India: New Survey Ranks India Last Among G20 Nations for Treatment of Women

A new survey from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, “G20 Countries: The Worst and Best for Women,” finds that women suffer more discrimination and abuse in India than in any of the other top 19 economies in the world. Based on the views of over 370 gender experts, and covering topics such as health service provision, prevalence of sexual and physical violence, political participation and land or property rights, the poll ranked India last, behind Saudi Arabia. Canada came out on top (excluding the European Union economic grouping).
 
The result calls attention to the multiple forms of discrimination that Indian women suffer, beginning even before they are born. Preference for male children results in the abortion of a disproportionate number of female fetuses, shifting the gender balance of the entire population. The effects are felt for years to come – increases in rape, human trafficking and the emergence of “wife-sharing.” Girl children may be subjected to abuse. The International Center for Research on Women estimates that almost 45 per cent of Indian girls are married before their 18th birthday. Early marriage can have a devastating effect on girls’ mental and physical wellbeing, leading to increased risk of complications in childbirth. Child brides may be forced to cut short their education. Babies born to child mothers are also more likely to have health and developmental issues.
 
Although discrimination exists throughout India, it is particularly acute in the northern plains, thanks in part to cultural attitudes that women are inferior or should be confined to the home. Other traditions, based on conceptions of family honor, and the practice of paying dowries at the time of marriage, feed into the perception that women are a drain on family resources and potential threat to the family’s position in society. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, in 2010 one bride was murdered every hour over dowry demands. India also has serious problems related to domestic violence and human trafficking, and women suffer from reduced health and educational opportunities. Societal acceptance of violence against women is high, among both males and females. Widows are often denied any inheritance or property rights.
 
Nevertheless, some women are making progress in the rapidly developing Indian economy. However, conservative attitudes limit the extent to which these gender-sensitive initiatives are actually being implemented. Experts point to awareness-raising campaigns and education as the key to changing mentalities about women’s position in society and bringing about genuine gender equality in India.
 
Compiled from: Nita Bhalla, "India Advances, But Many Women Still Trapped in Dark Ages," TrustLaw, (13 June 2012).