Attitude towards single women needs to change
The demographic balance of the country has been changing over the past few decades. While we are still growing in population, the growth rate has reduced, and the total fertility rate is nearing 2.1 which is known as replacement rate (though this is more prevalent in urban areas). The population of over 65’s is also growing. It is interesting to note that the number of single women in India is also growing, both in rural and urban areas.
The last census showed that nearly 74.1 million women in India are either divorced, separated, widowed or have never been married. This is 12% of the female population of the country. There was a 39% increase in the number of single women in India between the 2001 and 2011 census. Widowed women, 29.2 million, lead the single-women category in rural areas followed by those who never married at 13.2 million. In urban areas as well, widows make up the maximum number of single women at 13.6 million followed by those who never married, 12.3 million.
It is an interesting trend to note the growth in the number of women who have never married which is in fact a global trend. While a very large percentage of women in India still get married, this demographic change is taking place, albeit slowly. In countries around the world, this change has taken place, where the rate of marriage has gone down along with the growth of the number of single people, including single women.
In the second half of the 20th century, East and Southeast Asia, in particular, witnessed a growing number of single men and women. From 1950 to 1990, the number of young single women across Asia (excluding China) increased from 22 million to 82 million. Whereas a third of Japanese women and 11% of Sri Lankan women aged 30-34 are single, less than 3% of Indian women are single at that age. In the western world, this demographic transition started even earlier.
How do our cities respond to this need of growing numbers of single people, especially single women? Gurugram being the millennial city with a large population of migrants and millennials should be leading the change. Gurugram also has a large number of working women. Nevertheless, it is not easy for single women to find a space for themselves even in our cities. Many changes need to take place to truly be accepting of differences and diversity.
Firstly, housing for single women is not easy. Many owners and even condominiums prefer not to have single people of either gender, reflecting several kinds of biases. Apart from single women, there are men and women move and live alone for reasons of work (even though they may be married). In addition to housing, workplaces also need to recognise the growing number of single women and have policies that are responsive to their needs. The diminishing participation of women in the workforce in India is an unusual trend, as globally more women are going out to work. But studies have shown that single women have a higher participation across class.
The biggest change that needs to take place is in the attitude towards women who are not currently married, for any reason. If she is a young woman, there is constant pressure to get married, or else she is made to feel as if something is wrong. Widows may be more accepted, but divorcees are sometimes looked upon with suspicion. Marriage should not define a woman and with the increasing number of single women in the country, we may be moving a tiny step closer to that.
(The author is a co-founder and CEO of Safetipin, the author works on issues of women’s safety and rights in cities)