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Women’s Day, India, suffering in world’s largest ‘democracy’

For International Women’s Day, we focus on struggles that have grown increasingly extreme.

Furious protests followed in India after a woman was gang-raped and then disembowelled, leading to a slow death.

The country had never reacted to rape crimes so actively demanding change, late in 2012.

The government strengthened sex crime legislation. But the incidence of reported rapes since then has gone up.

Then, this January, came another case shocking the world: a woman’s accusation that 12 men gang-raped her as punishment for an affair with a man from outside the community, on the order of her own village council.

It showed how seriously gender conditioning affects India.

A women’s rights campaigner there, Rishi Kant, said: “A lot of these sex crimes are happening due to the fewer girls in our country. The young men are not able to get married, especially in the northern part of India. It’s because of the female foeticide and infanticide.”

The last census confirmed the growing gap in India between the numbers of women and men. The imbalance is attributed to the widespread practice of aborting girl foetuses; a discrimination in favour of having boys.

In an attempt to stop this, a law came into effect in 1996 that made it illegal to identify the sex of a child before birth. India banned prenatal sex determination.

According to the Centre for Global Health Research, in the past 30 years there were 12 million female foetuses aborted in India.

Gender-based discrimination also sees girls’ get less schooling [Dept. of Statistics] and food [National Family Health Survey], and women contribute almost double the share of their income towards the family on average compared to men [Centre for Global Development].

But the Centre for Global Health Research, headquartered in Toronto, Canada, found the lower female birth rate also among women with ten years or more of studies behind them.

Dr. Prabhat Jha said: “What we found is the households that were at the top of the income ladder had a much greater decline than the households that were at the bottom of the income latter. So this is really a phenomenon of the educated and of the wealthy that we are observing in India.”

According to leading general medical journal The Lancet, in families where the first born is a girl, the drop-off in the birth rate of girls after that affects most countries.

We spoke to Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General at the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (also known as UN Women), about the strong significance for International Women’s Day of political and human rights.

UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri said: “Gender equality and the women’s empowerment agenda now has become very prominent and has been embraced by the international community as never before, especially since the creation of UN Women.”

Adrian Lancashire, euronews: “Is the UN confident that the implementation of the new rape law in India makes women safer?”

Puri: “The rape law in the new amendment to the Criminal Code is a landmark, a landmark law. It is really progressive and comprehensive in terms of covering forms of violence that need to be acted against, the definition of sexual violence, the penalties, the special provisions, the special courts that are provided… so all of that is very, very positive. But, of course, implementation is the key, and that’s what we really need to work on with all partners: government, stakeholders, the public at large… Citizenship is very important. “

euronews: “Many studies say girl foetuses in India are targeted for abortion more than boys, even though pre-natal sex determination is a crime. What does the UN say about selective abortion?”

Puri: “Well, the UN is against all forms of violence, including against women and girls, and this is indeed a very unacceptable and abhorrent form of violence and discrimination, extreme discrimination, based on boy preference, which is rooted in patriarchal structures, and we, the UN — UN Women in particular — has been campaigning against this, including in India, and in other parts of the world where such practices exist, and we have been working with other partners, like UNICEF and UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] to support the government in its campaign.”

euronews: “India says it is the world’s largest democracy. Are India’s constitutional democracy and the UN Children’s Charter carrying out what they promise?”

Puri: “India, as the world’s largest democracy, has in fact one of the most progressive constitutions and provision for equality between men and women, boys and girls — as well as child rights. And India is a signatory to all the conventions relating to children’s rights. So, there is of course a will on the part of the government to implement these conventions, but — always — there is a gap between what is possible, what measures need to be taken additionally. And there are these major challenges, two major challenges, poverty — extreme poverty in particular — and the misinterpretation of culture, tradition and religion. So these really two need to be combated in every way.”

Copyright © 2014 euronews

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