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Religion blamed for India's poor gender equality grade

Hindu view that women are incapable of being independent is seen as the main cause of discrimination
Religion blamed for India's poor gender equality grade

Singer Neeti Mohan, cricketer Mithali Raj, tennis player Sania Mirza and kickboxer Tajamul Islam attend the launch of U.N. Women's Office music video campaign ‘Mujhe Haq Hai’ (I have the right) in Mumbai in June 2018. India fared poorly in a global gender equality index released recently. (IANS photo)

Published: June 12, 2019 05:59 AM GMT
Updated: June 12, 2019 06:03 AM GMT

A global study of gender equality has placed India nearly at the bottom, with some research and rights groups accusing religion of playing a major role in Indians discriminating against women.

The Sustainable Development Goals Gender Index ranked India 95th out of 129 countries. The index measures how well nations are progressing toward achieving gender equality by 2030, which is part of the 17 sustainable development goals set by the United Nations. 

The index, developed by U.K.-based Equal Measures 2030 and released on June 4, is a joint effort of regional and global organizations. It placed Denmark at the top and Chad at the bottom.

However, India fared better than its neighbors, with Pakistan at 113, Nepal at 102 and Bangladesh at 110. China was in 74th position.

Gender equality progress is measured by a set of indicators including the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments. India ranked 16th in the region as women made up only 1.8 percent of parliament in 2018.

Another indicator is the extent to which a national budget is broken down by factors such as gender, age, income or region. India scored zero, the worst in the region.

The percentage of seats held by women in India’s Supreme Court was the fourth worst in the region.

Allen Frances, a women’s rights activist in New Delhi, said the gender gap in India is "deep and dreadful” as women comprise 48 percent of the nation’s population of 1.25 billion.

Discrimination against women results in social evils such as child marriage, Frances said. India has 24 million child brides, 40 percent of the world's 60 million child brides.

Research done by Reshma Elizabeth Thomas of the University of Madras this year claims that religion is the main cause of depriving women of equality. 

For most Indians, the ideal concept of women comes from Hindu mythology as 80 percent of Indians are Hindus. The non-Hindu population is also impacted by the majority view that women are incapable of being independent and should depend on men all through their lives, the research claimed.

“In some ways, these attitudes are used to justify violence against women. They blame the woman by saying she didn’t behave like Sita (wife of Hindu Rama known for her obedience). If she did, she would be fine,” Thomas wrote in her research.

Despite being educated and financially sound, Indians are under pressure to produce sons as heirs and sometimes resort to female feticide.

“All these factors are coming into play and creating this toxic mixture, which has turned violence against women into a bigger issue today,” Thomas said.

Parul Chaudhary, a project fellow in the department of gender studies at the National Institute of Education, told ucanews.com that various religions and their personal laws can lead to discrimination again women.

“In religious personal laws, we see several norms that are discriminatory against women. The civil laws have positioned women as equal to men. For example, among Muslims, the position of women is very poor as it is a male-dominated religion that takes its personal laws seriously,” Chaudhary said.

“Most women consider it is their part of their faith and culture to depend on men. In India women grow in such a conditioned way that they think that men are superior and women are in a subordinate position.”

Hindus and Muslims together account for more than 94 percent of Indians, while about 6 percent are Buddhists, Christians, Jains and Sikhs — religions that advocate gender equality.

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