Security, nutrition, sanitation and healthcare are some of the major concerns of Indian women today. However, the 2014 general elections may be a turning point as women constitute 49% of the voters in these elections. This month will be unprecedented opportunity for women of all geographics and classes to vote for a party that addresses their concerns.
In a recent article written as a part of a special series on Women and Elections, 2014 by Dr. K.D. Singh ,Member of Parliament -Rajya Sabha, “in India, women got the right to vote in the year 1930 but they were still not seen as a coveted constituency. Even after coming to occupy some of the highest offices in India today, women members of Parliament account for about 85 seats in a total strength of 787 MPs in both Houses of Parliament until now. Political parties have been using electoral strategies like distributing saris and cookers to women instead of addressing the real issues such as women’s education, health, sanitation, security, etc. However, these elections could potentially rewrite the rules of the game.” This year, politicians know that the numbers of women voters– vary between 300 million and 350 million and this could mean the difference between winning and losing.
One of the key issues impacting women in rural areas is the provision of sanitation and safe drinking water.The lack of such essential services have a huge impact on the lives of millions of women.Without safe water close to home, women in rural areas spend hours walking for water.Access to drinking water facilities is a huge problem even in urban slums. We visited one such slum in New Delhi, where many women forego employment opportunities in order to collect drinking water when it is delivered through water tankers. The lack of sanitation results in ill health and indignity .Access to sanitation and health facilities are vital for their healthy being and also help to significantly bring down the incidence of waterborne diseases and infant and maternal mortality rates. According to shocking findings of a survey conducted by NSSO in 2012, only 32% of rural households in India have their own toilets.The lack of menstrual hygiene and sanitation creates a domino effect that affects not only their health but also the health of their children. For women, everywhere providing clean, accessible water and sanitation facilities not only prevents needless indignity but improves their health and that of their whole family.
Pregnancy-related and infant deaths in the country have declined according to the latest data released by the Registrar General of India, but India still lags behind its neighbouring countries.India’s maternal mortality rate declined by 16% in 2011-12 from 2007-09,however it is still behind the target of 103 deaths per live births to be achieved by 2015 under the Millennium Development Goals . To reach these goals, there is an urgent need for capacity building of health care providers in basic and comprehensive obstetric and neo-natal care and education.Training Anganwadi workers, ASHAs and ANMs in the community has been a good step to empower women while improving the health of their communities. While health policies like the Janani Suraksha Yojana are a great way to promote safe health care practices, monitoring their efficacy is vital .
Other major concerns for women include the provision of adequate nutrition as well as prevention of sexual and gender based crimes against women. Crimes against women have shot up by 200 per cent as compared to the previous year’s NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) statistics. The 2011 Census revealed a shocking statistic on sex ratio with a state such as Haryana reporting an estimated 877 women per 1,000 men. The horrifying Delhi gang rape case of December 2013 has brought about a huge social mobilisation amongst urban women to demand for safety measures against crimes but much more needs to be done.
The newly released Womanifesto for the ongoing elections devotes a great deal of attention to some of these issues.This is a great opportunity for women to look at the health agendas of the different parties and exercise their right to vote for a political party that they believe will make a difference towards their health, development and safety.
To look at the BJP agenda, click here.
To look at the Congress agenda, click here.
To look at the AAP agenda, click here.