Welfare Department inducted Mrs. Tehmina Arora, Director, ADF India, in the Advisory Committee for District Level Appropriate Authorities under the PCPNDT Act. 

Sign the pledge to #giveherLIFE

TOGETHER AGAIN: A Mother & Daughter Reunited

Payal, her mother, and her daughter, Jaya, with ADF India allied lawyers

July 15, 2020

Unbridled tears of joy accompanied the reunion of Payal and her daughter Jaya (names changed) after 9 months of painful separation. In February 2020, we had shared the story of this indomitable young mother who would stop at nothing to protect her three daughters. Her husband and his family had tortured her for 8 years in her marital home. On a fateful evening in November 2019 she decided that her three daughters and she would suffer no longer. When she returned to her parents’ home that cold night, her husband had cruelly held back her second daughter, to force Payal to come back to him.  

Earlier today, on the long drive with her mother and lawyers to the family court where she would be reunited with her daughter, Payal was both ecstatic and nervous. She thought of all the nights when she had cried herself to sleep, longing to embrace her daughter. The joy of their reunion, two days before her daughter’s fifth birthday, would wash away all the tears. At the same time, she was worried if her husband would do something at the last minute to deny her the custody of her daughter. She had won a tough legal battle for custody after moving the district court and High Court on multiple occasions.  

On 13 July, the High Court passed an order stating that the custody of the child would have to be given to the mother before 17 July. The father had delayed granting custody of the child under various pretexts, even blaming the prevalence of COVID-19 near Payal’s parental home as a reason. The Court found no merit in these delay tactics. The father was found to have not complied with the interim order of the district court to hand over custody in January 2020. 

Payal was blessed to have the support of her parents in her struggle. Her mother stood bravely beside her at the court today when her husband and his relatives surrounded them with menacing looks. Payal also felt stronger in the company of the ADF India lawyers who were more than just lawyers to her, they were family. They had fought this battle together for 9 months and now they were celebrating her victory with her. Also, criminal proceedings against the husband and his family are to continue. 

Payal’s troubles in her marital home began when her first child was born. The abuse multiplied at the birth of her second child and reached the tipping point after the birth of her third child. Why? Because she had given birth to three daughters and her husband’s family wanted a son. And now Payal and daughters would be punished. But this mother has managed to save the lives of her daughters and her own.  

Sadly, Payal’s story is not unique. 

ADF India is committed to continue providing legal aid to mothers like Payal who suffer because they choose to give birth to daughters and love them. We aim to eradicate sex-selective abortions in our lifetime and save the lives of thousands of girls who are killed in the womb every day. We are advocating for the strict enforcement of the Pre-Conception Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994.

A Country Without Balance — What the Trend of Declining Child Sex Ratio Could Mean for India in 2031

In this issue, we explore what India could look like in 2031 if we fail to protect the lives of unborn girls.  

A widespread preference for sons, combined with easy access to illegal sex-selective abortions, has led to a significant imbalance in the ratio of boys to girls born in India. According to the latest government census, the Child Sex Ratio, which shows the number of girls per 1000 boys between the ages 0-6, plunged down to 918 for India in 2011 from 927 in 2001. 

Diminishing Sex Ratio

The Sex Ratio will further dip to 898 girls for 1,000 boys in 2031, according to a Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation report

Recently, during the Coronavirus lockdown period, the government inexplicably suspended some key provisions of the PCPNDT (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Rules, 1996. This decision put the lives of thousands of unborn girls at risk. India cannot afford such lapses. 

“The decreasing Child Sex Ratio has a cascading effect on population over a period of time leading to diminishing Sex Ratio in the country,” explains the Census of India website, “one thing is clear—the imbalance that has set in at the early age group is difficult to be removed and will remain to haunt the population for a long time to come.” 

The declining Child Sex Ratio sabotages the development of our country as women contribute strongly to the economic upliftment of India. Imagine large proportions of the productive population missing ten years from now because girls were not even allowed to be born! 

Scarcity of Brides 

The growing disparity between the number of boys and girls born will have serious social implications. It will become more difficult for men, wanting to get married, to find a bride by 2031. In the coming decades, the number of men who can’t find brides in India could reach 40 million

In the book ‘Too Many Men, Too Few Women’, Ravinder Kaur speaks about this ‘marriage squeeze’. Through empirical work and ethnographic accounts by well-known sociologists, economists and demographers, this book maintains that due to the economic, social, moral and psychological importance of marriage in Indian societies, the "shortage of brides" has become one of the most significant negative impacts of the sex ratio imbalance.

Increase in Violence

Gender imbalance will have dangerous repercussions to the security and stability of our society. Studies repeatedly link regions with high sex-ratios in favor of men to instances of increase in violence, sexual exploitation of women, enforced prostitution and other forms of gender-based violence. The impending “marriage squeeze” will amplify evils like bride trafficking and polyandry.

Failure in Achieving Gender Equality

A country without balance is a country without equality. Gender equality is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that the United Nations aims to achieve by 2030. 

“Son preference is first and foremost about gender discrimination and violations of women’s and girls' human rights,” says Luis Mora, a UNFPA human rights expert. Failure to bring balance in our Child Sex Ratio would mean failure in achieving Gender Equality for our girls. 

Ms. Ravinder Kaur, a noted professor of Sociology and Social Anthropology at IIT-Delhi, has said that the consequences of skewed sex ratios are likely to be felt even more than twenty years down the line. 

Improving the status of women and girls and preventing the systematic erasure of our daughters should be a national priority.

Join the Fight to let her live!

THE COURAGE OF A YOUNG MOTHER

On a cold November evening in 2019, we were left in shock by a phone call from Payal*, a young mother from Haryana. Married in 2012, Payal had endured years of unfathomable pain and brutality. After marriage, she had lived with her in-laws and was made to do all the household work for the entire extended family. There she was repeatedly abused verbally, physically and sexually. She was particularly blamed and abused by them because she had given birth to three daughters. Her husband turned a blind eye to her cries for help and advised her to get used to such treatment.  Even with the existence of several domestic violence laws in India, it is difficult for victims to access such help.

Many times, Payal had to rescue her daughters from the attempts of the in-laws to kill them. One day, she decided that she had had enough and that she would secure justice for herself and her daughters. Despite Payal’s impossible circumstance, she courageously escaped her ensnarers after multiple failed attempts. Showing amazing resilience, she fled to another city with two of her daughters and found employment as a maid. Her husband and in-laws had forcibly and illegally detained her second daughter, four-year-old Jaya*, in order to force Payal to come back to the matrimonial home.

Payal reached out to ADF India’s allied lawyers to help her to protect her daughters. In January, this year, a High Court directed her husband to produce Jaya in Court in the presence of the mother. The High Court also directed the corresponding family court to complete proceedings, on Payal’s petition seeking her daughter’s custody, within 4 weeks. The family court thereafter granted interim custody of the girl to the mother.

The father refused to follow the directions of the family court and instead challenged the order in the High Court. The High Court was not inclined to overturn the ruling of the family court and instead directed the husband to pay Payal for any litigation costs incurred by her.

ADF India’s allied lawyers then made an application for maintenance on her behalf. They have also filed a Domestic Violence petition against the in-laws, that a complaint may be filed against them and also that she be awarded monetary damages for what she had to undergo at their hands. ADF India will continue to stand beside Payal as she courageously wages this battle for the safety and future of her daughters.

Unfortunately, such stories like Payal’s are not uncommon in India. India’s rate of violence against women, particularly domestic violence, is one of the world’s highest. 70% of women in India are affected by domestic violence in one form or the other. A survey by the International Institute for Population Studies showed 56% of Indian women believed wife-beating to be justified in certain circumstances.

In India, domestic violence is rooted in the same social, cultural and religious practices that enforce rigid patriarchal norms of son-preference and gender-biased sex selection. The fallacy that sons are critical to a family’s social survival for carrying on their lineage, and ensuring the family’s financial security, encourages son preference. Women face extreme societal pressure to produce a son. Failure to do so would entail bearing the consequences of violence or abandonment in terrifying degrees.

Another young mother, Savita, shared her story with us:  “After my second daughter was born, my husband and in-laws started abusing me. I had not been able to give them a son. Then, the third daughter was born and the violence against Savita and the children grew more brutal. When my little baby girl fell ill and finally died, the violence stopped,” she said.  

The 2011 census reflects that the child sex ratio, a crucial indicator of gender equality, stands at 834 females per 1,000 males in Haryana. This latest census clearly exposes the daughter aversion in the state. While the birth of a son is welcomed with distribution of sweets, fanfare and festivities, the birth of a daughter is considered a curse and invites ridicule. A traditional Haryanvi folk song shows how the birth of a girl child is unwelcome in the family:

Jis din laado tera janam hoya, hui e bajar ki raat. Tuti khatoli ghaal ke amma soi, babul phire udaas. Nau lakh diwe laado chas dhare the te bhi ghor andhera

O Daughter, the night you were born, that night was the darkest of all. On a broken cot your mother slept, and your father was sad. Nine lakh lamps were lit up but still it remained dark

Mothers bear the full brunt of the scorn and shame that come from the birth of a female child. They consequently become victims of abuse, beatings, and sometimes, even murder. Families desperate to escape the financial burden of having a daughter can resort to disowning the mother. The man is encouraged to remarry to increase his chances of having a son. Not only does the mother compromise her health and well-being, she also loses her status and honor in this patriarchal set-up because of divorce or abandonment.

ADF India is committed to cultivating a future where human dignity is affirmed for all women and girls. Through our Vanishing Girls campaign, we advocate for the right of all women and girls to be loved, to have equal rights to the family inheritance, and to have their freedoms protected and promoted.

We invite you to join us in defending the life and liberty of women like Payal. To do so, donate here. Your financial gift today will transform a life tomorrow.

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*names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals

Empowering her to live

Watch the #DaughtersCan video here

The National Girl Child Day is celebrated every year in India on January 24. This was introduced by the Government of India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2008 to spread awareness about all the inequalities that girls face.

In India, gender inequality finds its most heinous expression in the form of sex selective abortions. Despite 17.3 million girls having gone missing, in the last three decades alone, due to sex selective abortions and other forms of pre-natal selection, it still hasn’t shaken our collective conscience.

ADF India initiated the Vanishing Girls campaign four years ago with the specific goal of combating the illegal act of sex determination by promoting the effective implementation of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994.

Among other countries facing this crisis, South Korea is the first Asian country to reverse the trend in rising sex ratios at birth.  In that country, the sex ratio at birth was 116.5 boys for every 100 girls during the mid-1990s and has come down to 105-107 boys for every 100 girls since 2013. The initial campaigns by the Korean government stressed on the value of daughters like the 1983 slogan, “A daughter raised well surpasses ten sons” that was made in response to the traditional Korean proverb, “One son is worth ten daughters”. During the country’s transition away from attitudes of son preference, women holding higher quality jobs were seen to show less son preference than lower wage earners.

Such awareness campaigns, enforcement of sex-selective bans, societal transformation and socio-economic development led to gender rebalancing in South Korea.

India is also reportedly starting to see signs of improvement in the Child Sex Ratio in some regions. Sting operations conducted in several districts of Maharashtra by Advocate Varsha Deshpande, with pregnant mothers as decoys, led to the prosecution of several erring doctors and ultrasound clinics. Jhunjhunu and Sikar which had the worst child sex ratio of Rajasthan’s 33 districts as per Census 2011 have shown significant improvement due to the strict implementation of the PCPNDT Act.

While there are laws and ongoing awareness campaigns to protect the girl child in India, there is still a dire need to transform societal attitudes and provide more opportunities and access to socio-economic development for women in India. The National Girl Child Day serves as an annual reminder that daughters are valuable and capable, not a burden. We must consciously take steps to protect her and provide opportunities that empower her.

Inheritance Rights of women: Are we there yet?

Towards the latter part of this year, I met with some inspiring women during my visit to a rather quiet and serene village in the district of Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan. These women have been working as the ASHA workers – Accredited Social Health Activists in their village for as long as almost a decade now. Some of them who are now grandmothers shared their narratives of how their efforts and endeavours to bring a positive societal change has helped them develop a strong bond with the many families in their village.

While speaking to the ASHA workers about the legal rights of women especially the essential features of the Pre-Conception Pre Natal-Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994, we gravitated towards the rights of women in the inheritance of family property. Sulochana, an ASHA, brought to my notice that women in Rajasthan voluntarily do not claim ownership over their parents' property and sacrifice such inheritance rights, a custom which is called as ‘Haq Tyag’. When I heard this, my immediate response was ‘WHY?!' but this gave me an opportunity to delve deeper into the cultural traditions and norms of the state of Rajasthan. Upon asking them the many reasons behind such a custom, I learned that women have been led to believe over the past so many decades that it is morally wrong on their part to claim ownership over their parents' property, as it is deemed to be given away to the sons of the family. Furthermore, I was told that if a woman ends up claiming her inheritance over her family property, her brother/brothers abandon their relationship with them for their lifetime.

This revelation about the custom of ‘Haq Tyag’ made me realize that the first place that discrimination against women and girls is within our own homes. By denying women their rights of inheritance not by law but merely because of customary practice, we are depriving them of something so important which belongs to them equally as that to their brothers.

I would like to place emphasis on the term ‘Inheritance’ and its importance. The right to inheritance is one of the instruments that will result in the empowerment of women and girls. It helps in securing the future of girls as well as women. However, today there is a lack of awareness and knowledge among women about their own rights and the strong patriarchal traditions that have prevented many women from fighting for their inheritance rights.

While speaking with the ASHAs, I realised that they are willing to bring a change in their village with respect to even spreading awareness about the rights of women and girls in the family property, provided they receive the courage and support of the women in their community as well as more importantly men and husbands who would stand up for their rights.

When we look at the law, equal property rights of sons and daughters were recognized after the amendment brought in 2005 which stated that a daughter will have equal ownership in her father’s property even after she gets married. Prior to this amendment, daughters could only claim ownership over their father’s property until they got married, however, that has been changed with this amendment. More recently in 2018, the Supreme Court has made it clear that the law applies to any daughter, irrespective of whether they were born before or after the coming of the law and thus will be entitled to share in father’s property. Read the judgment here.

The Vanishing Girls Campaign actively encourages people to add their voices against the discrimination and violence experienced by women and girls on a daily basis through its pledge: Love, Inheritance, Freedom, and Equality. The first step to bringing change on any issue is to start a conversation about how women need to learn about their rights and especially about the right to inheritance. So why wait for others to take that first step, let us be the pioneers to bring about a change in mindsets with even this small gesture of initiating the dialogue of women’s inheritance.

Daughter’s Day Special

BY ELINA YOHANAN

So, it was Daughters Day on 22 September and honestly, I did not expect my father to even remember it, let alone post something on Instagram (yes, my father is on Instagram and sometimes it is embarrassing but most times it is cute to see him learn things about what he calls “modern day technology”). 

I opened my Instagram this morning to find that my father had posted a picture of him, with my sister and I, and a caption that read “Daughters Day. Blessings of God.” 

My eyes welled up a bit. 

My father has always been very proud of his two daughters, and I have often heard him tell people that he is glad God gave him girls. His heart swells with happiness every time he does. But this was something I was not expecting, and I will tell you why. Since my father is just learning about Instagram and usually takes help from my sister or me when posting or adding stories, he took the effort to do this one on his own! And that adds so much more to the weight of how special I feel right now. 

It is the best feeling to know that your parents put effort to show you that you are loved and cherished, especially when you are a girl in India. Many times, we get so caught up with our busy lives that we forget to pause, to look around, to ponder, to be thankful, to cherish our children, OUR DAUGHTERS. We see them as a burden and not a blessing and that’s the most hurtful thing a daughter could ever go through – feeling unloved and unwanted because of no fault of her own. 

There is a need to spread awareness on the reality of sex-selective abortions in India. Killing the girl child in the womb has become so common that people treat it as something normal. 

HOW IS THIS NORMAL?! 

I am blessed to have parents who have always sacrificially given their daughters everything they needed to get to where they are right now. My sister and I enjoy wonderful lives in India’s best cities with great jobs. We are so grateful that we have parents who nurtured us with love, respect, freedom and courage. They never wished they had boy children instead of us. 

But not all girls feel the same way. They do not get the opportunity. It is important that girl children feel loved and cared for; that they are treated well and grow up to be confident and brave, pursuing their dreams. 

Make daughters feel special. Not just on Daughter’s Day, but every day. 

Because they deserve it. Right?

Busting 5 myths about girls — Changing attitudes towards the girl child

— by Jemi Thomas, MA Clinical Psychology

Since 1990, 17.3 million girls in India have been aborted (killed, to say it as it is) due to sex-selective abortions and other forms of pre-natal selection. 17.3 million girls! 

Why did these 17.3 million girls lose their lives?

The answer is painfully simple. These girls were considered a burden by those who begot them. This notion that a girl child is a burden prompts people to determine the sex of the child in the womb and eventually abort the child. Such perceptions and attitudes that undermine her value, lie at the core of illegal acts like sex determination and sex-selective abortions in India. 

So, in an effort to alter these attitudes and eventually bring an end to these practices, we examine here 5 myths about the girl child still prevalent in the society:

She can’t carry on the family name - Khasi, an ethnic indigenous tribe in Meghalaya, has a matrilineal society. Khasi children take on their mother’s surname. It’s a way of honouring the mother for carrying the child within her. The point here is, if an entire tribe can survive for centuries through females, any family too could survive through a female.

She can’t support us when we are old - It is difficult to understand the origin and basis of this notion as varying estimates across different countries clearly indicate that 57-81% of all caregivers of the elderly, are women. In most cases, female caregivers are wives or adult daughters of the elderly person.

She is a burden - Komal Ganatra who hails from a small town in Gujarat left her NRI husband and her in-laws because of their incessant demands for dowry. To get away from social shaming, she then moved to a village in Bhavnagar, worked as a government school teacher earning ₹ 5,000 per month and struggled on to become Komal Ganatra IAS. She credits her success to her father who believed in her and taught her to dream big. Her story, like many other, is an example of the asset a girl child can be.

She is a Paraya Dhan - This is a tough one. Not because this notion is true but because there is an endless list of successful women to bust this myth. Check out our social media campaign #SheCanToo to learn about inspiring women who broke stereotypes and made it despite all odds. 

She needs to be protected - If you believe this to be true, then you probably haven’t met Mehrunnisa who works as a bouncer in a club in Hauz Khas, New Delhi. Describing her unconventional work, she says, “I am very proud of what I do, it's not an easy job. Taking care of people is a very big responsibility.”

John Watson, American Psychologist, once said, “Give me a dozen healthy infants, and my specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take anyone at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—doctor, lawyer, artist, and, yes, even beggar and thief”.

While John has his critiques, he does raise an important point— whether a girl child is an asset or a burden, comes down to the kind of environment we are willing to provide for her.

Women today have proved themselves capable, above and beyond, in every facet of life. Decades back, they could have been seen as a burden, considering the lack of opportunities, rights and education given to them. But the scenario is changing now. And change in times calls for change in attitudes.

Meet Babita - A Social Health Activist working to save the lives of unborn girls in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan

Vanishing Girls recently organized a two-day ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists) workers’ sensitization program in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan. An ASHA is a community health worker instituted by the Government of India. The role of ASHA workers has been instrumental in bringing the Sex Ratio at Birth in Jhunjhunu from 880 girls born per 1,000 boys (2014) to 943 girls per 1,000 boys (2018).

Amongst the 125 ASHA workers participating in this program, Babita stood out instantly to me! It was not just her towering statuesque height, she had a keenness in her eyes and her conversations that caught my attention.  Elegantly draped in her blue ASHA sari, Babita actively participated in the program. Most of the ASHA ladies turned terribly shy when the camera zoomed in on them. But, Babita was different! She confidently approached me for a selfie and we got talking. What unfolded from that chat was a story of unceasing courage in the face of relentless challenges. 

43-year-old Babita did not have an easy life. She was rejected by her own father from birth because she was born a girl and not a son as he had always prayed for! She was married off at the young age of 14. Through all this, her mother remained her strength. She fought for Babita’s education and made sure she went to primary school at least. 

Babita worked as a seamstress initially but her passion to serve the women in her community made her join the ASHA initiative and become an ASHA worker. This initiative also gave her the opportunity to go back to school and clear her 12th standard exams, a lifelong dream of hers! 

Babita has been an ASHA for over 13 years. She loves her job as it involves ensuring that pregnant women in her region get the right medical assistance and those little girls are born into this world. At the training, Babita was delighted to learn more about the PCPNDT Act (Prohibition of Sex Selection), saying this was the first time that someone had made things simple enough for her to understand! She was thankful to receive insights into the root causes of discrimination against the girl child and the result of the efforts done so far in improving the Child Sex Ratio.

Babita’s sincere efforts and dedication as an ASHA have been recognized and awarded by the local government. She recollects how the status of women used to be terribly low before. But, with initiatives such as the ASHA program and the Vanishing Girls campaign, the acceptance of little girls in Jhunjhunu is improving every day!

Anushree Bernard - Campaign Coordinator, Vanishing Girls

The Roar of a Woman's Silence

by Anushree Bernard

The United Nations declared 8th of March in 1975 as International Women’s Day to celebrate the social, cultural, political and economic achievements of women across the world. This day gained prominence over the years and it grew from strength to strength as it gave a spectacle to all nations of the world about the rights and equality of women.

However, as we celebrate the International Women’s Day 2019, some very fundamental questions cross my mind primarily being that have we been able to achieve equality for women especially in India after all these years or are we echoing a utopian idea of equality for all women without acknowledging the ground realities that are being faced by thousands of them even today. Equality begins at birth, yet as a country, we rank with one of the worst sex ratios at birth in the world. Millions of girls are aborted in the womb as their birth is not welcomed in most Indian families resulting in the loss of 12 million girls in the last three decades in India. The practice of sex selective abortions carries on rampantly in various parts of the country with an average of 7000 girls getting aborted every day that continues to remain unnoticed despite being prohibited by the law. This practice has serious implications which will eventually lead to the extermination of the female gender in the longer run, as we have already lost 63 million women in the last decade due to several factors such as inadequate nutrition, neglect, poor healthcare, and sex selective abortions. However, this discrimination does not end inside the womb, but also after the girl is born.

In a recent incident that I witnessed in Rajasthan, a one-day old baby girl was abandoned and left to die near a garbage dump on a cold winter night around 25 kilometers away from Jhunjhunu, later rescued and taken immediately to the government hospital for immediate medical attention. While speaking to the staff at the government hospital, they informed us that out of the 12 newborn children that they have received in the past few months, 11 out of them were all girls, which shows the daughter aversion that the people of the district carry. Today, there are 21 million unwanted girls in the country who struggle to seek acceptance and love from their families.

Dowry during the marriage is seen to be one of the most compelling factors which have resulted in such hatred towards girls. The burden of the parents to pay a huge amount of dowry in the form of cash or gifts creates immense pressure on many Indian families to abort the girl child before itself. However, even after getting married, many women are subjected to gross violence and torture in their marital homes for bringing inadequate or no dowry at all during the wedding. This torture has resulted in 21 dowry deaths every day in India and according to the National Crime Records Bureau, as many as 7,635 women died in the year 2015 due to dowry harassment.

The violence against women has been shrouded in silence until 2018 which created a revolution of sorts with the rise of the ME TOO movement as it gave a voice to thousands of women to speak out about sexual harassment that they faced within their workplace and otherwise as well. Women emerged stronger than before for one pivotal reason that they were being heard.

Today as we celebrate International Women’s day, we must begin from the first step towards bringing equality for all women which is by hearing their voices out. We must ask ourselves some coherent questions such as do we see and treat women and girls as equal not only within our homes but also at workplaces and in society. Or do we blindly celebrate this day without understanding the basic essence of gender equality. Nelson Mandela said that “Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression”. Giving equality to the female gender, begins from giving them their right to be born, as all parents must make their daughters so capable that they wouldn’t have to worry about her marriage. Instead of saving money for her wedding day, spend it well on her education and most importantly instead of preparing her for her marriage right from her childhood, prepare her for being herself unapologetically so that she may grow up to be a strong independent courageous woman with wings that will give her the freedom to pursue her dreams.

*Anushree Bernard is the Program Coordinator, Vanishing Girls Campaign