Concrete steps needed to end gender disparity: Ansari

Cuttack: Terming as "disturbing" the overall national picture relating to women, Vice President M Hamid Ansari on Tuesday said growing crimes and sexual violence against them was a major challenge and sought concrete steps to end gender disparity.

"Violence against women is a major challenge. Data from National Crime Records Bureau indicates the total number of crimes against women increased by 29.6 per cent between 2006 and 2010," Ansari said at the inauguration of the centenary celebrations of Shailabala Women's College here.

The 2005-06 National Family Health Survey also reported that one-third of women aged 15 to 49 had experienced physical violence, and approximately one in 10 had been a victim of sexual violence, he said.

Ansari said Indias Gender Inequality Index value of 0.617 in 2011 places the country at 129 out of 149 countries and is reflective of the high gender inequality that is prevalent.

The vice president said the two matters of high priority were status of women in society and empowerment of women to enable them to play their role as equal citizens. "The two need to be considered together, sequentially, so that assessments and correctives are based on ground realities," he said.

Noting that India was blessed with remarkable women leaders who have left an indelible mark on society and polity, Ansari said "the paradox is that we are somewhat schizophrenic in our attitudes to women .. practice oscillate between deep respect and endemic display of brutality in word and deed."

"Much too often we fail to treat women as equals ..attitudes towards women are not reflective of gender parity. We still have a long way to go in ensuring full gender parity in all walks of life," the vice president said.

Decline in child sex ratio by 13 points from 927 in 2001 to 914 in 2011 is a matter of concern despite appreciable gain in overall sex ratio of 7 points from 933 in 2001 to 940 in 2011, he said adding demographers projected that by 2020 there would be 28 to 31 million surplus males in 1535 age group and sociologists have drawn attention to the security implications of gender imbalance.

On health front, Ansari said Infant Mortality Rate has reduced to 47 per 1,000 in 2010 but there are growing concerns over the gap between male and female infant mortality rate of 49 for girls as compared to 46 for boys.

Though there has been an increase in literacy among women from 53.67 per cent (2001) to 65.46 per cent (2011), the gender gap which stands at 16.68 per cent is the real challenge, the Vice President said.

According to NSSO data, womens participation in labour force between 199394 and 200910 fell substantially from 36.8 per cent to 26.1 per cent in rural areas and from 17 per cent to 13.8 per cent in urban areas, he said.

Data shows women occupy only 10.7 per cent of seats in Parliament, less than 10 per cent posts in High Courts and Supreme Court and only 2-3 per cent senior administrators and managers are women.

Stating that the first corrective has to be in the mind, he said gender injustice is a social impairment and has to be corrected in social attitudes and behaviour.

The corrective in societal attitudes, however, requires a wider effort. It calls for a serious endeavour to set aside social preferences for a boy-child over girl-child, an end to the abominable practice of foeticide, and reform of marriage customs involving dowry burden aggravated by the consumerist culture, Ansari said.

 "In this context, elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and gender parity is essential for progress", he said.

According to United Nation Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women or UN Women, gender equality is not only a basic human right, but its achievement has enormous socio-economic ramifications. Empowering women fuels thriving economies, spurring productivity and growth, he said.

In 2012, World Bank found that eliminating all forms of discrimination against women in employment could increase productivity per worker by up to 40 percent, Ansari said.

Describing education as a critical factor, he said "A wise person had once said – 'You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation' – No country can hope to achieve progress and modernity without its women being empowered and achieving parity with men".

The access of women to health and education is a critical determinant of the status of women. While the overall picture is one of progress in many aspects, large gaps still remain with respect to status of women, he said adding laws that are on the statute book must be implemented stringently.

Ansari said the Government has identified a plan of action in 12th Five Year Plan under which gender equity issues will be addressed in seven areas of Economic Empowerment; Social and Physical Infrastructure; Enabling Legislations; Womens Participation in Governance; Inclusiveness of all vulnerable women; Engendering National Policies/Programmes; and Mainstreaming gender through Gender Budgeting.

The vice president called upon the students to step forward and make it their life mission to ensure that India emerges as a land where gender bias and discrimination is addressed as a national priority, resulting in gender gap being eliminated on four counts: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.