We have all heard about the slow but inexorable reversal of gender roles. Women deciding on how the household budget is spent, women competing with men on equal grounds, girls outperforming boys in school, employers opting for women over men. But what all this feel-good hype hides is the fact that women have achieved all this despite crushing disadvantages, most of which begin at home. A recent Delhi University survey covering 1,200 respondents across the city has found that when it comes to their daughters, parents are far from progressive. Most of them do not mind arranging hefty dowries for their daughters to land the right groom. This, despite ample evidence that, in many cases, the dowry is never enough for the groom and chances are that the girl will be constantly harassed to bring in more. Even the fact that many end up dead after vicious assaults triggered by the inability to cough up more does not seem to deter parents of girls from pandering to this greed.
In every other way, the girl is shortchanged from birth. The fact that many are not allowed to be born is another chilling dimension to the gender story. When it comes to medical help or education, the first casualty is the girl in the family. The stereotypes that we thought were slowly dissipating are very much alive and kicking — women are expected to be adept at household chores while men are not likely to even be able to sew on a button. The worrying part is that women themselves are very much part of perpetuating a patriarchal order. Parents don’t feel that their girls are as much worth investing in as their boys. These findings are alarming coming as they do at a time when more and more cases of female foeticide and infanticide are being reported. The only silver lining in the cloud is that a vigilant media is taking up this issue aggressively.
Irrespective of the socio-economic status of parents, the girl child is at a discount. Recently, we learnt of the shocking story of a Gujarati millionaire’s wife who had been forced to abort twice because she was expecting girls. Medical sex planning services are flourishing in all states; this is reflected in the adverse sex ratio even in so-called progressive states like Kerala. Evidence that technology has been used against the girl child keeps surfacing now and again, the latest being the discovery of a large number of female foetuses near a clinic in Haryana. Here and there, we do see glimmers of hope that the gender lines are blurring.
But this is a long and arduous battle in which the political establishment and clergy must play a crucial role. The message must be clear — no society can claim to be civilised if women are considered lesser citizens.