Rising female vulnerability: An unexpected outcome of rapid development

Image source: www.blogs.independent.co.uk
- Team Orbis Economics
The horrifying brutality of the recent Delhi gang rape that has shaken India is a wakeup call to the country’s authorities. A wakeup call for stricter laws against sexual assault of women that serve as a strong enough deterrent for potential offenders. But while there is no denying the need for an immediate tackling of the issue, there are larger socio-economic factors at play here that need addressing.

Declining urban sex ratios on account of rapid urbanisation, which attracts mass migration into the capital and son preference, growing income inequalities and rising cultural clashes are also contributing factors. As a result, Delhi is the rape capital of the country today, followed by Mumbai.  As per a report by the Times of India, while Delhi reported 568 rape cases in 2011, Mumbai recorded 218.

It is perhaps no coincidence that as per the latest census numbers, the sex ratio in urban areas in the country is lower than that in the rural areas by a margin (though credence needs to be given to the fact that women are far more likely to report rape in urban areas than in rural ones). While there are 947 women per 1,000 men in rural areas, the number is at 926 in urban areas. Given that rural areas account for around 70% of India’s total population, this essentially means that, statistically, urban areas fall far below total Indian sex ratio at 940.

The sex ratio in Delhi, is even lower than the average in urban areas at 866 as per Census 2011 data. In an article for FirstPost, last year, I had pointed out the potential relationship between urbanisation and gender discrimination. While a subdued child sex ratio points to discrimination against women from even before birth, which can be higher in urban areas given the access to sex-determination techniques, higher migration of men in comparison with women is also a contributing factor to overall lower sex ratio.

In Delhi, which has the maximum numbers of migrants in the country, the ratio of male migrant population to total male population was at over 11% in 2001 as per a study by the Institute of Developing Economies, as opposed to a little over 9% for women. In other words, higher proportional migration by men ensured an increasing skew in the gender balance. It has been pointed out that a poor gender balance can result in a ‘criminalisation of society’.  

This adds to the relative lack of social power women possess in a patriarchal setup, where son preference is widespread.  Female social power remains relatively restricted given the lower proportion of women in employment and lower wage rates in comparison with men.  This puts them at a further disadvantage.

Added to this the fact that income inequality in India has been on the rise, which is a recipe for class conflicts. As per an OECD study, India has performed the worst among emerging countries with respect to inequality. It points out that inequality in India has actually doubled over the past 20 years. Further, there are rising cultural conflicts, as a section of society has a disturbing perspective on what it sees as “liberated women”; including the desire to handle such social ‘anomalies’. In a fast paced and growing economy and country it reflects a need to hold women back to outmoded patterns of behaviour by restricting freedom in the most bizarre of ways (read: disallowing single women from carrying cell phones).

It could be a long time before a balance is struck, and needless to say there is no going back on development, but while we recognise the rising conflicts, the least that can be done is to address them through appropriate regulations.

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