World Gender Equality Ranking: 136th out of 186 countries (Human Development Report 2013)
Women in the Workforce: 29% (2011)
I’ve been very lucky with the writing of this World Wide Women page, because I’ve been able to conduct an interview to help me to get information. An Indian priest, who is currently studying in Ireland, agreed to answer a few questions about the lives of women in India. As he is a teacher, this page will mainly focus on education, but I will also mention a few other topics.
Education in India is affected by several factors, one of which is the rural-urban difference. Women in urban areas are more likely to have access to a greater range of jobs and educational facilities. However, even with these benefits, some women’s families do not support them when they want to work. Some women have even had to quit perfectly good jobs due to this lack of support. In rural areas, women are less likely to have access to education because they are ”to be given in marriage”. Their parents’ view is that a women who is educated and works is of no benefit to her parents, whereas an educated man will support his parents. Another point worth making here, is a sense of ‘duty’ on the part of Indian men who feel that it is shameful for them to allow their wives to work, instead of supporting their wives and children themselves.
The Indian caste system is known for its complexities and, although archaic, still has an effect on an Indian’s social status today. However, it seems that the caste system no longer has a huge effect on education. The Indian government has introduced reservation policies for higher education and government jobs. These help to ensure that greater numbers of lower caste people (including women), are able to continue their education and get good jobs. Children from lower castes are also benefiting from government acts when it comes to education. An Act of the Parliament of India called the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, which came into existence in 2009, should ensure free and compulsory education to children aged between six and fourteen.
Indian society is very much centred on family and Indian women, as in many other cultures, traditionally stayed within the home. Perhaps because of this, Indian cuisine contains many ingredients and dishes can sometimes take hours to prepare. Now that many families in India have both the men and the women working, traditional cooking is beginning to die out in some households. Consequently, fast food and instant cookery are starting to become more popular in some modern Indian families.
Indian women have played an important role in the recent elections and India has also had (or currently has), a female President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Parliament etc. Unfortunately, women are still not adequately represented in the government. The Women’s Reservation Bill (legislation to reserve 33% of the seats in Parliament and the State Legislatures for women) was introduced in 1996, and is still being debated! However, as previously mentioned, a lot is being done to improve the education of girls, a priority for the government.
While it is obvious that many Indian women and girls are benefiting from the changing attitudes in India and also from government legislation, India still has a long way to go. There is still a lot of work to be done if it wants to put an end to rape, domestic violence, female infanticide and sex-selective abortion. Although some of these issues have been highlighted by the current government as areas of concern, it will undoubtedly take more than penalties to change the culture of India in this regard.