International Women’s Day: The need to celebrate, inspire, include

In a series of articles on the theme of gender, we deep-dive into the issues of economic and social disparity, domestic violence and loss of livelihood.

It was a balmy day in a crowded antenatal clinic in the small town of Haliyal in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka. The medical officer indicated to me that he was doing a great service to humanity by killing unborn girls.

He would go to villages nearby, on a designated day once a month, to hold mobile clinics and conduct sex determination tests on pregnant women. If the results showed the unborn child was a girl, more often than not, the expectant mother — at her husband’s family’s behest — would come back to the clinic for an illegal abortion. That’s how the discrimination starts; from the womb.

This was 20 years ago. The child sex ratio (CSR) at the time was hovering around the low 900s (per 1,000 boys) in most districts of Karnataka. According to the latest CRS data, in 2022 Karnataka recorded a sex ratio of 929 girls per 1,000 boys. Not much has changed.


Read more: Can women reclaim our streets? Gender-inclusive and safe public spaces a dream in Chennai


More recently in 2021, news of female infanticide at Usilampatti in Madurai district brought us face-to-face with increasing gender-based violence. Latest NCRB data says every 51 minutes, a crime is committed against a woman.

Many schemes and Beti Bachao Beti Padhao programmes later, are we anywhere near progress? Women continue to bear the brunt of all the ills in the world. War, ethnic strife, sectarian politics, religious and economic discrimination. Women and transgenders have to constantly battle economic and social exclusion. That’s why, it becomes important to initiate dialogues on kindness, safety and inclusion.

Spotlight on gender issues

Just a few weeks ago at a Focus Group Discussion (FGD) facilitated by Citizen Matters and voluntary organisation IRCDUC, we got a reality check. Women living in a resettlement site at Perumbakkam, Chennai, poured out on their daily struggles with poverty, domestic violence, child care challenges, loss of livelihood following evictions, difficulties in accessing transport and lack of safety.

The discussion got us thinking about the need to take a closer look at gender-based marginalisation. We wanted to dig deep to find solutions and focus on pertinent issues that necessitate the attention of authorities. So, March 8 being International Women’s Day, we decided to focus on the theme of gender this month for our stories.

Through the month ahead, we will be looking closely at issues that affect women disproportionately. This includes an article by Sumana Narayanan, a senior researcher with Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG), on the free bus travel scheme for women in Chennai. And, how it promotes social inclusion and financial freedom among them.


Read more: Policy and social change necessary to make Chennai safer for women


What women need

chennai women
A city should afford a woman the freedom to make her choices. Pic: CC BY-SA 2.0-Madmartigand/Flickr

In her articles based on the FGD, senior reporter Shobana Radhakrishnan examines the problems women face following evictions. The stories delve into pertinent questions and look for possible answers. How does the brutality of domestic violence affect women in resettlement areas? Do they have access to support systems during a crisis? Are they safe in their environment? How do they manage work and child care? Through these stories, we also try to put out a call to action for authorities to provide remedies.

Not all is bleak though. One of the stories brings out the importance of community workers, who have faced situations of violence and help other women come out of them.

The series also includes a citizen journalist account of the gender gaps and dynamics in the Frisbee community. Frisbee is a popular mixed-gender sport in Chennai. Another article by Laasya Shekhar puts the spotlight on health problems faced by community nurses.

Our survey on women’s safety examines the challenges women have to navigate in their localities and what is needed to make these spaces safe.

So, this International Women’s Day, we wish for peaceful environments, financial stability, safe and inclusive spaces for all genders.

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