Number Theory: Understanding Women’s Empowerment in India, or Lack Of It | Latest India News
Traditionally, Indian society is known to impose various kinds of restrictions on women and it is widely believed that patriarchal practices are entrenched. How empowered are Indian women in various aspects of life in India today? Have things improved, as far as the women’s agency is concerned?
An HT analysis of data from the National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) shows that the answer to this question is not as straightforward as either extreme would have you believe. Here are five charts that explain why.
Women’s agency in decision-making within a household is increasing, but still controlled
Do women have a say in household decisions? The NFHS sought responses from married women (ages 15-49) about the autonomy they have to make three types of decisions: health care for themselves, major household purchases, and family visits and to his relatives. NFHS-5 data shows that 88.7% of women had a say (alone or jointly with their husband) in at least one of the decisions, while 71% had a say (alone or jointly with their husband) in each of these decisions. On these two points, the situation has improved since NFHS-4. Admittedly, the autonomy women have is much less when it comes to financial decisions. The share of employed women who can decide (alone or jointly with their husband) on the use of their own financial earnings was 67% in the NFHS-5. As expected, a much smaller proportion of women can make such decisions on their own.
What increases women’s decision-making power the most?
The latest data from the NFHS shows that the number of living children and wealth status influence women’s decision-making power in households. While 61.9% of childless women have a say in all these decisions, this figure rises to 74.7% for women with more than five children. In terms of class, 74.1% of women who had a say in these three decisions belong to the wealthiest or fifth quintile (top 20%), this figure drops to 69.2% up to the front -last (second) quintile.
And they continue to face gender-based discrimination in the labor market
Indian women have to struggle in the job market with the proverbial situation of one hand tied behind their back. This is due to a disproportionate burden of domestic work and care, as explained in a 2020 HT analysis that looked at time use survey data.
This is not the only handicap women face in the labor market. NFHS data shows that the share of women working with in-kind wages was twice that of men; four times as many women as men said they were not paid at all.
Free mobility still eludes more than half of Indian women
The NFHS allows us to assess women’s freedom to access only three places (the market, health facilities and places outside the village or community). The fifth round of the NFHS shows that 42.3% of women said they could go to all three places on their own. This has increased slightly from 40.5% in NFHS-4. Admittedly, freedom of mobility is significantly higher in urban areas than in rural areas.
Even after controlling for the rural-urban split, the data shows that Muslim women are worst off when it comes to free mobility. Women belonging to the Sikh and Jain communities had the highest mobility share at 59.3% and 54.1% respectively, while Muslim women had the lowest share at 33.8% in NFHS-5.
In some cases, empowerment is only a function of material well-being and old taboos give way
On issues such as menstrual health, ingrained taboos are believed to have institutionalized discrimination against women. However, NFHS shows that their pervasive effects are finally starting to wear off. For example, the fifth round of the NFHS added a new question to the survey, where women were asked whether they bathed during their period in the same bathroom as members of their household or not. There is an age-old practice that menstruating women are considered impious. About 92% of menstruating women reported bathing in the same bathroom as their family members. In fact, the NFHS data clearly shows that menstrual hygiene – the NFHS records it as the use of locally prepared pads, sanitary napkins, tampons and menstrual cups – has a strong positive correlation with income and education levels. This highlights the importance of subsidizing menstrual health and proactively raising awareness about it.
But on some issues, the subconscious of patriarchy dominates
NFHS surveys women’s attitudes about physical abuse experienced by their husbands for seven different reasons. The fifth round of the NFHS shows that 45.4% of women aged 15-49 say a husband is right to beat his wife for at least one of these reasons. Although this figure has decreased from 51.6% in the fourth cycle of the NFHS, the number remains very high and reflects what can be described as the normalization of domestic violence. Among these various reasons, 31.7% of women think that it is normal for husbands to beat their wives if they disrespect their in-laws. 27.6% of women think it is okay for husbands to do this if women neglect to take care of the house or children. These perceptions do not have a clear trend with rising incomes. While 47.5% of the poorest women think such violence is justified, 46.6% of the richest women and 34.9% of the richest women think so too.
Even more alarming in the latest NFHS survey is the fact that the proportion of men who agree that wife beating is justified rose to 44%, from 40.8% in NFHS-4. Among other reasons, 9.8% of men in the NFHS-5 think it is okay to beat their wife if she refuses to have sex.
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