Deepali Gaur Singh over at RHReality Check has a roundup of the past year's news in Indian women's health, and--as might be expected--it's a mix of discouraging stories and promising developments. First up is the ongoing problem of sex-selective abortions, which have led to a gender ratio of about 93 girls for every 100 boys born in the country. Next is a horrifying litany of mob attacks on women around the country--from Mumbai to eastern India. Finally, Singh reminds readers of the very-badass sounding gulabi gang (literally translated: "Pink gang")--a group of several hundred pink-sari-clad women in the village of Banda, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, who roam the streets wielding sticks and axes, hunting out corruption and abuse of power. Among other vigilante actions, the gang members have beaten wife abusers, stormed the local police station, and defended untouchables. In a country where child abuse, dowry deaths, and forced marriages are common, tactics that might seem out of control elsewhere start to look like courageous actions by a few women who know the system isn't going to help them.
That's not to say that Indian women have given up on working within the system. In fact, led by Suman Krishan Kant, a prominent Indian activist, a group of more than 100 Indian women have actually formed their own political party--asserting that while they would like to work on an equal footing with men, no political party in India has shown much interest in listening to their concerns. The group, known as the United Women Front, started last October with about $300 and 100 very determined members. Before launching the UWF, Kant headed a national charity called Mahila Dakshatathat promotes women's social and economic empowerment.
Among the UWF's goals: Increasing women's representation in Parliament from 8 to 50 percent. One step toward that goal would be a so-called "reservation law," reserving 33 percent of seats in Parliament for women. Although Indian village councils currently reserve that number of seats for women, legislation to require a similar number in Parliament have been stuck in limbo since 1996. The party will also focus its work on poverty, universal health care, and creating employment opportunities for women.
Long-term, the UWF hopes to permanently improve the status of women in India, where millions of women and girls live in poverty, poor health, and malnutrition, and where only about 36 percent of women participate in the work force--one of the worst gender gaps in the world. Some 40 percent of Indian women are the victims of domestic abuse, and virtually no social safety net exists for them to get out of dangerous situations.
The party will field candidates in local elections in two Indian states later this year, and in national elections starting in 2009.