According to the latest HDR (Human Development Report) of the United National Development Programme, India ranks 130th in the Gender Inequality Index. UNDP’s HDI and GII measure the extent of inequality in a country. The low rank is bad enough, but what makes things worse is that India is behind even countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh.
What is HDI?
HDI (Human Development Index) was first established in 1990 by the late Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq. A group of scholars, including Amartya Sen, started this initiative. Human Development Index captures three basic parameters of human life- Longevity, Knowledge, and Income. It is basically an average of the essential achievements in a particular country.
India has been consistently low in HDI ranking. In the latest UNDP report of 2015, India has reached 130th place in HDI among 188 countries with a score of 0.609. This puts India in the medium human development category. The HDI rank of India has improved since 2014 mainly due to a rise in life expectancy and per capita income. But still, its performance is below the South Asian average.
Gender Inequality Index
Under GII (Gender Inequality Index) for 2014, India ranked 130th out of 155 countries with a value of 0.563. Gender Inequality Index is a measurement of gender disparity. GII, just like HDI, has several indicators for Gender inequality.
It measures maternal mortality ratio and adolescent birth rates as reproductive health indicators, participation in the labor force as a proxy for financial independence and education, and share in parliamentary seats as empowerment indicators.
In India, the maternal mortality rate is extremely high (190 deaths per 100,000); just over 27% of women achieve secondary education and participate in the labor force. Women hold only 12.2 % of parliamentary seats. But India fares well on the adolescent birth rate that is a proxy for reproductive health. Overall, India fails miserably when it comes to gender equality.
India is a developing nation. It is certainly a more developed country compared to Pakistan and Bangladesh. Why, then, are we behind these under-developed countries in terms of gender equality?
Before going there, we need to revisit the old debate on development. What is our idea of development? What kind of development are we aiming for? Is it a replica of the Western countries? Or is it the dreamland of ancient India? Well, maybe a bit of both. There’s only one problem with these ideas- they’re selective.
A westernized development implies an intense capitalist approach, thus crowding out of the economically weaker groups. A very nationalist idea of development, going back to the Vedas, neglects socially backward castes and classes, women, tribal groups.
Indicators like HDI and GII give us a rough idea of how many actually benefit from the development. There’s a reason why economic growth and economic development are two different terms. While growth signifies quantitative indicators like National Income and Per Capita Income (PCI), development is more Qualitative. These indicators show us that high growth doesn’t necessarily mean high development.
Now, let’s look at Gender inequality specifically. India is definitely not the safest place for women. GII ranking shows the grave reality around us. It has been three years since the Nirbhaya rape case, and yet, gender violence has not declined. Why haven’t we improved? The simple answer would be the deep-rooted patriarchy that characterizes our society.
Patriarchy in India takes different forms. It re-establishes itself through cultural norms, media, fashion, religion, and many other social institutions. It is so deep-rooted that many times we don’t recognize it as patriarchal practices. Married women take their husbands’ last names proudly when there’s no real need for it.
Men are expected to be chivalrous and treat women “like ladies” (whatever that means). I don’t imply that those who do so are agents of patriarchy. Most of us pick up these practices without much thought, just by imitating others. We all do this mindlessly because someone told us to, but these mindless actions carry on tiny bits of patriarchy.
So, when these tiny bits take an extreme form like marital rape or honor killings, we’re shocked and clueless about how these happen in modern society. When this goes on for long, we get used to it. It’s fascinating to see how humans can get used to things after a certain period. Violence, Terrorism, intolerance, and gender inequality are only a few examples.
So that’s why India sucks at Gender equality. It’s not just patriarchy; it’s the normalization of patriarchy.