The fifth National Family and Health Survey (NFHS-5) says that there are more women than men in India now. Released by the Union Health Ministry on November 24, NFHS for 2019-2021 found that India has 1,020 women for every 1000 men.
This means that for the first time in the country’s history women have outnumbered men. When you put this information in the context of all the previous reports that we have read on sex determination before birth, female infanticide and discrimination against a girl child in many Indian households, this bit of information seems uplifting and a promise for changing times. But have times changed indeed? Has the tendency to prefer a son finally disappeared?
Here are some reasons why we shouldn’t pat our backs for our improved sex ratio just yet:
1. NFHS is a sample survey that was conducted in two phases between 2019 and 2021 across 650,000 households from 707 districts. Gender-wise, 720,000 women were part of the survey, along with as many as 100,000 men. So clearly, while these findings are encouraging, they do not offer us the entire picture. To understand where overall sex-ration stands in the country we will have to wait for the findings of the next census.
2. We also have to keep in mind that the sex ratio at birth in India still remains 929 females per 1000 males. This means that while the governments of central and state levels are working hard to encourage the birth of girls, the practice of gender discrimination will take much longer to ease out of our society and until we have (nearly) an equal number of boys and girls at birth, we can’t say that India has conquered the evil of foeticide and infanticide.
3. Another factor that plays a big role in the overall sex ratio is life expectancy. Currently, life expectancy for men in our country stands at 66.4 years, whereas for women it is 69.6 years. But while women outlive men, do we have a social and public infrastructure in place that enables these women to spend the last years of their lives, that too without their partners in many cases comfortably? If anything, a population of ageing women should make us introspect harder about creating a robust healthcare infrastructure and financial cushion for them.
4. Having more women than men isn’t the only marker for equality. Women representatives barely occupy 14 percent of the 543 seats in the Parliament. According to a report from July this year, merely 11 out of 78 ministers in the current cabinet are women. The numbers keep getting worse, with the female labour participation rate falling to 16.1 percent during the July-September 2020 quarter which is the lowest among major economies across the globe.
And then there is the gender pay gap. According to Monster Salary Index of 2019, A male employee in the financial sector receives a gross hourly wage of rupees 311.78, while a woman employee receives rupees 256.61 per hour only. So the gender pay gap in the financial sector is roughly about 17.7 percent.
5. Gender discrimination in India is also evident in the healthcare sector. For instance, did you know that 3.5 crore fewer women are vaccinated for COVID-19 in our country, as compared to men? Read our full report on that here.
We have a lot of work to do to make our country an equal and better place for women, the kind where we have equal representation in governance and economy, where we have equal access to opportunities and our paycheck is decided by our capabilities and not our gender.