“Because it is 2015” — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s succinct response to why he picked a gender equal cabinet can surely be used in India as well, but in an antithetical way.
Maybe we should say ‘Inspite of it being 2015’ — marital rape is still not a crime here, a rape is reported every 30 minutes and only 12.8% parliamentarians are women.
Three years ago it seemed as if India would embrace gender equality after a medical student was brutally raped by six men in a moving bus in Delhi on December 16, 2012 and the world took notice. India’s pitiable gender inequality status, mostly guised by tradition, was finally out in the open. The then Congress government in Delhi headed by a woman was pushed into a corner and forced to act. A special committee was set up for legal reforms and stricter sexual assault laws were adopted.
Three years later, where do we stand?
Let’s start with the good news. India has climbed six spots to be ranked 108 out of 145 countries in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) gender gap index 2015. But it still ranks lower than its neighbours Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. How did we scale up? The Modi government increased women’s representation in Parliament from the previous 11.4% to 12.8 % but still hasn’t passed the Women’s Reservation Bill to ensure 33% seats for women in Parliament and assemblies. Even Afghanistan, which democratically elected its first government post the war, boasts of a higher 28%.
While there has been an increase in reported rape cases since 2012, the conviction rate has increased abysmally from 24.2% (2012) to 28% (2014). Does this mean that the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013 post the Delhi gang rape that widened the definition of rape and increased the punishment for rapists has failed in its implementation?
While the Modi government steps up on reforms, the economic status of women has dipped five places from a 135 to 139 in the WEF gender gap index 2015. It points to the rise in unemployment, wage disparity and poor access to financial institutions. Women’s health and survival status in India are almost hitting rock bottom (143 out of 145). Malnutrition, maternal mortality and poor antenatal care are some key factors.
Is this a cause of concern for a government, which in its first budget slashed the budget of the Ministry for Women and Child Welfare by almost 50%?
Clearly, more ground-level action is required beyond media blitzes like a #SelfieWithDaugther campaign on Twitter.
So yes, because it is 2015, it is time to demand an India that is more equal and safer for women.
Priyali Sur is a US-based journalist and a communications consultant to the World Bank
The views expressed are personal