The World Human Rights day has just turned seventy. Isn’t this the time to evaluate the journey in realisation of goals enshrined in the charter, for women in particular?
The post-UN era undoubtedly witnessed the emergence of many gender-specific resolutions to do away with discrimination and violence. In the new millennium, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and subsequently, the ongoing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also contain a time-framed agenda for women by 2030.
The outcome analysis of the MDGs in 2015, revealed a story of mixed global progress in several human development indicators. The literacy rate among women (15 to 24 years) showed an upward turn from 83 to 91 per cent, between 1990 and 2015. But women continued to remain on the fringes of political power by being only one among five members of parliament, notwithstanding their enhanced presence from 13.2 per cent in 2000 to 23.4 per cent in 2017 (UN Women).
On the brighter side, thirty-nine per cent of countries in the world have introduced some form of quota system to increase women’s political participation. Sadly, India is not one of them. On the health front, the maternal mortality rate (MMR) per thousand live births, had gone down by 45 per cent and the rate dipped to 167 in 2011-2013 from 437 in 1990. The percentage of institutional births also registered an upward trend during the period from 33 to 81.4 per cent in 2015-16. There was also a rise in the use of contraceptives among women, married or in a union (15 to 49 years) from 55 per cent in 1990 to 64 per cent in 2015. But only 52 per cent of women, either married or in a union, had the privilege of making decisions freely about sexual relations, contraceptive use and health care.
In the labour market, women fared unfavourably. only half of the women of working age could participate in the labour force, as compared to about three-quarters of working-age men. Women were mostly found in unpaid care and domestic work, sometimes in addition to paid work, leading to long working hours and were also paid 24 per cent less than men. In many countries, women with advanced education had higher rates of unemployment than men with similar levels of education.
Top slots in the corporate sector are still the stronghold of men and less than one-third of women could occupy senior or middle management posts. However, women could make some foray into paid employment outside the agriculture sector, which went up from 35 per cent in 1990 to 41 per cent in 2015.
The UNWomen report 2017, unfortunately, painted a grim picture of gender-based global violence. The report said that one in five women (15-49 years) experienced physical and or/sexual violence by an intimate partner within the period of the last twelve months, and 47 per cent women, as against 6 per cent men, were intentional victims of homicide either by an intimate partner or a family member.
Forty-nine countries have no specific law for protection of women from domestic violence and thirty-seven countries exempt rape perpetrators from prosecution, if they were married to or subsequently married the victim. The report observed that the key challenges were the existing social norms and gross impunity to perpetrators.
With regard to access to food, the UN Women 2018 report highlighted that women and girls accounted for 330 million of the poor, which means four more women living on less than $1.90 a day for every 100 men. More than 50 per cent of urban women and girls in the developing countries survived without having access to clean water, improved sanitation facilities, durable housing, and sufficient living areas. In thirty-nine countries, daughters and sons do not have equal inheritance rights. Globally, women are just 13 per cent of agricultural land holders.
The report also pointed out about inadequacies in data on women and girls, and only 13 per cent of countries earmarked a budget to gender statistics,15 per cent have legislation for specialised gender-based surveys and 41 per cent of countries regularly produce data on violence against women.
The Global Gender Gap report 2017 estimated that at the current rates of change, it would take another 217 years to achieve gender parity in critical areas such as economic participation, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment.
If we look at India, the gender gap in literacy rate has been reduced from 24.2 to 8.2 per cent between 1991 and 2011. The female youth also attained higher increase in literacy from 49.3 to 81.8 per cent, a hike of 65.92 per cent compared to male youths from 73.5 to 90 per cent, a rise of only 22.45 per cent during the period, as per the latest census.
The NSS 68th round (2011-12) results demonstrated a percentage share rise of females in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector at 19.3 per cent, a marginal improvement from 18.6 per cent recorded in the 66th round (2009-10).
In the area of reproductive health, pregnancy-related deaths registered a slide and the number of maternal deaths per year has come down from approximately 1,00,000 (1991-2001) to 44,000 in 2011-13. But even now, 120 women die every day from pregnancy-related causes.
The NFHS-4 (2015-16), however, indicated several improvements which have a direct bearing on women’s health and living like more households having improved sources of drinking water, a rise from 87.6 per cent in 2005-06 to 89.9 per cent in 2015-16, and also 48.4 per cent households now have improved sanitation facilities, as compared to 29.1 per cent in 2005-06.
But, the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), showed a rise of 94 per cent in crimes against women under the head of cruelty by husband/other relatives from 58,319 cases in 2005 to 113, 403 cases in 2015, indicating a sharp increase.
Indian women remain far behind in political empowerment occupying now only 11.98 per cent of seats in the lower house and 11 per cent in the upper house of parliament and are ranked at 151 among more than 187 countries as per the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) rankings in 2017.
India is yet to cover much ground, despite its constitutional guarantee of right to equality and the commitments under the UN.
“Stand Up For Human Rights” is the global slogan for 2018. At this juncture it is pertinent to ask whether nations across the world really stood up for gender justice? Perhaps not.
The writer is an ex-Indian Information Service officer, and a media educationist.