Through ‘Mann Ki Baat’ and #selfiewithdaughter, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government are raising awareness about the rights of girl child and women, while activating the state machinery to provide support. But will these efforts make the girl child valued in our society? Will parents no longer discriminate against her? No doubt, the commitment stands out compared with predecessor regimes, but the core issue of gender-power dynamics necessary for sustained change remains unresolved.
Find alternative gender roles
In a patriarchal society, raising the value of a girl child isn’t easy. In this social order of male kinship, it is the son who inherits the family wealth and the role of protector in crisis. It is his duty to add to the business income, sell crop on the grain market, queue up for train ticket, fix a transfer, get a hospital bed, or deal with police. For a vast majority, the absence of easy availability of services, old-age security and safety promotes a preference for son. With no alternatives being created for these gender roles, the daughter remains of lesser worth.
The daughter’s capacity to earn also makes her a liability, since she would now demand her rights. The crusade to balance the girl-child numbers by the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign involves providing her with education, health, livelihood, as well as financial support at the time of adulthood or marriage. But these initiatives promise no incentive to parents, so they maintain her unvalued status quo in family. The birth home is crucial factor in girl’s survival, and it is being of worth to it that will secure her future.
Show money and benefits to the poor
The girl’s value varies among social groups, indicated by the missing girls’ numbers in these groups. It is within this context that change has to be planned. For the lower-income group, the survival of the male child is of relevance, for son will fetch medicine; when he grows up, his wife will cook food; and when parents die, he will carry them during the final journey. The girl child’s survival is left to circumstances, and these are not improving. Girls die of cultural neglect – malnourishment, delayed healthcare, and lack of immunisation.
The sex ratio in the 0 to 6 age group dropped by 19 and 5 points in Haryana and Punjab, respectively, between 2001 and 2011. The infant mortality rate among girls continues to be high; it has risen in both Haryana and Punjab. Based on the care given to girl child, lower-income groups can be given a bonus under existing schemes, as incentive, to enable the girl child to reach puberty. She can then avail herself the facilities meant for her. For instance, if the family gets 100 days of guaranteed employment under the MNREGS, it can be increased to 120, depending on the tracked performance of daughter’s health, enrollment, and educational achievement. The pension given to the families that have only daughters should be as big as survival income.
Make her an asset to rich families
The higher-income group – the landed peasantry, shopkeepers, business and trading families — practices female foeticide. Both Haryana and Punjab have dismal child sex ratios (834 and 846, respectively); and the prejudice against girls is on for more than a century. Parents who deny girl her right to be born are targeted with criminal offence, which encourages this practice to go underground or change its form to cultural neglect. Even the British colonial administrators with couldn’t restore the balance with their multi-sectoral, multi-layered enforcement under the Infanticide Act of 1870. In these parts, the girl child is a liability — it’s always a worry to “protect her honour”; make arrangements for her dowry; and wrest her inheritance for her brothers.
Service class as role model
The liability has to be countered by linking her future to parental asset generation, while strengthening the safety of the female and its perception among citizens. Productive bonuses on land, crop, subsidies and loans can be given to girl-child families. To the service-class urban families with guaranteed income who receive standard legal, police, municipal, bank, and hospital, services, girl child is of similar value as a son. It is this group that can be co-opted first as symbols of gender equality. On care-based parameters, candidates can be rewarded with jobs, nominations to government posts, and publicity as role models. These “existing converts” cannot, though, be taken as an indicator of change, only as promoters, as in the selfie-with-daughter contest.
Create collective stake-holding
Awarding gender credits based on performance in nurturing can help map and track girl-child families and give them bonus points for available schemes. The achievements of villages and urban localities can mark a collective stake-holding, in which responsiveness to forms of gender-based violence and measures for women’s empowerment can be included and compared. A collective stake-holding for giving crisis cover to families, whereby organised citizens assist in health check-ups, accompany senior citizens to offices, and help perform social obligations such as attending marriages and funerals, can be created. It is when “Beti Bhi Banay Ghar Ki Sampati” that change will begin to roll.
(The writer is director of research and gender studies at the Institute for Development and Communication, Chandigarh. Views expressed are personal)