Report of the High Level Committee on the Status of Women in India: Volume III
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 policies 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 III of the report (chapters 10-14) focuses on gender-responsive budgeting (chapter 10), women's education (chapter 11), women’s health and their access to health services (chapter 12), women in politics and decision-making (chapter 13), and marginalised women and women in difficult circumstances (chapter 14). Each chapter reviews the existing situation and provides recommendations for improvement.
The Committee suggests that one of the approaches to ‘gender-mainstreaming’ (or introducing a gender perspective in planning right in the beginning instead of having separate policies for gender equality) is gender-responsive budgeting (GRB), which incorporates gender concerns into government budgets. However, the Committee says that GRB has not able to achieve its objectives and better policies are needed.
While India’s overall public spending is much lower than that of many countries, its spending on social sectors (including education, health and family welfare, nutrition and social security) is even lower. This has an adverse effect on the quality and coverage of essential services, and women’s access to these services is lower than that of the total population.
From 2000 to 2010, the school enrolment rate consistently increased for boys and girls in Classes I-VIII, and the gender gap declined consistently too, from 15 million in 2000-2001 to 6 million in 2009-2010. In 2013–14, the enrolment of girls in schools exceeded that of boys.
There is regional disparity in girls’ school enrolment rates due to factors such as formal education starting earlier in the south than in the north, the absence of female seclusion in certain areas, and the positive attitude of parents towards their daughters’ higher education. According to the University Grants Commission's 2012 annual report, Goa had the highest female enrolment rate (60.31 per cent), followed by Kerala (58.62 per cent), while Arunachal Pradesh had the lowest (36.9 per cent).
According to the Committee’s report, some of the challenges to girls’ education include the influence of gendered perceptions on educational policies, programmes and curricula; the increasing incidence of rapes of girls at school; bullying and cyber-bullying; and long distances between home and school due to which girls often face violence and as a result, are pulled out of school.
In order to bridge the gender gap in education, the Committee suggests improving infrastructure (by building separate toilets for girls and making available funds for married students’ hostels), recruiting gender-sensitive teachers, encouraging women to take up ‘unconventional’ courses, designing a gender-sensitive curriculum, and auditing schemes for girls’ education and women’s welfare.
According to 2005-06 data from the National Family Health Survey, 43 per cent of rural women and 74 per cent of urban women had at least three antenatal care (ANC) visits. The data also shows that older, illiterate or poor women were less likely to receive ANC services; women from the Other Backward Castes were the least likely to get them; and Adivasi women had the least access to these services.
Women are particularly vulnerable to HIV infections because unequal gender norms limit their ability to negotiate safe sex and access information and services for testing and treatment. In 2011, there were an estimated 2.1 million people living with HIV in India and 39 per cent of them were women.
The report says that the number of women in the Lok Sabha (LS) has been very low throughout Indian democracy. In the 1952 general elections, it was 22 out a total of 552 members; in the 2004 elections, it was 45; and in the 2009 elections, it was 61. Women’s representation in the LS has never exceeded 11 per cent of the total of 552 members.
Data from the National Crime Records Bureau shows that, on average, around 1,000 cases of sexual exploitation of Dalit women are reported annually. It also shows that the number of rapes of women from the Scheduled Castes has been increasing.
The Committee’s report says that Muslim women are far behind women from other communities with respect to economic, social and educational parameters, and they are also deprived of gender-just laws. They are the “marginalized within marginalized, minority within minority,” and the Committee recommends special affirmative action for them.
Focus and Factoids by Vaishnavi Iyer.
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.
Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India, New Delhi