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