Should I care about the state of girls and women in my country?
By Angarika Gogoi
Recently, Human Rights Law Network, organized a seminar on reproductive health and rights in Guwahati, the capital city of the state of Assam, India. Incidentally, Assam is the state with the highest the Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) in India. My aunt, Aparajita Gogoi, who is associated with the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood, India, was a keynote speaker. I was on my summer break from school, with time on my hands, and I was more than happy to tag along. I had heard of the status of women’s health and rights, and was keen on attending the seminar to get more insights on the subject. Sure, I had heard about the number of women in the country losing their lives trying to bring a new life but had never dwelled on the issue. Like other citizens I was “minding my own business”. Sheer ignorance on my side, I admit.
At this meeting, I heard about people and organizations that go to great lengths to ensure that the issue gets the kind of awareness it deserves. As the seminar proceeded, each speaker shed light on the topic, sharing their experiences on the kind of situations they had come across or had dealt with. The real life stories narrated seemed more like horror stories. Even recollecting them gives me the chills.
In India, the fourth largest economy in the world, the MMR of the nation is still perched at 212 per one hundred thousand live births. The main reason for the overwhelming majority of maternal deaths arises from the risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth as well as the unavailability and inaccessibility of health services. There are many other reasons, though not linked directly, but still hugely contributing to this depressing yet very real malady. Early marriage and subsequent childbirth is not only detrimental for the survival of the child but also the mother. Sadly, the kind of society we live in, we have not addressed such social issues with enough maturity and liberalism. In our villages, towns and cities, the rights that women should enjoy are continuously violated. The victims of rape are prevented from speaking up and seeking justice, because standing up for oneself and demanding justice will bring shame to the family, won’t it? Why lose the respect in the society? Suffer in silence and be scarred for life, but don’t speak up...this seems to be the socially accepted trend.
Women are born nurturers, but every woman is also born with some rights. Every woman has the right to decide whether and when and how many children she should have. We have many policies and acts which guarantee these rights, but this does not stop us from killing the girl child even before she is born. The sex ratio is falling in my country. Sex Ratio of children at birth used to be 939 per 1000 boys in 2005 has dropped further to 922 girls by 2010. A speaker told us about billboards stating, “Invest rupees 500 now, save Rs. 50,000 later” to entice prospective parents to abort female foetuses and save on a future dowry. What is worse is that child sex ratio has declined further to an all-time low of 914 in the Census 2011 figures.
I am young and I am optimistic. Though the situation is deteriorating with each passing day, all is not lost. It’s not too late to tackle these issues. There are people all around the world who actually care about such issues and simply wouldn’t just want to “mind their own business”. They are trying to mobilise support, create as much awareness as possible, and push for change.
It’s time we all take a step to ensure that we make our country a better place for girls and women.