WOMEN and POVERTY
The last few years have seen historic achievements in reducing the number of people who are poor, making the end of extreme poverty possible in the coming generation. That requires cutting the multiple roots of impoverishment. One of the deepest is gender discrimination, which imposes a disproportionate burden on women.
When women are poor, their rights are not protected. They face obstacles that may be extraordinarily difficult to overcome. This results in deprivation in their own lives and losses for the broader society and economy, as women’s productivity is well known as one of the greatest generators of economic dynamism.
While both men and women suffer in poverty, gender discrimination means that women have far fewer resources to cope. They are likely to be the last to eat, the ones least likely to access healthcare, and routinely trapped in time-consuming, unpaid domestic tasks. They have more limited options to work or build businesses. Adequate education may lie out of reach. Some end up forced into sexual exploitation as part of a basic struggle to survive.
And while women at large have not yet achieved an equal political voice, women in poverty face extra marginalization. Their voices are rarely heard, for example, in decisions on managing an economy, or sharing benefits and costs.
The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted by 189 Member States in 1995, reflects the urgency around women and poverty by making it the first of 12 critical areas of concern. Actions under any of these, whether education, the environment, and so on, help women build better lives. But measures targeted to reducing women’s poverty are critical too.
Governments agreed to change economic policies to provide more opportunities for women, improve laws to uphold economic rights, and boost access to credit. They committed to collecting better information to track how poverty affects women differently, as knowing any problem is essential for solving it.
Since Beijing, much progress has been made in these areas. There is still far to go. Ending extreme poverty will come within reach only by fully involving women and respecting their rights—at every step along the way.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN and GIRLS
“Violence against women and girls is one of the most systematic and widespread human rights violations. It is rooted in gendered social structures rather than individual and random acts; it cuts across age, socio-economic, educational and geographic boundaries; affects all societies; and is a major obstacle to ending gender inequality and discrimination globally.
(2) UN General Assembly, 2006
CASE STUDY – MAJOR ISSUES FACING THE WOMEN OF INDIA
LOW SOCIO-ECONOMIC STATUS
According to a UN Human Development Report, women – comprising nearly 65% of the illiterate in India – represent 24% of the total labour force, 21% of professional and technical workers, and only 2% of administrators and managers. The United Nations notes that despite recent economic gains in India, economic activity for women has actually declined over the past two decades.
Maternal mortality in India is among the highest rate in the world: 570 per 100,000 live births.
One of the most noted and critical issues that has been highlighted both within and without India is that of “missing girls.” Computations based on population totals from the Indian1991 Census indicate that nearly 1.4 million girls in the age group of 0-6 are ‘missing’, based on the assumption that one would typically expect 96 girls for every 100 boys in this age group (UNICEF, 1995).
Selective abortion and female infanticide have been well-documented throughout India. Such son-preference becomes more readily apparent in differential treatment that leads to higher mortality rates for girls – -particularly those born into families that already have a daughter.
Food intake and health care for girls is also jeopardized.
The Government of India’s National Crime Records Bureau recognizes that one of the precipitating factors in violence against women is their low status in society. In reviewing statistics regarding violence, they state:
Women…continue to be victims of domestic violence, family violence, and violence in the community and at work places. Illiteracy, ignorance, lack of awareness, poverty, added to traditional oppression and customs, place the Indian women at uneven status/environment. The resultant consequences are lower sex ratio, lower expectancy of life, high infant mortality rate, high drop-outs in primary schooling, and low wage rate.
THE INTER-GENERATIONAL CYCLE OF VIOLENCE
The home is the primary site where boys and girls learn how to view themselves and treat each other, and therefore efforts to reduce gender-based abuse must focus first on the home. This approach is validated by research from developed countries which clearly shows that children of both sexes who grow up in violent families are significantly more likely to become batterers themselves. Furthermore, children who experience violence in their homes are more likely to become involved in criminal acts outside of the home.
As one attorney who works exclusively on death penalty cases says: ‘Scratch the surface of any death case and you will find horrific domestic violence in the history of the defendant.’
Nonetheless, near universal deference to the privacy of the home has meant that this most insidious form of violence all too often goes unnoticed, unreported, and unchecked.
Equal citizenship status for women will not be possible until this violence has ceased.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN INDIA: DEFINITION AND TERMS
In the Fourth World Conference on Women Country Report of the Government of India, the Department of Women and Child Development included an entire section entitled “Countering the Threat of Violence Against Women”, stating :-
“Violence against women should be viewed as one of the most crucial social mechanisms by which they are forced into a subordinate position. It is a manifestation of unequal power relations, which has led to men’s domination over and discrimination against women. Thus, violence against women, throughout their life, comes to be socially sanctified.”
Numerous Indian laws exist prohibiting crimes against women, while the Constitution guarantees equality, freedom, opportunity and protection in both the public sphere and in the home. Yet reported violence against women is increasing throughout India.
During 2000 – 2004 :-
reports of rape increased annually by 29.8%,
kidnapping by 11.1%;
molestation by 19.4%; and
sexual harassment by 21.8% (National Crimes Record Bureau, 2004);
in contrast to the rate for all violent crime averaging 7.4% annually.
These statistics have been further described by the Department of Women and Child Development:
Every 54 minutes, one woman is raped;
Every 26 minutes, one woman is molested;
Every 102 minutes, one dowry death;
Every 7 minutes, one criminal act against women.
New Delhi shows a similar increase in crime against women. In the one-year period between 2003 and 2004, dowry deaths in New Delhi rose from 107 to 132, cases of marital cruelty increased from 809 to 892, and abductions/kidnapping from 641 cases to 741. Out of 295 rapes reported in New Delhi until December 15, 2004, approximately 85% involved rape by a family member.
The observed trend may be due to improved reporting and data collection. However, a great deal of violence against women still goes unreported, including that which occurs in the domestic realm.
Domestic violence against girls and women takes many different forms including foeticide, infanticide, child marriage, forced marriage, forced prostitution, battering, rape, murder/dowry deaths, incest, widow harassment and stigmatisation, and old-age desertion.
A recent report by the Institute of Development and Communication Studies in Punjab (1995) estimated that for each rape case registered with the police, nearly 70 went unregistered. Likewise, for every reported case of molestation, nearly 375 cases were not registered. Unregistered cases were reported by the victims to panchayats, municipalities, mahila mandals and voluntary agencies.
As noted by the Women’s Council for Beijing, general attitudes must be addressed before violence will abate. Such attitudes are deeply imbedded and, among many groups, generally accepted without question. For example, a study of men in Uttar Pradesh demonstrated that nearly one fourth said that verbal insults and physical force should be used against those wives who disobey their orders (Narayana, 1996).
However years of struggle by the Indian women’s movement has helped to make domestic violence more visible and opened it up for discussion. This has finally yielded some results in getting agencies and government to recognise violence in the ‘private sphere’ as meriting public concern. This visibility has also exposed a variety of forms of violation that have traditionally been hidden within the four walls of the household including physical abuse like kicking, spitting, beating with hands or objects like belts and bottles, pulling hair, throwing acid or boiling water, shooting, strangulation, burning with cigarettes or other objects, pushing and pinching as well as verbal abuse and mental torture and cruelty (United Nations report).
VIOLENCE AS A DEVELOPMENT ISSUE
Although violence against women affects the most basic foundations of their lives, it is rarely considered a development issue. Development programs designed to respond to such problems as deforestation, high fertility and hunger often rely heavily on women, yet they seldom recognize that the personal burdens women face – and particularly violence — often reduce or eliminate women’s ability to fully participate in the development process.
In terms of initiatives that seek to facilitate and sustain women’s increased involvement in economic development activities – from income generation to microfinance – studies have revealed how violence or the threat of violence can thwart their continued involvement in such activities.
In Chennai, a revolving loan fund for women nearly collapsed when the two leaders dropped out of the program as a result of their husbands’ violence. Men often become threatened when women begin earning and are less under their control.
Mirai Chaterjee of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) makes clear that domestic violence often rises in response to women’s participation in SENA’s micro-finance programs. Such a shift in the basic power structure of the home may add stress to an already precarious and unstable relationship.