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Kerala gender paradox

New Delhi, Feb. 11: Kerala can be proud of its record in women’s health and education. It is also the only state where the sex ratio is tilted in favour of women — 1,058 women to 1,000 men; the corresponding national figure is 933 women to 1,000 men.

But this is where the good news ends. The flip side is dotted with increasing incidence of harassment of women, both at home and at work, low participation of women in the labour force and malnourishment of adolescent girls and young women.

At a workshop organised in Delhi by the International Centre for Research on Women, participants underlined the “gender paradox” in Kerala. According to a study by Pradeep Panda, associate fellow at Thiruvananthapuram’s Centre for Development Studies, “An overall 64.9 per cent of women interviewed had experienced at least one form of violence in their married life. They were hit, kicked, slapped or beaten.”

The study was carried out in three rural and urban settings in Thiruvananthapuram. A total of 500 households — 300 rural and 200 urban — were selected. The women interviewed were between 15 and 49 years.

“Women cited typical gender roles and expectations as precipitating factors for violence. These factors included not looking after the children properly, not attending to the household and not cooking properly,” Panda’s study said. Eighty-five per cent reported that their quarrels were because of their husbands’ infidelity.

The study found that women owning property had a “strong negative impact” on physical and psychological violence. Out of the women interviewed, 49 per cent of those who do not own property experienced physical violence. In contrast, 7 per cent of those who owned property were attacked.

“The results show no significant association between women’s education and their experience of violence,” the study said. “The explanation may be that education loses its significance in reducing violence in Kerala, since everyone is educated in the state,” Panda said.

According to women’s rights groups, Kerala’s “gender paradox” is all the more glaring in the backdrop of all human development indicators.

“While infant mortality is a problem in the rest of the country, in Kerala its rate is less than 20 per 1000 live births,” said an activist. There is high longevity — 69 years for males and 75 years for females. Ninety-four per cent men and 88 per cent women are literate. “All this is discussed often. What is not is that though women have high education, very few of them participate in the labour force and in the political arena,” Panda said.

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