[Women Empowerment] Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in India

Over the past decade, gender equality and women‘s empowerment have been explicitly recognized as key not only to the health of nations, but also to social and economic development. India‘s National Population Policy 2000 has ‗empowering women for health and nutrition‘as one of its crosscutting
strategic themes. Additionally, the promotion of gender equality and empowering of women is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to which India is a signatory.  gender equality and women‘s empowerment are two sides of the same coin: progress toward gender equality requires women‘s empowerment and women‘s empowerment requires increases in gender equality as shown.

terms gender and sex are often used interchangeably; however, they are distinct concepts.  Whereas, sex of individuals is largely determined by biology, their gender is socially constructed and comprises the roles, rights, and obligations that attach to them on the basis of their sex.

Gender-based differences in power and resource-access have consequences for the quality of life of the population, including its health, as shown in the figure below.

Gender affects health outcomes through male and female differences in roles, access, and power, and sex deferentially affects the health of women and men because of biologically determined physiological and genetic differences that manifest in differences in 6 needs and vulnerabilities. While the type of health care needed can vary by sex, whether, for example, the type of care needed can be accessed is affected by gender, empowerment, and sex.

  • Trend data based on the three NFHS surveys provide strong evidence of declines in the sex ratio (females per 1,000 males) of the population age 0-6 and in the sex ratio at birth for births in the five years preceding each survey.
  • Females are under-represented among births and over-represented among births that die.
  • Sex ratios at birth decline with wealth, suggesting that sex selection of births is more common among wealthier than poorer households.
  • Ultrasound tests are being widely used for sex selection, with sex selection being more evident for the wealthiest women than for women in the other wealth quintiles.
  • Sex ratios of all last births and last births of sterilized women show clearly that couples typically stop having children once they have the desired number of sons.
  • The child mortality rate, defined as the number of deaths to children age 1-4 years per 1,000 children reaching age 1 year, is 61% higher for girls than for boys.

Children’s school attendance
  • Only two-thirds of girls and three-fourths of boys age 6-17 years are attending school.
  • The sex ratio of children attending school is 889 girls per 1,000 boys.
  • There is gender equality in school attendance in urban areas; but, in rural areas, the female disadvantage in education is marked and increases with age.
  • Age-appropriate school attendance is lower than any school attendance for both boys and girls. However, boys and girls who are in school are about equally likely to be in an age-inappropriate class.
  • School dropout beyond primary school is a major problem for both girls and boys.

Literacy and educational attainment among adults
  • The percentage of adults who are literate is much lower in rural than in urban areas; nonetheless, even in urban areas one-fourth of women and more than onetenth of men are not literate. Gender disparity in literacy is much greater in rural than in urban areas and declines sharply with household wealth.
  • Forty-one percent of women and 18% of men age 15-49 have never been to school.
  • Educational attainment remains very low: even among the 20-29 age group, only 27% of women and 39% of men have 10 or more years of education.
  • The percentage of ever-married women with 10 or more years of education has risen very slowly from 11% in NFHS-1 to 17% in NFHS-3.

  • The median age at marriage for women age 25-49 is only 16.8 years, about six years lower than the median age at marriage for men (22.7) in the same age group.
  • In the 13 years since NFHS-1, the median age at marriage among women age 25-49 has risen by less than one year. Nonetheless, among women age 20-24, there has been a one-third decline in the same time period in the proportion married before age 15.
  • Age at marriage for women and men increases with education and wealth. However, age at marriage increases more with education for women than it does for men, and it increases more with wealth for men than it does for women.
  • Sixteen percent of ever-married women age 15-49 are married to men who are 10 or more years older than them.
  • Spousal age difference decreases as age at marriage increases and this relationship is evident in all three NFHS surveys.

Summary and Key Findings
  • Women age 15-49 are about half as likely as men in the same age group to be employed: 43% vs. 87%.
  • Controlling for wealth and education, women in rural areas are more likely than women in urban areas to be employed; but the reverse is true for men.
  • Although uneducated women are more likely to be employed than educated women, some of this effect is due to the positive association of no education with poverty. Once wealth is controlled for, women who have 12 or more years of education have higher odds of being employed than women with no education. For men, with or without controls for wealth, education is negatively associated with employment.
  • The relationship of employment and wealth for women suggests that, for many women, employment is largely a result of economic necessity.
  • Even with controls for education, age, and wealth, marriage is negatively associated with a woman’s likelihood of being employed and is positively associated with a man’s likelihood of being employed.
  • Most employed women work for someone else, away from home, and continuously throughout the year; about one in three women do not receive monetary compensation for their work or receive at least part of their payment in kind.
  • Most employed women work in agriculture; only 7% work in professional, technical, or managerial occupations.

  • In the 13 years between NFHS-1 and NFHS-3, the proportion of households with a woman designated as the household head has risen by more than half, from 9% to 14%.
  • Female household heads are, on average, older than male household heads.
  • Female household heads not only have less education than male household heads, but also have less education than the average woman in the population.
  • Female-headed households are over-represented in the lower wealth quintiles and under-represented in the highest wealth quintiles.
  • Together these findings suggest that female-headed households are more likely to be economically vulnerable than male-headed households.

  • Women have, on average, lower per capita resource access than men, since they are over-represented in the lower wealth quintiles and under-represented in the higher wealth quintiles.
  • Among children too, an examination of sex ratios shows that boys are more likely than girls to be growing up in wealthier households.
  • Women have lower access to media than men in every age group.
  • Women’s freedom of movement is severely curtailed: only one in three are allowed to go alone to the market, the health centre, and outside the community.
  • Women face a large number of hurdles in accessing health care: of the eight specified hurdles, one in four among all women and 47% of women in the lowest wealth quintile face three or more hurdles.
  • A majority of women do not have any money of their own that they can use as they wish; this proportion is lowest at about one in four for women in the highest wealth quintile who are working for cash.
  • Less than one in six women have a bank or savings account that they use.
  • Kerala, Delhi, and Goa are the only states where more than one in four women have a bank or savings account that they use.

Summary and Key Findings
  • Although most men age 15-49 believe that husbands and wives should make decisions jointly, the proportion who believe that it should be the husband who has the major say in most decisions asked about also remains significant.
  • More than half of women and men agree with one or more reasons that justify wife beating. Both are most likely to agree that wife beating is justified if a woman disrespects her in-laws and if she neglects the house or children.
  • More than half of women agree with one or more reasons for wife beating in 19 states and more than half of men do so in 15 states. In all but five states, women are about equally or more likely than men to agree with wife beating.
  • Urban residence, higher education, and wealth, are associated with lower odds of women and men agreeing with wife beating. Age is important, but has opposite net effects for women’s (+) and men’s agreement (-) with wife beating.
  • The majority of women and men in India reject the norm that a wife should not refuse her husband sex for any reason. More than three in four agree that a wife is justified in refusing her husband sex if she is tired or not in the mood.
  • Agreement with a wife’s right to refuse her husband sex for all specified reasons increases significantly with age and wealth, but does not vary between urban and rural areas. For men, agreement also increases with education, but for women, only education beyond the primary level is positively associated with agreement.

  • Among those who have earnings, more women (1 in 5) than men (1 in 18) do not have a major say in how their own earnings are used and fewer women (about 7 in 10) than men (about 9 in 10 men) have a major say in how their spouses’earnings are used.
  • Women’s control over own earnings increases with education and wealth, but men’s control remains consistently high in all educational and wealth categories.
  • Participation in decisions about the use of spouses’ earnings increases with education and wealth for women; for men, by contrast, it does not vary by education and declines with wealth.
  • About one in five currently married women who earn, earn at least as much as their husbands.
  • Women who earn about the same as their husbands are more likely to have a major say in the use of their husbands’ earnings than both women who earn less than their husbands and who earn more than their husbands.
  • Less than two in three currently married women participate, alone or jointly, in decisions about their own health care, large household purchases, purchases for daily need, and visits to her family and relatives. The regression analysis shows:
o   The number of decisions women make alone varies nonlinearly with education and does not vary with wealth;
o   The number of decisions women make jointly varies positively with education and nonlinearly with wealth; and
o   For women, having earnings that they control is associated with greater participation in decisions; however, having earnings without a major say in their use is negatively associated with the number of decisions made jointly  and, unexpectedly, positively associated with the number of decisions made mainly alone.

  • About two in five currently married women age 15-49 have experienced spousal violence in their current marriage, and among women who have ever experienced such violence, more than two in three have experienced violence in the past year.
  • Slapping is the most common form of spousal physical violence.
  • Recent experience of spousal violence varies little by marital duration, but, as expected, ever experience of spousal violence increases with marital duration.
  • Women who report both physical and sexual violence are more likely to have injuries and are subject to more severe forms of physical violence than women who have experienced physical but no sexual violence.
  • Women who make household decisions jointly with their husbands, including decisions about the use of their own earnings, are less likely to experience spousal violence than women who do not have a major say in these decisions or who make the decisions mainly alone.
  • Although women who agree that wife beating is justified have a higher prevalence of violence, one out of three women who do not agree that wife beating is justified have also experienced violence.
  • Higher education and wealth consistently lower women’s risk of spousal violence; and husbands’ consumption of alcohol and having a mother who was beaten by her spouse significantly increase the risk.
  • The prevalence of violence is higher for women whose mothers’ experienced spousal violence than for women who have husbands whose mothers experienced spousal violence.
  • Prevalence of spousal violence is higher for women who are employed than women who are not; however, controlling for wealth and education, employment for cash is related positively only to emotional violence; it is unrelated to physical violence and is associated with lower odds of sexual violence (OR=0.85).
Child vaccination and nutritional status
  • Girls are less likely to be fully immunized than boys and this differential is evident even when mothers’ education and household wealth are controlled for.
  • Children’s likelihood of being fully immunized increases with mothers’ education; but girls benefit more than boys from having a mother who is highly educated.
  • Having mothers who mainly alone decide the use of their husbands’ earnings increases a girls’ but not a boys’ likelihood of being fully immunized.
  • Two out of five children age 0-35 months are underweight, with boys and girls about equally likely to be underweight.
  • A higher proportion of children are underweight if their mother
o   is employed than if she is not; however, this association is explained away by poverty which affects both underweight and women’s employment.
o   has experienced spousal violence than if she has not. Controlling for wealth, this association is explained away for girls, but remains significant for boys.

Adult nutritional status
  • More than one in three women and men age 15-49 are too thin. Among couples, wives are more likely than husbands to be too thin.
  • Controlling for wealth and education, employment, not having a main say in decisions about large household purchases, and experiencing spousal physical or sexual violence are all negatively associated with women’s nutritional status.
  • However, women who have the main say alone on the use of their earnings are less likely to be too thin than other employed women.
  • Modern contraceptive use among currently married women
  • Controlling for number of children ever born and other relevant factors, the likelihood of women using a modern contraceptive method is
o   higher for women who are employed, particularly for cash, and for women who make decisions mainly alone about large household purchases; and


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