EditorialSanctum

Women have to be empowered, not just educated

I wouldn’t be around to write this story if the Bahri clan I hail from – Hindus from that part of Punjab which is now in Pakistan – had not stopped practising female infanticide in the early 1900s, with my grandparents generation. But a century on, the practice appears to have hit an all-time high.

Latest figures show that at 914, India’s child sex ratio – a better marker of son preference than the overall sex ratio – is at its lowest since 1951.

This is despite the fact that female literacy in India has soared to 65.46 per cent as per Census 2011 and should have resulted in greater gender parity in the child sex ratio.

This implies that female literacy alone is not enough to improve the sex ratio as is commonly assumed and suggested by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (save daughter, educate daughter) campaign.

As Part 1 of the series (In India, as income rises, fewer girls are born/December 20, 2016) pointed out, the educated are more likely to afford sex-selective abortions.

The bias against daughters can only end if women’s education is accompanied by social and economic empowerment, concluded a study conducted over a period of 30 years in Gove, Maharashtra, by Carol Vlassoff, a professor at the University of Ottawa.

“Not only is it impossible to achieve gender equality without education, expanding education opportunities for all can help stimulate productivity and reduce the economic vulnerability of poor households,” the UN said about the role of education in achieving gender equality, in its 2013 report, Making Education a Priority in the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

But statistics in India do not bear out the UN’s assumptions. Young graduate mothers gave birth to 899 girls per 1,000 boys, lower than the national average of 943, IndiaSpend reported in May 2016.

“Education of women is clearly not enough to change preference for sons, a pervasive deep-seated social expectation,” said Priya Nanda, group director, Social and Economic Development, International Center for Research on Women, Asia Regional Office. “While education does give women abilities, changing gender norms requires other complementary efforts.”

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