Today is International day of the girl child. It’s a day to take a step back and understand the status of gender equality in society. Even after 70 years after independence, India still doesn’t boast of having a high sex ratio. While the Southern state of Kerala registers a satisfactory 1047 females for every 1000 males but National Capital of Delhi registers a meager 847 females per 1000 males as per the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS). And the situation is deteriorating day by day. As per the World Economic Forum’s ‘Global Gender Gap Report 2016’, India ranked a measly 136th in terms of ensuring economic participation and opportunity and 142nd in terms of health and survival to its women out of 144 countries.
The recent incidences of violence against women at Benares Hindu University (BHU) and Ramjas College, Delhi, who were voicing their concerns against sexual violence and free speech respectively, were live examples of the disregard that is given to females in the country. Child marriage is still practiced in many parts of the country. According to the 2011 Indian Census, over 18 lakh girls who are under 14 years of age are married, and more than one third of them (4.2 lakh) have children. More than 44 lakh girls who are under 14 are working, and more than 3 lakh of them are married and working.
What then can be done to ensure that women across the Indian sub-continent experience equality in all aspects? Reservation is one way to ensure that women get their rightful share in academic and professional spheres. But then again this is a reform that needs to be seriously thought out since this benefit must be given to socially and economically underprivileged women and not to an affluent class. Primary and Secondary education needs to be made compulsory in a manner such that lessons on gender equality be also given equal weightage. As per Child Relief and You (CRY), unless patriarchal norms break down and give way to fostering strong, independent and rational personalities in both men and women, nothing much can be achieved.
In the context of female empowerment, Iceland offers many innovative solutions. To ensure that women have an equal say in company boards, the Icelandic parliament instituted a law for the same ensuring further that women constituted not less than 40% of the total composition. However, this wasn’t an easy outcome.
On October 24, 1975, close to 25,000 women went on strike to ‘demonstrate the indispensable work of women for Iceland’s economy and society’ & to ‘protest wage discrepancy and unfair employment practices.’ The movement led to Iceland achieving a nearly female dominated workforce, which is a remarkable feat in itself. This also led to ‘strict enforcement of parental leave’ for both parents which in turn enabled women to return to their jobs quicker. Moreover, to bring an end to the idea of ‘Sexually objectifying women’, Iceland banned strip clubs in 2010 making it an offense for any company to profit from the nudity of its employee.
Of course, the road to achieving true gender equality is riddled with issues. But its achievable and a dream worth dying for.