India Reports Having More Women Than Men Now , But How True Can This Be?

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According to the fifth round of the National Family and Health Survey (NFHS), there are 1,020 women for every 1,000 men. India has more women than men now. 

 By Maham Abbasi, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, USA: India has long been called a country of missing women – a phrase first used in an essay  in The New York Review of Books by Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen in 1990 when the gender ratio had hit rock bottom at 927 women for every 1,000 men. According to Amartya Sen, this equated to around 37 million females missing from the Indian population, caused by a deepening crisis of gender inequality that had led to the widespread practice of sex selective abortions, female infanticide and neglect of girl-children.

Preference for sons in the country is rooted in a widely-held cultural belief that a male child would carry forward the family legacy and look after the parents, while daughters cost them dowries and leave them for their matrimonial homes. India has been a patriarchal society for a very long time and despite all the efforts being done, it still is. People have consciously believed throughout generations that sons should take care of their parents and support them financially. This thought process years back when women were confined to their homes, were not educated enough to earn their living, and in most cases, were meant to take care of the family. Today, the whole idea is different, and society has evolved, with both men and women getting educated and earning their living. Daughters and sons are equally responsible for their parents.

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Campaigners and citizens see this anti-girl bias, linked with the easy availability of antenatal sex screening, as a fact that led to tens of millions of female fetuses being eliminated through sex-selective abortions. It is known as female foeticide and has led to a dramatically unbalanced sex ratio in India for decades. 

There are confirmed signs of a demographic shift in India, as per the new report released by the Union Health Ministry. According to the fifth round of the National Family and Health Survey (NFHS), there are 1,020 women for every 1,000 men. India has more women than men now. 

The numbers have hit the headlines in the country, with some stating that they denote significant societal shifts in the country. However, experts advise caution while interpreting the data – the survey covers only about 630,000 of India’s 300 million households – and say the right picture will emerge once we get the census data.

The health ministry said this was the first time that the female population had surpassed the male population in India. Vikas Sheel, additional secretary, Union ministry of health and family welfare and mission director, National Health Mission expressed that this was due to the “measures taken by the government for women’s empowerment.”

“The improved sex ratio and sex ratio at birth is also a significant achievement; even though the real picture will emerge from the census, we can say for now looking at the results that our measures for women empowerment have steered us in the right direction,” he said. 

Poonam Muttreja, the executive director of the Population Foundation of India, said: “It is heartening to see the improvements in the overall sex ratio. It reflects the strides that the country has made towards gender equality and women’s empowerment.”

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Media reports cheered it as a “massive achievement.” A journalist wrote that India had “now entered the league of developed nations”. Different newspapers and magazines of the country are expressing how ‘women will run the show’ now.

But campaigners say the numbers just don’t add up and describe the government claim as “absurd” and “next to impossible”. “Over 100 years, our census has repeatedly shown that there have been more men in India than women,” researcher and activist Sabu George said.

BBC reported him asking, “According to the last census in 2011, there were 940 women for every 1,000 men and the child sex ratio [which counts children from naught to six years] was abysmal at 918 girls for 1,000 boys, so how can there be such a drastic change in just 10 years?”

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Even today sex-selective abortions are still performed illegally.  There have been measures implemented by the government but the attitudes have not changed. The wrong beliefs are still here to stay and we know this because, in recent years, newborn girls are reportedly found abandoned or buried, discarded in rivers or drains. Also, reports from across India say illegal sex determination clinics are flourishing.

Despite apparent progress, according to the survey, the gender ratio at birth still remains at 929 women for every 1,000 men, indicating that the issue of sex selection and female foeticide has not been eliminated.

Mr. George said, ” that some states, such as Rajasthan and Haryana, have worked to improve their sex ratio, but most of the big states with large populations are yet to make much headway in controlling female foeticide.

“I think the survey numbers are unreliable. There’s no plausible way this could happen. I think the census data, whenever it comes out, will not show a substantive improvement in the child sex ratio. I’d be surprised if there’s no decline,” he says as reported by BBC News.

Compiled and Curated By Maham Abbasi 

Maham Abbasi

Maham Abbasi

Maham Abbasi recently completed her Masters in Women’s Studies from, The Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies, AMU, India. A feminist at heart who revels at critiquing gendered societal constructs, she has been working on women's menstrual health and hygiene through her project called The No Shame since past two years. She works as a freelance content developer and writes extensively for women’s rights and issues.

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