As I prepare to embark on my 3rd monitoring trip to India this year for work, I wanted to set aside some time to mentally prepare for all that this will entail. Travelling to developing countries and experiencing the lives of those living in poverty has become almost second nature for me. If I look back on my 6+ years of working in the development sector I have made between 20-25 international visits to locations across South Asia and the Pacific. Because of this reason, it’s easy to slip into the mentality of thinking and speaking about work trips purely as that. However, unlike those who travel for their jobs in other sectors, this is about more for me than ticking that box of: visited the local office. These undertakings for me are personal..
This trip I am lucky enough to visit one of our projects in Jharkhand, which is a state in the Eastern part of India. The demographics of the region alone are enough to set the scene for an area which is struggling to develop through a mostly agrarian economy, whereby the majority of its citizens are trapped in an endemic cycle of poverty. Although the area contains approximately 40% of India’s mineral reserves, it remains one of the poorest in the country. Added to this are variations in the sex ratio for the state which lists 947 females to every 1000 males.
Heading into the visit I have been reminded about what these female to male figures actually mean. The results point to a segment of the population which Amartya Sen has referred to as India’s ‘missing women’ which is a direct result of the practice of son preference and daughter deterrence in which boys are favoured at birth. The implications for girls born within this scenario most often results in the abhorrent practice of female infanticide.
I’m frequently confronted by questions about why this occurs at such an alarming rate in the developing world and while the prestige associated with birthing a son is prevalent, it isn’t the only reason at play.
Consider if you will a girl being born into a poor family living in a remote area. It would be easy to map out her life opportunities quite quickly. She would most likely start assisting the female members of her household once she was just out of infancy. She would be relied on to conduct the household tasks of cooking, cleaning and collecting water. It would be expected that she would probably be held back from school for these reasons especially if she had brothers whose education would be prioritised over her own. There would also be perceived safety implications of sending her to school each day in which perhaps her learning institutions didn’t have adequate toilet facilities, let alone considering how she would make her way to school at all. Once she reached puberty, her family might consider it more economically sound to arrange her marriage, however they would then need to find the economic resources to pay a dowry to her husband’s family. Added to all of this, the type of work that she could engage in with a primary school education would be of meagre nominal returns.
To put it quite simply, for families in this context, having a daughter in this scenario just doesn’t provide the economic returns that would be needed to raise her. I guess the question to then consider is, how can we contribute to bettering this situation?
The answer forms the motivation for the reason development practitioners, such as myself, exist. Through working in partnership with local communities we aim to create inclusive societies whereby women are empowered to achieve their full potential. In addition to this we attempt to facilitate mechanisms within communities that support frameworks so that girls can access education. This then leads to better employment opportunities and in turn economic empowerment. Increased rights based awareness raising initiatives also lend to promoting equal access and control of resources for women and those most marginalised.
So as I ready myself to embark upon this visit, I hope to see evidence of positive and lasting change towards inclusive, participatory and resilient communities who are drivers of their own sustainable development.
*Image courtesy of CBM Australia