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According to the census of 2011, the ratio of women to men in India is 940 females per 1000 males. In fact, a new study conducted by the Ministry of Statistics and programme implementation reveals that the ratio in the ‘youth of India’ is going to drop even further in the coming years leading to a projected 898 young women per 1000 young men by 2031.[1] These numbers are a testimony to the harsh reality that although India has been able to establish itself as an emerging economy over the years, the benefits from that growth haven’t been equally distributed between the two genders.

According to some experts, the gap between the number of men and women is mostly due to double counting in case of migrant men who are often mistakenly counted at both the place of origin and the destination. By comparison, women migrate mostly due to marriage or not at all. But the evidence for this explanation is often countered by the prevalence of gender bias which is mainly agreed upon as the central reason.

The inherent gender bias in the society raises its ugly head from the very beginning of a girl’s life. Sex-selective abortions still happen even after putting strict laws in place, and India follows the universal pattern of the higher death rate in male children for just one month. After that, the mortality rate for female children becomes much higher. Interestingly, the overall mortality rate has declined due to government policies but once again, the benefits have not accrued equally to the two genders. Cultural factors ought to be responsible such as female foeticide, neglect of the girl child, preference for sons, poor nutrition, and sanitation, etc.[2]

Another reason often talked about is the high rate of mortality in case of expecting mothers. The maternal mortality rate (MMR) in India is very high for a developing country. MMR was around 200/100000 live births in 2010 as compared to 21 in the US, 12 in the UK, 35 in Sri Lanka and 170 in Nepal. Interestingly, the fact that African countries tend to have higher MMR is often cited as evidence of a negative correlation between MMR and economic development of a nation.[3] According to a WHO report based on World Health Statistics (WHS) of 2017, nearly 45000 women die in India every year due to causes related to childbirth, the primary cause being a loss of excessive blood. This makes up for almost 17% of total maternal deaths all over the world.[4]

Thus, it is a no-brainer that the wide gap between the number of men and women in India stems from some cultural factors and steps need to take in the right direction to stop this phenomenon in the future. The economic cost of these ‘missing women,’ estimated by the economic survey 2017-18 at 63 million is high enough for everyone to be concerned.[5] The survey found that with increased wealth and income, some human development indicators showed progress such as education and decrease in emotional violence. On the other hand, the sex of the last child was one of the very few indicators that did not seem to have any substantial effect. The preference for a son has made sure that the sex of the last child ratio hasn’t improved at all over the years. Because the sex of the last child is highly skewed towards male, the preference for sons can be proved to be highly embedded in the mindset of the people. In addition to this, the survey also found the number of ‘unwanted girls’ to be 23 million. These are the girls that are alive but aren’t treated well and aren’t given economic opportunities. Their parents do not spend on their education or nutrition and instead, prefer to save that money for marriage dowry. They end up getting married at an early age and unable to participate in the labor force due to lack of skills. These missing women and unwanted girls have a substantial economic cost especially for a developing country like India which can only benefit from a higher and better-qualified workforce.

It won’t be right to say that the government hasn’t noticed the disparity. In fact, over the years, different governments have launched different programmes to help protect the girl child. For the current government, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao is the flagship programme. Launched in 2015, the scheme is yet to show the desired results. As per Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) reports, in 2015, the sex ratio in numerous districts of Punjab and Haryana has worsened. The Pre-Conception and Prenatal Diagnostics Testing (PCPNDT) Act also needs to be strengthened. According to the same CAG reports, there is a need for fixed targets regarding inspection of diagnostic centers for the scheme to work efficiently. In the current no fixed target policy, no strict actions are being taken to monitor hospitals.[6]

These two accounts shed light on the dire need to revamp how we see this problem and move towards more rigorous implementation of policies. This must include raising awareness about the evils of female foeticide especially in rural areas to combat the rural-urban dichotomy as well as providing proper public health provision for expecting mothers. It is important to note that some states have shown much improvement in implementing schemes aimed at reducing the disparity while some states such as Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Odisha etc. have been poor performers for a long time. This regional variation is another thing government schemes need to focus on. Where the implementation has been to generate some positive results like Maharashtra and Rajasthan, the complaints about the paucity of staff members and equipment’s at hospitals and health inspectors need to be addressed. Effectively, it has to be a collective effort for the situation to change and one can’t expect government interventions to change everything. Instead, that intervention needs to be coupled with changing the whole society starting with ourselves.


[1] Chatterji R. (2017, April 21) Ratio of young women in India will drastically decrease by 2031, says latest Government Study. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.in/2017/04/20/new-study-shows-ratio-of-young-women-in-india-will-drastically-d_a_22048713/

[2] Shodhganga, The Indian Sex ratio- regional variation and its disaggregate study, Retrieved from http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/93050/9/09_chapter%204.pdf

[3] Datta D. & Datta P. (2013, March). Maternal Mortality in India: Problems and Strategies. Research gate. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/249008760_Maternal_Mortality_in_India_Problems_and_Strategies

[4] PTI. (2016, June 16). 5 women in India die every hour during childbirth: WHO. The Indian Express. Retrieved from https://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/health/5-women-in-india-die-every-hour-during-childbirth-who-2856975/

[5] Bisht R. (2018, January 29). 23 million unwanted girls, 63 million missing women- Economic survey underlines India’s Gender crisis. Times of India. Retrieved from https://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/twinkle-twinkle/21-million-unwanted-girls-63-million-missing-women-economic-survey-underlines-indias-gender-crisis/

[6][6] Kapur W. (2017, May 4). Why the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Scheme has failed on all Several Counts. The Wire. Retrieved from https://thewire.in/education/beti-bachao-beti-padhao-scheme-failed

Image Source-sociology.org

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Written By Pragya Mishra

Economics Graduate

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