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NEW DELHI: The government on Monday recognised India’s obsession to birth sons, while presenting the economic survey document with a pink cover, in a bid to express solidarity towards women’s issues and empowerment.
The document tabled by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in Parliament recommends that Indians confront the “societal meta-preference” for a son, observing that the adverse sex ratio of females to males has led to 63 million “missing” women. To put it simply, the survey observes that many Indians continue to have children till they have a son. And what that effectively does is — it reduces the resources available to the girl child(ren) in most cases.
Full text of Economic Survey 2017-18
“Families where a son is born are more likely to stop having children than families where a girl is born. This is suggestive of parents employing ‘stopping rules’,” the document states.
This meta-preference leads naturally to the notional category of “unwanted” girls which is estimated at over 21 million. In some sense, once born, the lives of women are improving but society still appears to want fewer of them to be born, according to the survey led by India’s chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian.
The survey states that just as India has committed to moving up the ranks in ‘Ease of Doing Business’ indicators, a similar commitment should be made on the gender front. In fact, there is a whole chapter dedicated to gender in the document.
As far as women in the workforce are concerned, the survey reveals that the percentage of working women has declined over time from 36 per cent in 2005-06 to 24 per cent in 2015-16.
NaMo’s ‘Nari Shakti’ narrative
In a welcome move, women empowerment and women’s issues seem to be high on the government’s agenda with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first ‘Mann ki Baat’ address this year on Sunday being dedicated to ‘Nari Shakti’ or women power. “Let me tell you that one daughter is equal to ten sons… The punya (good) we get from 10 sons, we get that from one daughter…,” PM Modi said in his radio program.
The PM dedicating his show to women and just a day after, the economic survey being symbolically presented in pink, raises hopes that Finance Minister Jaitley too may look at addressing issues that concern women as he presents the government’s last full-year Budget on Thursday before the country goes to polls in 2019.
Will ‘Mann ki Baat’ translate into action
What’s interesting though is that ‘women’, as a word, was never really used in budget speeches until in 2008-09, when the then finance minister P Chidambaram mentioned it nine times. The ghastly December 16, 2012 Nirbhaya gang rape in Delhi, however, was to change that — a couple of months later, as Chidambaram, in his second stint as finance minister, read out the 2013-14 budget, the issue was still resonating and he mentioned ‘women’ as many as 24 times.
Citing ‘a collective responsibility to ensure the dignity and safety of women’, he set up the ‘Nirbhaya Fund’, allocating Rs 1,000 crore. The Modi government too, since taking over in 2014, has been allocating an equal amount of sum in each budget. However, the apathy lies in the fact that neither of the governments have been able to actually spend the money. In fact, the schemes that the governments devised to use the fund, failed to even take off.