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India's meta-preference for sons led to 21 million unwanted girls, says 'pink' Economic Survey: Punjab, Haryana worst offenders

The pink-coloured Economic Survey tabled by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in Parliament on Monday recommended that India must confront its societal meta-preference for a son, observing that the adverse sex ratio of females to males has led to 63 million "missing" women.

The colour of this year's survey cover was chosen as a symbol of support for the growing movement to end violence against women, which spans continents.

Laying special emphasis on gender development, the Survey cautioned that on several indicators, notably employment, use of reversible contraception, and son preference, India has some distance to traverse despite the country's economic progress. 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 endeavoured on the gender front.

The percentage of working women has declined over time from 36 percent being employed in 2005-06 to 24 percent of women employed in 2015-16, pointed out the Survey. The reasons for this include increased incomes of men which allows women to withdraw from the labour force, as well as farm mechanisation  in the agricultural sector which results in a lower demand for female agricultural labourers.

 Indias meta-preference for sons led to 21 million unwanted girls, says pink Economic Survey: Punjab, Haryana worst offenders

The summary of results regarding gender in the Economic Survey

The Survey acknowledges that Government's 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' and 'Sukanya Samridhi Yojana' schemes, and mandatory maternity leave rules are all steps in the right direction, pointing out that measures such as increasing maternity leave will offer support to women in the workforce.

Given these observations, the states and all stakeholders have an important role to play in increasing opportunities available for women in education and employment, it said.

As per the Survey, nearly 47 percent of women do not use any contraception, and of those who do, less than a third use female-controlled reversible contraception. The Survey highlighted another phenomenon of son meta-preference which involves parents adopting fertility "stopping rules" – having children until the desired number of sons are born. "This meta-preference leads naturally to the notional category of 'unwanted' girls which is estimated at over 21 million," says the Survey. The authors gauged this meta-preference using an indicator called sex ratio of the last child (SRLC). Essentially, if a society prefers sons, that will manifest itself in the SRLC being heavily skewed in favour of boys.

The Survey cites a 2015 study titled "The roots of gender inequality in developing countries" which lists out the reasons for having a son preference. These include patrilocality (women having to move to husbands’ houses after marriage), patrilineality (property passing on to sons rather than daughters), dowry (which leads to extra costs of having girls), old age support from sons and rituals performed by sons.

The Survey singles out Punjab and Haryana for special mention as they exhibit extremely high son preference and meta-preference. It found that the overall sex ratios are significantly above the biological benchmark, and the sex ratio of the last child is heavily male skewed, implying that parents are unlikely to stop after having a daughter.

Consigning these odious preferences to history soon should be society's objective, opines the Survey. It also provides an assessment of India's performance on gender outcomes relative to other economies. However, the Survey noted an improvement in average levels of 12 out of 17 variables in India over time. While 62.3 percent of women in India were involved in decisions about their own health in 2005-06, the number increased to 74.5 percent in 2015-16. The percentage of women who did not experience physical or emotional violence also increased from 63 percent to 71 percent, whereas the median age at first childbirth also increased by 1.3 years over ten years.

The Survey noted that the north eastern states have been consistently outperforming others on the development parameters related to women, while hinterland states are lagging behind. However, surprisingly, some southern states such as Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu fare worse than expected given their level of development, it said.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Jan 30, 2018 11:16:12 IST