By Sanjay Sharma
Bhopal, March 8 (IANS) Women in Madhya Pradesh lag behind their counterparts in most part of the country on almost every front - from health, education, liberty to rights - a sad statement on their condition as the world marks International Women's Day Thursday. With regard to their participation in governance, while the Constitutional 73rd Amendment has reserved one-third of seats for women and enabled their presence in panchayat (village council) bodies, they continue to be under male dominance.
"Women panchayat members continue to suffer from gender bias," says a worker of Mahila Chetna Manch (MCM), an NGO working in the field of women empowerment. Despite the seats reserved for women, it is men, who dominate the proceedings in the panchayat - through the women members, who happen to be wives, mothers or daughters.
In the case of women sarpanchs (heads) of Salkhera and Barbel gram panchayats, in Khargone district, 44 percent women do not go alone to attend meetings, some are accompanied by their husbands or adult male members of the family, while the rest said their husbands actually represent them, said Abha Chauhan, of the Institute of Social Sciences in her observation on women's participation in panchayat in Scheduled Areas with special reference to Madhya Pradesh.
There have been cases when women representatives signed documents while totally ignorant of the contents due to illiteracy. More than 1,300 women sarpanchs have been slapped with false corruption charges. Some 50 of them have been removed from office through forced no-confidence motions. They have also been threatened and humiliated.
Domestic violence against women in the state has increased three times in the last five years, police records say. From 7,283 cases in 2001, the figure went up to 23,215 in 2005. The 2006 figures are yet to be computed. The new National Family Health Survey-III data reveals that 45 percent women in the state have never heard of HIV/AIDS. The state has a Maternal Mortality Ratio of 379 (maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) - one of the six highest in the country. Approximately 27-30 women die every day in the state within 42 days of delivery due to complications and unsafe abortions.
According to the survey, the state contributes 7,000 maternal mortality cases every year to the figure of 70,000 for the country as a whole. The sex ratio is 829 females for every 1,000 males.
Lack of transport and access to proper medical facilities as well as the absence of planning for delivery are major impediments to safe motherhood coupled with shortage of medicines.
"Though the state has launched schemes - like promoting institutional deliveries - to arrest maternal mortality, specially among those below the poverty line and those belonging to scheduled castes and tribes, much still needs to be done," say activists working in the field.
While institutional deliveries have risen from 27 percent in 2004-2005 to 35 percent in 2005-2006, it is faced by impediments like low awareness about various schemes for pregnant women, lack of planning for delivery and shortage of medicines and health facilities, the study points out.
Around 40.11 percent of women have a body-mass weight index below normal or are under nourished, says the survey undertaken by the union government. "About 57.9 percent pregnant women, between 15-49 years of age, are anaemic while only 46.7 percent women participate in household decisions and 45.8 percent have experienced spousal violence," it says.