Does gender-based discrimination harm women’s health in India? | The Financial Express

Does gender-based discrimination harm women’s health in India?

Women’s economic situation is impacted by inadequate education, brought on by gender discrimination at the family and societal level.

Does gender-based discrimination harm women’s health in India?
Globally, gender inequality and discrimination have a significant impact on mental health. (File)

By Sonica Aron

It seems nearly unbelievable that women are still struggling for equal rights in the modern world, even when we see them making a difference in every aspect of life. One hears people say so many times, it is the 21st Century, why are we still talking of Diversity and Inclusion with a focus on women? Even something as fundamental as equal access to education, healthcare, and right to choose career options, which makes it easy for people of either gender to access resources and opportunities, is still being asked for rather than being given in many countries and cultures across the globe.

Gender discrimination and inequality has a major effect on mental health globally. A few of the psychological effects of gender inequality include higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder in women. Furthermore, the immediate results of violence, physical or mental and emotional abuse or gender-based prejudices can manifest in a wide variety of ways. For instance, if someone is constantly trying to prove themselves, they put extra stress on themselves as a result. And that is exactly what happens to women at work.

Women: The Underappreciated Gender

Women have to prove their continued commitment towards their work and career at every stage of their lives. Whether it is when they get married, have children, or children going for higher education. Adding to it, having elderly parents or parents-in-law to take care of or if they are a single parent. Furthermore, when it comes to assigning ratings, raises, and roles, the managerial bias is often governed by the stereotype and gender norm that “women are the primary caregivers.” Women must put forth an extra effort to show that they are deserving of a seat at the table. This causes stress on the mental, emotional, and physical levels, which frequently affects personal life. A lot of women decide to give up the fight, which further lowers their self-esteem and confidence. Additionally, it reinforces the stereotype that women are incapable of handling stress, and are unable to manage a home and a career at the same time.

Numerous households continue to uphold gender stereotypes. In India, women bear a disproportionate amount of the burden of unpaid labor as they are expected to perform the majority of household duties, even if they are also working outside the home. Compared to males, women often devote disproportionately more time to unpaid work. Due to gendered social norms that prioritize domestic and reproductive responsibilities, women from all backgrounds, socio-economic classes, and cultures devote a significant portion of their days to fulfilling these obligations. The “double burden” of work for women is the result of aforementioned stereotypes, in addition to their paid duties.

Causes of Gender Inequality

More preferences for the boy child

Even though we are in the 21st century, gender preferences have prevailed for a very long time. Many families in India still want their firstborn to be a son. Many keep trying for a son, till they have one. After all, girls get married and go to another family, many change their surnames. A boy carries on the family name. Gender-selective abortions, even though banned legally, are rampant. According to expert research, in India by 2030 it is estimated that 6.8 million fewer female births will be registered. And lest we think it happens in only economically weaker sections, that’s not true. This is true for all sections of society, irrespective of social status, economic status, and religious status.

Even as a girl child, social conditioning, intentional or unintentional discrimination at the family level, exists. A girl will be proudly introduced to home chores, while a boy will be encouraged to do out of home tasks. Visit any toy store, and you would find discrimination rampant in the toys-dolls, doll houses, soft toys in the girl’s section, cars, guns, sports gear in the boy’s section. Children form their gender based opinions early on, and what they get exposed to, they learn.

Gender-specific roles at home and outside

Men are expected to work and act more masculine as per the society’s unspoken expectations, while women are expected to take care of other essential needs at home. Even if they choose careers, they should be within the guidelines acceptable to society. It should be a desk job. It should not involve night shift. It should not involve travel. So, for example IT, Finance, HR are good options for a woman. If a girl wants to explore other careers that are considered male dominated, there is push back from the family, society, and recruiters.

It’s important to note that not only are women affected by these stereotypes and barriers; but with time, men are also getting impacted. According to Statista, Indians experience various mental health illnesses to an extent of 14%. In terms of gender, bullying and victimization were to blame for an estimated 3.8 percent of men’s anxiety problems.

Poor education, reasons, and concerns

In India, the number of females dropping out of school is rising quickly. While few families worry about their daughters’ safety, some believe that sending girls to school is pointless as they will eventually get married and move in with someone else. Furthermore, other causes of females’ dropout include extensive distances, inadequate sanitary facilities, and lack of transportation.

Impact of gender discrimination

Gender discrimination is a complex issue that impacts both men and women. Here are a few of the impacts-

Women and health

Although abortion based on sex identification of the foetus is prohibited in India, there have been instances where women are pressured to have the pregnancy ended if the foetus is a girl. In addition to it, despite being illegal, child marriage is still rampant in certain parts of the country. According to the UNICEF report of 2022, in India, 226.3 million girls and women are married before the age of 18, among which 99.8 million are married before the age of 15, which poses a major threat to their health and wellbeing. Another element impacting women’s physical and emotional health is domestic violence and trafficking. These actions show how powerless a woman is over her body and her rights. Even today, many women, who might be our co-workers, friends, relatives, might be suffering from physical and emotional abuse, might be silent about it.

Child marriage and improper family planning

Before the age of 18, girls are compelled to get married and make families. Families’ long-held, outmoded notions that boys should only attend school and that girls should take care of the home is what has led to this situation. Many young women end up getting pregnant as a result of early marriages, which requires them to take care of their child and not pursue education, which leaves a negative impact on physical and emotional health, and a lack of confidence in their ability to be independent and employable.

Employment opportunities

Women’s economic situation is impacted by inadequate education, brought on by gender discrimination at the family and societal level. Less educated women are more likely to stay out of economic activity and employment. However, women politicians are more likely to take welfare issues into accounts, such as child care, maternity care, and violence against women. If the appropriate level of participation is not provided, these issues won’t be resolved.

To summarize

Globally, gender inequality and discrimination have a significant impact on mental health. At every stage of their lives, women are expected to demonstrate their dedication to their work and careers. They are constantly required to go far and beyond regular call of duty at work to prove that they are deserving of a seat at the table, which puts them under stress on a mental, emotional, and physical level as well as has an impact on their personal lives. At home, they remain overburdened with unpaid work. According to the expectations of society, males are expected to work and act more masculine, continue to be the breadwinner irrespective of what they want to do, continue to work hard, travel, fight for that next promotion and be successful at work. These societal stereotypes and norms put pressure and stress on both genders and rob them from the right to choose, to live their authentic lives and be themselves. It’s time every individual took charge of owning their dreams and goals, irrespective of their gender.

(The author is a Founder and Managing Partner, Marching Sheep. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)

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