By Anushree Bernard
The United Nations in 1975 declared March 8 as the International Women’s Day (IWD) to celebrate the social, cultural, political and economic achievements of women across the world.
The day gained prominence over the years as it grew from strength to strength giving a spectacle to all nations of the world about the rights and equality of women.
However, this year some very fundamental questions crossed my mind. Have we achieved equality for women especially in India after all these years? Or are we parroting a utopian idea of equality without acknowledging the ground realities of millions of women.
Our country proclaims equality of all genders, yet India has 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. India has lost at least 12 million girls – almost the population of Arunachal Pradesh –in the last three decades.
The practise of sex selective abortions goes on rampantly in various parts of India. An average 7,000 girls get aborted every day unnoticed by law enforcement agencies. The practise has serious implications as it will eventually lead to the extermination of the female gender in the longer run.
We have already lost 63 million women in the last one 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.
Recently I witnessed an incident around 25 km from Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan. A one-day old baby girl was abandoned and left to die near a garbage dump on a cold winter night. She was later rescued and taken to the government hospital for immediate medical attention.
The staff at the hospital informed us that 11 of 12 new born children they have received in the past few months, were girls, indicating that the daughter aversion among the local populace.
Today, India has 21 million unwanted girls who struggle to seek acceptance and love from their families.
Dowry during marriage is seen to be one of the most compelling factors which have resulted in such hatred toward 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 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.” It gave voice to thousands of women to speak out about sexual harassment they faced within their workplace and other places. Women emerged stronger than before for one pivotal reason that they were being heard.
To celebrate IWD, we must bring equality for all women, first by listening to them.
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 the society. Or do we blindly celebrate this day without understanding the basic essence of gender equality.
Nelson Mandela once said, “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.
The roar of woman’s silence is distinct and near now.
(Anushree Bernard is the program coordinator, Vanishing Girls Campaign Initiative of ADF India, New Delhi.)