Even though Odisha had a favorable sex-ratio compared to the national average as per the 1996-2001 estimates, a disturbing trend has also been recorded since then, regarding falling female to male sex-ratios. Life expectancy of women in Odisha stands at 62.4%. The decline in female to male ratios(FMR) is most seen in the age group of 0-6 years, and also in the neo-natal age group where we find a higher female child mortality rate. The female to male ratio for the 0-6 age group for the state as a whole declined by 17 points; from 967 in 1991 to 950 in 2001. Interestingly, the decline in FMR in urban areas is more than in the rural areas- from 949 in 1991 to 927 in 2001, while the rural segment showed a decline from 969 in 1991 to 954 in 2001. These statistics make it clear that sex-selective abortions are on the rise in the urban areas as well, making it a cause for concern.
Similarly, the infant mortality rates [IMR- 87/1000-Total; rural-90; urban-56] continue to be dismal. Studies show a higher female IMR than the male IMR in the urban and tribal populations, in the post neo-natal and in the 1-4 age groups [ boys-29.9 & girls-37.8]. This indicates a strong discrimination between boys and girls in post weaning periods and access to medical care. This discrimination eventually results in poor nutritional status of girls and women in the state. About 48% women have a BMI below 18.5 while 63% suffer from anemia. And this is most marked in the rural, illiterate and SC/ST women. The Maternal Mortality Rate in Odisha is 367 per 1 lakh live births, with the most affected areas being in the southern part of the state. Primary reasons for this are a lack of communication facilities- health services are hampered as there are no roads to many villages; lack of coordination between different agencies, lack of information about services and also, in tribal areas, a lack of communication skills and hesitation of tribals to approach a doctor.
Literacy and Education:
According to the 2001 census, total literacy rate stood at 63.61% while male and female literacy rates stood at 75.95% and 50.97%. The wide gap between male and female literacy rates in Odisha is indicative of an enduring gender bias in the state. Again, if we compare the differences in the urban and rural male/female literacy rates, i.e.26.35 %( rural) and 15.64 % (urban), this also indicates an added disparity in allocation of resources. It is seen that the coastal belt records a higher rate of success than the western, relatively underdeveloped areas with a preponderance of SC/ST communities.
As per the 2001 census, the state has a female population of 180.94 lakh (49.3% of the total population). The contribution of this significant segment of the state’s human resources is by no means negligible but has gone largely unnoticed. It is a common fact that the women, especially the poor work from dawn to dusk inside and outside the household, as wage earners or as housewives (which is unpaid for and unrecognized). So, their access to work opportunities continues to be poor, with their work confined mainly to the marginalized sectors. Poor education and lack of skills hamper their participation in the private sector. The process of globalization robbing their traditional livelihood bases(especially in case of tribals) like agriculture, forestry and fishing, this leads to unemployment and a further erosion of their economic and physical security.
Violence against Women:
Signs of crime against women are increasing by the day, both in the public as well as domestic spheres. Since the eighties, cases of rapes, dowry torture and other violent incidents against women have been rising. Of serious concern is the rise in cases of domestic violence, which goes largely unreported and therefore unaddressed. This depicts the familial and societal attitude towards women and of the whole socialization process of women themselves, which hinders their own empowerment. The frequency of violence against women rises significantly in the rural areas, as the impact of poverty and social insecurity is greater. To aggravate matters, an inefficient police and administration not only lower rate of convictions but boost the morale of the anti-socials. This ultimately leads to a devaluation of women’s security and status in the society.
Since the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendment in 1993, there has been a steady increase in women’s participation in the electoral process, especially in the three-tier Panchayatiraj system. But even as three elections have passed since the entry of women into the political sphere, a favorable environment is still eluding these women leaders to fulfill their duties. Given the low status of women in our society in almost all areas, be it education, health, employment and in decision making positions, most women are also not confident enough to participate in the poll process on their own. Those in elected positions have had to face great obstacles from even their own families, apart from others in the society. No kind of a support system or a favorable environment has been provided to them to take advantage of the benefits granted to them by our Constitution. Incidents of violence and manipulation by their political opponents and other vested interests continue to hamper women’s political empowerment in Odisha.
So, in conclusion we may say that Odisha is a state where serious challenges exist for women. Apart from inequalities in the health, education and employment sectors, inequality in the political arena is a new challenge for our women. Even as we equip these women representatives with the necessary leadership skills for effective participation in the panchayatiraj system, there is a bigger challenge of sensitizing other stake holders, from the government, to the media to the society at large, on the importance and necessity of removing discrimination against women at all levels.