Hello and welcome to Mind the Gap, a newsletter that adds perspective to the gender developments of the week.
Bringing the minimum age requirement for women at par with men falls in line with Constitutional guarantees of equality for all citizens (Shutterstock)
THE BIG STORY
The government is planning to introduce a bill to increase the minimum marriage age of women from 18 to 21. To become law, the bill must be passed by both houses of Parliament after it is introduced, most likely during the winter session.
The proposal, cleared during a Cabinet meeting on December 15, follows the recommendations of a task force headed by Samata Party leader Jaya Jaitley. In his 2020 Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the government was considering steps to ensure daughters were “married off at the right age”.
The case for
Increasing the marriage age for women has several clear advantages. It will help improve their nutrition status. And it will keep them in school and college longer.
Children born to mothers younger than 19-years-old, are five percentage points more likely to be stunted than those born to mothers aged 20 years old and above, found a study published in The Lancet in 2019. Younger mothers also gave birth to more low-weight babies than older women.
Bringing the minimum age requirement for women at par with men falls in line with Constitutional guarantees of equality for all citizens.
Finally, there is a correlation between employment and marriage. As a demographic, single women are far more likely to be employed than married women. “Marriage is the first stumbling block in women’s workforce participation,” says Farzana Afridi, an associate professor with the Indian Statistical Institute. For instance, half of all unmarried women were in the labour force in 2011, compared to only 20% of married women, a figure that has remained stagnant for three decades says Afridi.
In 1978, Parliament passed a law setting the minimum age of marriage for women at 18. Over four decades later, India remains home to the world’s largest number of child brides, with 1.5 million girls under 18 married every year, according to Unicef. The latest round of the National Family Health Survey-5, (NFHS-5) finds that 23.3% of women still marry before turning 18, Raising the marriage age further to 21 will leave even more women and girls vulnerable in marriages that have no sanction in law.
Moreover, in a country where girls lack agency, raising the minimum age of marriage also has consequences for those who choose their own partners… A 2021 study on child marriage prosecutions by Partners in Law and Development (PLD) looks at 83 high court and district court child marriage prosecutions over a 10-year period to find that the majority of prosecutions are initiated by parents of women who marry men of their choosing against the wishes of their parents. In the face of parental disapproval, the law, says Madhu Mehra, head of research and training at PLD, is “overwhelmingly weaponized by parents against their daughters who initiate marriages of choice and, in contrast, negligibly prosecute forced or even arranged marriages.”
According to a 2020 report in The Lancet, the Covid pandemic will put 0.5 million more girls worldwide at risk of being forced into child marriage. In India, this is due to a combination of circumstances including unemployment, the prolonged closure of schools, and a sharp gender digital gap that has made it far more difficult for girls to access online classes.
If not legislation, then what?
In India, marriage is a social contract where the larger community’s idea of the “norm” plays a significant role in when, where, and how women get married.
Over four decades later, India remains home to the world’s largest number of child brides, with 1.5 million girls under 18 married every year (Manoj Kumar/Hindustan Times)
The past decade has seen a 19% decline in child marriages, thanks in large measure to the narrowing of the education gender gap and the rising aspirations of girls and women themselves.
Along with recognizing these newer social realities, expanding opportunities for young women in both education and employment will help delay the age at which they get married. What is needed is not an amended law but a nationwide social awareness campaign of the advantages of delaying the marriage of daughters, seeing them not as burdens to be dispatched at the earliest, but as the family’s most valuable assets.
Leena Nair has joined the luxury brand Chanel as its global CEO (Hindustan Times)
The youngest-ever chief human resources officer at Unilever, Leena Nair has joined luxury brand Chanel as its global CEO. “Humbled and honored,” she tweeted about joining the “iconic and admired company”.
78.9% of the total funds between 2016-19 earmarked for the prime minister’s Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme was spent on advertising and media.
Only 25% of funds have been utilized by the states since 2014-15 when the scheme was introduced.
–Parliamentary panel report. The committee on women’s empowerment suggested that the government needs to focus more on education and health.
In what is possibly the largest rescue operation of a self-contained Afghan community since the Taliban takeover in August, 273 faculty, staff, and immediate family members of the Afghan National Institute of Music (ANIM) have now landed safely in Lisbon, Portugal where they have been invited to re-establish the school.
In five airlifts between early October and mid-November, the ANIM community, including the famed all-female Zohra Orchestra, which performed at the HT Leadership Summit in November 2017, escaped, first from Kabul to Doha and then onwards to Lisbon. The community has been offered asylum by the government of Portugal.
Watch Zohra at a practice session here.
TIME WILL NEVER BE RIGHT FOR WOMEN IN THE LEGAL PROFESSION…I STARTED MY CAREER FROM THE DICKEY (LUGGAGE SPACE) OF A CAR. SHATTER ALL GLASS CEILINGS AND BREAK MORE BARRIERS.
–-The Supreme Court’s Justice Hima Kohli told a gathering of Women in Law and Litigation at a December 14 function that there was no “old boys club” for them and they would have to come to court prepared.
At the same function, Justice Pratibha M Singh of the Delhi High Court also had a bit of advice for women lawyers: don’t seek sympathy from the bench, cut time spent on movies and beauty parlors, and “Pick your battles. Don’t fight with all.” Social media was not amused.
REST IN POWER
Gloria Jean Watkins, more famously known as bell hooks, died on December 15 aged 69. The writer of over 40 books, hooks adopted a lower-case pen name because she wanted her work to speak for itself. Her writing focused on the intersection of race, gender, and class.
Black feminist Bell Hooks (The Washington Post via Getty Im)
Read Aditya Mani Jha’s tribute in Mint Lounge here.
STORIES YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
A comment from K.R. Ramesh Kumar, Congress MLA and a former speaker of the Karnataka Assembly – “When rape is inevitable lie down and enjoy” – and the accompanying laughter by fellow MLAs, including the present speaker has escalated into a political row and a depressing reminder of how rape is normalized even by legislators. Following widespread condemnation, Kumar has apologized but this is not the first time he has made such crass remarks on rape. Back in 2018-19 as a speaker he had ‘joked’ that his situation had become “like that of a rape victim”.
Karnataka Assembly Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar said, “When rape is inevitable lie down and enjoy” (PTI)
The furor comes days after Congress President Sonia Gandhi took issue with CBSE for its blatant misogyny in blaming women’s independence for a variety of social and family problems in a class 10 exam paper. In Parliament, Gandhi called the passage “shockingly regressive” and asked for a review of gender sensitivity standards in the curriculum and testing so that such mistakes “never, never” happen again. CBSE has apologized and dropped the passage saying students will be awarded full marks for it. Read more here.
I-cards for sex workers:
A decade after the Supreme Court first directed state governments and union territories to issue ration and voter ID cards to sex workers, a three-judge bench of the apex court ruled on December 14: “There is no reason as to why such direction has not been implemented till now. Right to dignity is a fundamental right that is guaranteed to every citizen of this country irrespective of his/her vocation”. Reminding the government of its “bounden duty”, the court has asked for it to issue the cards to sex workers from a list maintained by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), reports Utkarsh Anand.
Reminding the government of its “bounden duty”, the court has asked for it to issue the cards to sex workers from a list maintained by the National AIDS Control Organisation (Sunil Saxena / Hindustan Times)
From saving fishing cats to tiger conservation; from examining malaria in birds to saving the greater adjunct stork, do not miss Vanessa Viegas’s story on India’s women ecologists working to better our world.
The United Nations called it a “shadow pandemic” and the National Commission of Women in India recorded a surge of 47.2% cases between January-March 2020. Mumbai-based NGO Akshara Centre’s new report, Grappling with the Shadow Pandemic: Women’s Groups and Domestic Violence in India makes for grim reading but places on record the work done by what it calls “other Corona warriors” to support survivors of domestic violence during the past year.
Married women, disabled women, queer and trans people were the most impacted by an increase in domestic violence including emotional and verbal abuse as they stayed home trapped with their abusers during the nationwide lockdown. Faced with restrictions on their movement, women’s groups continued to do relief work and support survivors as best they could. “The manner in which women’s groups have found ways of bypassing restrictions and finding help for survivors is remarkable and brave as they could have been arrested,” said Nandita Gandhi, one of the report’s writers. “The lessons that emerge have to be studied and turned into policies so that in the next crisis we do not see women suffering.”
AROUND THE WORLD
Settlement for Nassar abuse survivors: Hundreds of gymnasts abused by Larry Nassar, the former doctor for the American national gymnastics team have reached a $380 million settlement with US gymnastics and Olympics organizations, the New York Times has reported. The settlement is among the largest ever for a sexual abuse case.
Gymnasts Jessica Howard, McKayla Maroney, and Aly Raisman — sexual abuse victims of former US Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar — with US Senator Richard Blumenthal (REUTERS)
In Dad’s footsteps: Sixty years after the first US astronaut, Alan Shepard went into space, his daughter, Laura Shepard Churchley, 74, followed in his footsteps as she blasted into space as one of six people aboard Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin space company. “I thought about daddy coming down and thought, gosh he didn’t even get to enjoy any of what I’m getting to enjoy,” reports BBC.
That’s it for this week. If you have a tip or information on gender-related developments that you would like to share write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Namita Bhandare writes and reports on gender
The views expressed are personal
Marika Gabriel contributed to the making of this page.