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NFHS 5 | Better female sex ratio does not mean a better future for women in India

The latest National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) data puts this in perspective to underline just how pervasive, and deep-rooted gender-based violence is in India when it states that every hour 35 crimes against women are reported in India 

November 26, 2021 / 05:41 PM IST
Representative image

Representative image

Varsha Pillai 

The fifth round of the National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) shared factsheets on key indicators that included population, reproductive and child health, family welfare, nutrition among others, and stated that currently there are 1,020 women for every 1,000 men in India. As per the report released by the Union health ministry, this is the first time that India will witness a sex ratio is skewed in favour of women.

In 2005-06, the NFHS-3 reported the sex ratio as being equal: 1,000 women for every 1,000 men, but in 2015-2016, the NFHS-4 reported it to being 991 women per 1,000 men. So, does the current enhanced sex ratio bode well for the women and girls of India? Does it mean a better life, better health, and better security?

A closer look into the indicators of the NFHS survey (Phase 2), specifically under the section titled ‘Women’s Empowerment and Gender Based Violence’ helps us understand why the gender-related data are not indicative of a better life for women in India. Under ‘Women’s Empowerment’, the specific indicators included currently married women who usually participate in three household decisions (decisions about healthcare for herself, making major household purchases, and visits to her family or relatives), women who worked in the last 12 months and were paid in cash, women owning a house and/or land (alone or jointly with others), women having a bank or savings account that they themselves use, women having a mobile phone that they themselves use, and women aged 15-24 years who use hygienic methods of protection during their menstrual period.

Under ‘Gender Based Violence’ the indicators included married women aged 18-49 years who have ever experienced spousal violence, ever-married women aged 18-49 years who have experienced physical violence during any pregnancy, and young women aged 18-29 years who experienced sexual violence by age 18. Jharkhand, Odisha, and Uttarakhand saw an increase in spousal violence, while Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Delhi saw reduction in women owning land/houses of their own. Arunachal Pradesh and Chandigarh witnessed a reduction in the percentage of women participating in household decisions, while Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, UP, and Chandigarh had fewer women working.


The first phase of NFHS-5 also showed that other states fared equally bad, or worse, in these two specific categories: Women’s Empowerment, and Gender Based Violence. Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, Goa, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Sikkim, and West Bengal had higher instances of gender-based violence. If we were to focus solely on gender-based violence, the situation in India is pretty grim.

The latest National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) data puts this in perspective to underline just how pervasive, and deep-rooted gender-based violence is in India when it states that every hour 35 crimes against women are reported in India as of last year. If one were to go into the granularity of the data, one will notice that a majority of cases under crime against women fall under ‘Cruelty by Husband or His Relatives’ (30.0 percent). This was followed by ‘Assault on Women with Intent to Outrage her Modesty’ (19.7 percent), followed by 19 percent under ‘Kidnapping & Abduction of Women’, and 7.2 percent under ‘Rape’.

The National Commission for Women (NCW) states that they saw a 46 percent increase in the complaints of crimes against women in the first eight months of 2021. This staggering data only pinpoint a certain degree of truth; what remains hidden are the numerous under-reported instances of sexual and gender-based violence across India.

Every year November 25 is celebrated as the ‘International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women’ with the aim of raising awareness against the crimes committed against women across the globe. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the 16 days of Activism campaign against gender-based violence. Powerful as these campaigns are, it is a long way to go before we eliminate violence against women.

Varsha Pillai is a communications professional interested in gender research. Twitter: @varshapillai.

Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.
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