By Sharanya Gopinathan
Where do you go when you’re looking for data to prove that men hate condoms, the median age at which Indians start to have sex or stats on how folks really feel about marital rape? Straight to the National Family Health Survey records, of course.
The findings of the fourth National Family Health Survey, a large scale, government-backed multi-round survey conducted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, were released earlier this month, and as always, they’re full of eyebrow-raising nuggets of information.
The huge survey speaks to married and unmarried women and me between the ages of 15 and 49, from varying socio-economic demographics, religions, castes and employment groups from all states and union territories. It looks at various aspects of family health, including the educational attainment of men and women, the gender of various heads of households, their preferred methods of contraception, their attitudes on HIV, marital rape and domestic violence, and lots more.
Here are some data points from the survey that we should all pay attention to.
1. Freedom of movement is different for women
The NFHS survey specifies that women are said to have “freedom of movement” if they’re allowed to go alone to the market, a healthcare facility and to places outside the village or community, which seems like a terribly low benchmark for such an integral fundamental right.
54 percent of rural and urban women are allowed to go to the market, 50 percent to the health facility, and 48 percent to places outside the village or community.
Only 41 percent of women in India are allowed to go alone to all three places, which means that only 41 percent of women meet even this low standard for freedom of movement. 6 percent of women are not allowed to go alone to any of the three places, and effectively have absolutely no freedom of movement at all.
2. Marital rape isn’t exactly an unknown concept
68.4% of women and 63% of men said that a wife is justified in refusing her husband sex for any of these reasons— she knows he sleeps with other women, has an STI or if she is tired or isn’t in the mood.
So, what are our ministers on about when they say marital rape is a concept unsuitable for the Indian public and will wreak unprecedented havoc upon society? Maybe they should actually pay attention to the 63% of men who believe in consent as opposed to the 4.8 percent of men who responded saying they felt men were justified in adopting any of four coercive behaviours (withholding finances, getting angry and reprimanding, forced sex or sex with other women) in response to their wives denying them sex.
3. Married men hate condoms
As compared to the 96 percent of women who know about female sterilisation as a contraceptive method, only 79.1% of women know about the existence of condoms. 94.1 percent of men were aware of condoms. But only 5.6 percent of currently married women report using condoms as opposed to 36 percent who report undergoing female sterilisation. This is a shocking and condemnable fact as female sterilisation is permanent and can cause grave problems like breathing issues and organ and tissue damage due to surgical complications.
4. Female sterilisation is the most popular contraceptive
As compared to the 36 percent of currently married women who “choose” female sterilisation as a means of contraception (more on the nature of that supposed “choice” in a bit), a measly 0.3 percent of men opt for male sterilisation. Since it’s been established that vasectomies are safer (female sterilisation is five times more likely to result in death than male sterilisation), less invasive and far less expensive than female sterilisation, it’s a bit disingenuous that women are undergoing the procedure instead of men using condoms or opting for vasectomies themselves.
5. The majority of women who are sterilised don’t know what they’re getting into. And it’s partly the government’s fault.
Of the women who adopted sterilisation as their means of contraception, 82.2 percent underwent the procedure through the public health sector, including government and municipal hospitals, mobile clinics and sterilisation camps.
Here’s where it gets really horrible. 58 percent of women who underwent sterilisation were not informed of any side-effects that could occur from the procedure, 65 percent were not told what they should do in case side-effects occurred, and most alarming of all, 51.8 percent were not informed by family planning workers that other methods of contraception could be used at all! It needs to be mentioned here that these figures are not only from the public health sector.
But keeping in mind the large proportion of women who get sterilized in the public health sector, it’s safe to assume, that these numbers are at least reflective of the sector.
Why is the government hoodwinking women into undergoing major surgical procedures without providing them informed consent? Can women’s bodies be so easily sacrificed at the altar of population control? These facts feel particularly galling given how bloody India’s sterilisation drives are (remember the 11 Chattisgarh women who died after a surgeon performed 83 sterilisation surgeries on them in 6 hours during a government-sponsored sterilisation camp back in 2014?)
6. Women are still less educated than men
While literacy and education enrolment rates have gone up, 28 percent of women have had no schooling, and women are less likely than men to attain 12 or more years of schooling (30% of men versus 22% of women).
This becomes sadder when you look at the benefits schooling can accrue women. Women who manage to attain more years of education are more likely to marry later, begin reproduction later, have fewer children, space out their pregnancies longer and bear children with higher rates of survival. All this is quite apart from the fact that education in itself is often a wonderful thing.
7. But the reasons for the education gap are even dodgier
The disparity between the education levels of men and women gets some texture when you look at what the data says about why kids end up dropping out of school.
Of children aged 6 to 17 years who had dropped out, 3.8 percent more girls dropped out in order to help with household tasks than boys, and 4.9 percent of girls who dropped out did so because schools weren’t safe for girls, didn’t have adequate facilities for girls, or because of a lack of female teachers.
7.9 percent of girls who dropped out did so because they got married, while marriage inspired only 0.3 percent of boys to do the same.
Meanwhile, 43.7 percent of drop out boys did so because they had no interest in studies, compared to only 24.8 percent of girls who did so for the same reason. Ahem.
8. We do have an abortion problem
Remember when Barkha Dutt gave a bemusing feminist-cum-nationalist speech at the 6th Women in the World Conference in 2015, where she said abortion rights aren’t something Indian women struggle with? Well, the NFHS data reveals that 25.7 percent of women whose last pregnancy in the last five years ended in an abortion performed the abortion themselves at home. Clearly, Indian women still struggle with access to abortion.
9. Women are less likely to be paid for their work
We’ve already had interesting discussions on unpaid women’s labour, and the value of the demanding household work that women perform. But it seems married women who are actually employed outside the household are less likely to be paid wages than men. Please note that this is not a wage-gap. This is more like a no-wage gap.
80 percent of employed married women are paid in cash, and 16 percent of employed married women are not paid at all for the work they do, in comparison to the 91 percent of married men who are paid in cash, and 7 percent who do not receive any pay.
10. Women have less control over what they do earn
Women who are employed for cash are more likely to play key roles in household decision making. Still, while 82 percent of married employed women said they could make decisions about how to spend their money on their own or jointly with their husband, only 21 percent actually make these decisions alone. For 17 percent of women, the husband is the lone decision maker over their earnings.
11. Unfortunately, domestic abuse is popular too
51.7 percent of women believed their husbands were justified in beating them for one of six reasons— being disrespectful to in-laws, inadequate care for children or the house, cooking badly, refusing sex, going out without informing and being suspected by their husbands of being unfaithful. Only 41.9 percent of men reported feeling that wife-beating was permissible in any of these instances, which means that women report being more accepting of domestic abuse than men.
12. Aadhaar Winter is coming
And finally, the latest NFHS data already includes a section categorizing individuals based on whether they have an Aadhaar card or not. This while activists are petitioning the SC against the linking of Aadhaar to services like mobile phones, EPW is putting out comical games about how to reach your essential services through the Aadhaar maze, hospitals are already illegally refusing treatment for lack of Aadhaar and Edward Snowden is tweeting that “Aadhar is an improper gate to service” and should not be used as a tool to avail basic amenities. It doesn’t have any implications in itself, but it is interesting that Aadhaar is already seen as an indicator of a household’s well-being.
Co-published with Firstpost.
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