Theme : Discrimination Against Girls

The Scenario: -

While children around the world continue to face various forms of adversity in the 21st century, girls in particular are subjected to multiple forms of oppression, exploitation, and discrimination due to their gender. United Nations statistics, national reports and studies initiated by non-governmental organizations repeatedly show that girls are discriminated against boys from the earliest stages of life through their childhood and into adulthood. This manifests as harmful attitudes and practices within families and communities such as female feticide, school drop outs, early marriage, violence against women, sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, discrimination against girls in food allocation and other practices related to health and well-being.

High preference for a male child is common in many parts of the world including India.

Reasons for son preference:

One of the major reasons of son preference in India is related to the perceived economic benefit of having sons. It is believed that compared to the daughter, the son will help in family farms/ business, have better earnings prospects in the labor market and provide for the parents during their old age.

The preference for sons can also be attributed to deep rooted cultural traditions, coupled with patriarchal kinship patterns that contribute to the lower status of women and hence promote the discrimination against girls

Families therefore do not hesitate to invest on boys. With predominance of the dowry system, daughters are often considered liabilities. They are thought to belong to their husbands' families, thus giving the parents a reason not to invest in their education and health.

The manifestation of discrimination between boys and girls results in following:
  1. Adverse sex ratio
  2. Higher incidence of malnutrition among girls
  3. Higher number of child marriages among girls
  4. Higher number of maternal deaths
  5. Higher number of school dropouts among girls
  6. Low skill levels and low employability of girls
  7. Low value for women's work in society
  8. Low self-confidence, self-esteem and lack of empowerment among women and girls
  9. Sexual harassment and abuse among girls
  10. Domestic violence & public violence
Birth of a girl child

Discrimination against girls starts in the womb itself. Even though banned by the government, sex determination during pregnancy is a common practice. In case it is a female fetus, families often force the young mother to abort the unborn child.

The birth of a girl, instead of a time for rejoicing is often the 'fault' of the mother. In many homes, distribution of sweets, and celebratory rituals are not visible at the birth of a girl. The skewed child sex ratio is the indicator and manifestation of the discrimination against girls prevailing in our society.

The Growing Years:

Education:

When it comes to providing quality education, it is observed that boys usually attend better schools/private school, possess more pairs of uniforms and get benefit of tuitions etc. Daughters are often kept at home to help the family because the social and economic value of educating girls is not recognized. The girl is admitted to a nearby school. Burdened with responsibilities like taking care of siblings, household work, helping the parents in earning livelihood, often lead her to drop out.
It is a little known fact that among the world's exploited child workers, girls outnumber boys. Without access to education, girls are denied the knowledge and skills needed to improve their condition and take care of their families.

Girls are given fewer opportunities to participate in co-curricular activities like sports. The games provided by schools and educational institutions for girls are often fewer than those available for boys.

Health & Nutrition :

Girls and their mothers are often last to be fed, resulting in a diet low in calories and essential nutrients leading to underweight and chronic malnutrition. Lack of micro nutrients like Iodine and iron deficiency has significant consequences for adolescent girls, pregnant women and their children.
This often justified in the name of culture and tradition of encouraging the practice of women having meals last and eating leftovers..

Care of women during and after pregnancy, is critical and requires timely planning by the family. The fact that women often do not complete their full ante natal check ups, do not get an adequate diet or rest, do not reach the hospitals in time in case of complications and also die due to these delays indicates a lack of importance given to the health of the woman in the family.

Adolescence :

As girls grow into adolescents, gender disparities widen. In many communities, an adolescent girl is treated as a transit passenger on her way to marital household and investing in her survival, safety and education is considered non-productive. She is often married off around puberty. Early pregnancy in turn, undermines her health, physical development and the health of the new born child. The young girl is thus denied the right to education, depriving her of vital information regarding healthcare, nutritious food, immunization, proper upbringing of children, family planning and reproductive rights etc.
Child marriage affects girls far more than boys. Globally, around one in four young women aged 20 to 24 were married before the age of 18 - eight per cent of them before age 15.

While there are more and more girls seeking admission in schools, gender disparities continue to exist especially when we look at school drop outs. The number of dropouts especially after primary school increases, that leads to more children working as child labour in family work or outside as well as increase in girls getting married in childhood. Missing out on education also translates into a lack of skills and limited opportunities for young women in the labour market.

While violence affects both girls and boys, girls are more likely to be victims of sexual violence at home and outside. It is a known fact that girls who are married as children and not empowered, are more likely to suffer from domestic violence at home. Globally, girls accounted for nearly two thirds of all new HIV infections among adolescents aged 15 to 19 in 2013.

Girls have not received the attention they deserve as individuals. As a group, they have not been provided with the support they need to overcome inequalities and discrimination that deprive them of a fair chance in life.
Interventions that bolster the health, safety and education of girls are necessary to secure the rights of the millions of girls and young women who have been left behind.

Why it matters

In spite of the above stated scenario, there are nearly 600 million girls aged 10 to 19 in the world today, each with limitless individual potential.
In the next decades, with the right kind of investments, these girls will have the potential to lead and inspire change. Many will be mothers and caregivers of a new generation. They will represent a large percentage of the workforce that will grow into future leaders, innovators and teachers. Failure to invest in their future will come at a high price.

Hence, investments in the survival, health, safety and education of girls is the need of the hour and cannot be ignored.

Global Fast facts: (source-UNICEF)
  • 57 per cent of illiterate young people aged 15 to 24 in 2015 are still expected to be female.
  • In 2012, 17 per cent of women were married between 15 and 19 years of age.
  • Only 17 per cent of young women from the poorest households have comprehensive knowledge of HIV.
  • An estimated half a billion women and girls lack adequate facilities to manage menstrual hygiene needs with dignity, privacy and safety.
  • Girls with disabilities can be especially marginalized and in some places are at increased risk for abuse and sexual violence.
The way forward

In order that the girl child survives and reaches her full potential, the Beijing Platform for Action recommend sanctions for governments, agencies and private sector:
1. Eliminate all forms of discrimination against the girl child;
2. Eliminate negative cultural attitudes and practices against girls;
3. Promote and protect the right of girl child and increase awareness of her needs and potential;
4. Eliminate discrimination against girls in health and nutrition;
5. Eliminate the economic exploitation of girl labour and protect girls at work;
6. Eradicate violence against girl child;
7. Promote the girl child's awareness of and participation in social, economic and political life.
8. Strengthen the role of the family in improving the status of the girl child.

HOW CAN WE BRING ABOUT CHANGE?

WHAT IS OUR ROLE IN DISPELLING THIS JARRING DISPARITY??

All of us have witnessed discrimination against girls in our day to day lives. Either in our own house or in our neighbour's house or in society at large. As individuals, each of us need to recognize and act upon it as an area of immediate concern!