Report of the High Level Committee on the Status of Women in India: Volume I
The Government of India set up the High Level Committee on the Status of Women in India in 2013. Its mandate was to examine the social, economic, health and political status of women in the country since 1989 and evolve policy based on women’s needs. The Committee submitted its report (in four volumes) in 2015.
The report assesses the status of women in India in “all aspects of their lives”, including age, class, caste, religion, ethnicity, region and ability. It recommends measures for women’s ‘holistic empowerment', evaluates the impact of existing policies and legislative changes, and identifies gaps in their implementation. The Committee says that while there has been progress in women’s education and their participation in local governance, the status of most women is not equal to that of men, especially women from marginalised sections of society.
Volume I of the report (chapters 1-7) provides information about the sex ratio and the prevalence of femicide; ranks the states based on the status of women; discusses gender norms, discriminatory practices and changes in social attitudes; gives data on violence against women and girls; and presents an overview of women’s Constitutional rights and access to justice.
The report says that the agenda of gender equality in India is ‘unfinished’. It cites the Gender Inequality Index (2013) that ranked 136 countries and placed India at 132, better only than Afghanistan in South Asia.
The Committee finds that the ‘unacceptable’ decline in the child sex ratio, the increase in violence against women, and the economic disempowerment of women must be countered with immediate and proactive measures.
Sex ratio in India has been historically unfavourable to women across regions, classes and castes. It increased from 934 females per 1,000 males in 2001 to 940 females per 1,000 males in 2011.
According to the 2011 Census, the rural sex ratio was 949 females to 1,000 males and the urban sex ratio was 929 females to 1,000 males. Among the states and union territories, Kerala had the highest sex ratio (1,084 females to 1,000 males), and Daman and Diu had the lowest (618 females to 1,000 males).
While the overall sex ratio improved since 1991, there was a decline in the child sex ratio since 1961. It was at an all-time low of 914 girls per 1,000 boys in 2011. Of the country’s 640 districts, 461 experienced a decline in the child sex ratio that year, and among the states, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Delhi had the most skewed child sex ratio in the country.
The report says that while there is some data on violence faced by married women, there is no nationally representative data on violence against women in the workplace and in public spaces. It recommends that the government undertake high-quality data-gathering exercises to assess violence in various contexts.
While women from all castes, classes, and religious and educational backgrounds are subjected to violence within intimate-partner relationships and family structures, the prevalence of this kind of violence is relatively higher among rural women and women with lower educational levels.
The 2005-06 National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data shows that 42 per cent of women from the Scheduled Castes and 39 per cent of women from the Scheduled Tribes reported cases of physical violence – and that they were the worst affected by it.
NFHS data from 2005-06 also shows that married and widowed women were at a much higher risk of physical violence (37 and 38 per cent respectively) compared to never-married women (16 per cent).
While single, married, never-married, widowed, separated and ‘deserted’ women all experienced sexual violence, its prevalence was highest among divorced, separated and ‘deserted’ women. 25 per cent of these women reported sexual violence, compared to 10 per cent each of married and widowed women.
For most married women, sexual violence was perpetrated by their husbands and for single women, by their boyfriends, relatives or acquaintances. The report says that this corroborates the observation that most sexual assaults and rapes happen inside the home and perpetrators are usually known to the victims.
Though most Indian women make an economic contribution to their families (through housework or working on family land), their work is not documented. Their participation in the formal economy is often limited due to cultural restrictions and family responsibilities. Over 90 per cent of women work in the informal sector, where they are poorly paid, not protected by labour laws, subject to great insecurity of employment, and have no control over the conditions of work.
There are huge disparities among the states and union territories with respect to the social, economic, health and political status of women. Delhi is the top performer on economic status but women face social discrimination there, whereas Tripura tops in access to political participation but women experience economic discrimination in the state.
Legislation, fund allocations, planning and affirmative action have brought women’s issues centre stage; however, they have not made a real difference in women’s lives. Such initiatives have largely failed to address gender needs and have not questioned the norms and structural factors that perpetuate inequality, for instance, the control over resources.
Focus and Factoids by Keiu Kikas.
The High Level Committee on Status of Women in India
The Committee’s chairperson was Dr. Pam Rajput, and its members
were Dr. Simrit Kaur, Dr. Razia A.R. Patel, Dr. Mridul Eapen, Manira Pinto, Kavitha
Kuruganti, Bindu Ananth, Rita Sarin and Dr. Ravi Verma.
Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India, New Delhi