By Laura Cofsky

 

Rape is still a common practice in rural India—so much so that a string of them rarely merits more than a few lines in local newspapers.

In rural societies, families often feel too ashamed to come forward and police are not apt to act upon rape reports—preferring instead to blame the victims. In addition, women who are either very independent or of lower castes are most likely to be targeted. Women with boyfriends are also disproportionately victimized.

Experts believe rape is actually increasing in these rural regions. On the whole, the country saw more than 23,000 rapes last year. Even worse is that members of such societies rally around the perpetrators rather than the victims.

Rural society in India is driven by honor. Having a female relative who was raped is enough to tarnish a family’s honor, thus making her a burden. A family’s honor is only shaped by the “indiscretions” of its women. Honor killings are common.[1]

In rural areas, both mothers and daughters are constantly neglected. Women are “last and least fed,” and pregnant women are the majority of the 22,000 annual anemia deaths in the country. Mothers lack adequate medical care during and after pregnancy. The ones who carry to term, despite malnourishment, often give birth to unhealthy babies.

Sex-selected abortions are a constant issue. In Haryana, a predominantly rural state in northern India, the ratio of females to males is 830 to 1,000, while the national average is 914 to 1,000. In Daman and Diu, which represent the most extreme cases, the ratio is 618 to 1,000.

Only about 65 percent of women are literate, compared to 82 percent of men. But as female literacy rises, sex selective abortions actually rise in prevalence. Some experts believe this may be because these women can generally afford sex determination tests and abortions.

For the baby girls who do survive, it’s an uphill battle. Mothers breastfeed their daughters up to two fewer months than their sons.[2]

There are few options for these women. While it’s not unheard of for a woman to head a household, even in rural communities, these women rarely have legal rights that would support any career aspirations or allow them to access any kind of inheritance from their families.

There have been a few rays of hope, such as nonprofits started by women to help other women. The Self Employed Women’s Association, for instance, helps women procure land on which to farm and have an income.

SEWA is India’s largest and oldest female trade union. It has made it possible for 1.3 million women—mostly from rural areas—to overcome gender and even caste discrimination in order to run farm cooperatives with guaranteed markets.[3]

But the situation for women in India is still very bleak. Labeled as the worst G20 country to be a woman, India has a long way to go before it can join the ranks of the more industrialized powerhouses on the list.

 

Laura Cofsky is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, studying English literature. Upon graduation, she hopes to become a journalist.


[1] Simon Denyer, “In Rural India, rapes are common, but justice for victims is not.” Washington Post, January 8 2013. http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-01-08/world/36232786_1_rapes-haryana-town-rural-areas

[2] Janna Dunbar, “Unique Challenges for Women’s Health in Rural India.” Pfizer. http://www.pfizer.com/files/responsibility/global_health/janna_dunbar.pdf

[3] Nita Bhalla, “’Sisterhood’ brings rights to India’s low-caste, rural women.” Reuters, March 9, 2012. http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/03/08/sisterhood-brings-rights-to-indias-low-c-idINDEE8270DV20120308

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