In rural India, women are marginalized in almost all areas, compared to men. There are many social and economic factors that affect rural women in India. These include education, domestic duties, health, literacy level, gender bias and psychological factors such as social attitudes, lack of freedom to make choices, resources available and so forth. These situations indicate that women need to be empowered by supporting organizations such as the Indian Government, The United Nations and World Bank who help rural women to seek better opportunities. These institutions can help create an enabling environment for rural women while understanding what the goals and perceptions of rural women in India.
The rural-urban divide and rich-poor divide in India is enormous because of cultural and traditional reasons. A girl child is not seen to be an asset for Indian families and women face hardships since childhood. This is because women are seen traditionally to bear families and children rather than in the workforce.
Economic and Social Factors
Poverty is more prevalent in rural areas in India because women are not seen to have the skills required to work in the farm fields. This is due to employment being generally agricultural or allied to agriculture. Employment in the rural sector is seasonal and dependent on rainfall and harvest (United Nations, 2009). Low income groups are said to give second preference to females due to the low income of parents. So, employment is generated by high income groups who are mostly men, who do it as women are presumed to add less income and are a source of huge expenditure due to dependence on the family for post-puberty care.
In rural India, the tradition of female education is to include special care for safety, health and sanitary arrangements which are not necessary for men, for which women are considered to be unequal to men. Child-birth again has care of nutrition, health and mobility. Morbidity is an avoidable issue which exists rampantly in rural areas as there is no preventive health care. Nutrition is not given as state funded support and does not reach grass root levels. Even when it exists women do not avail the supplied nutrition and health care due to societal ignorance and attitudinal errors.
Illiteracy Among Women
The rate of adult literacy among rural Indians are very low. As (Karthikeyanb, 2014) states, “the vast majority of women who cannot read and write is concentrated in Asia; illiterate women in this region alone account for over 77% of the world total.” This figure includes illiteracy among rural Indian women. Research shows that literacy level in rural India has increased between 1991-2011 from 30.62% to 57.93%. However, this suggests almost half of the women in rural India are not educated. There is a much higher rural male literacy rate in comparison to women. This is because many times girls are put to household work at a young age and not sent to school. Education for girls is not viewed in a positive light, as their roles are mainly thought to be in the household raising and feeding children. There is also
a high dropout rate after puberty which is thought to be the time when the girl child becomes more mature and able to handle household duties.
In rural India, it is known that after class 7 (first year of high school) it is found that girls are frequent absentees and dropouts due to family pressures who do not have enough financial resources to educate the girl child. This takes a huge toll on making women economically independent in the future as these rural women would not have the skills to be employable in both rural and urban India.
Health and Wellbeing
Many rural women suffer from low nutrition and anemia in rural India. India has one of the highest rates of women suffering from anemia and Vitamin D deficiency, which suggests that they feel tired and unable to perform daily duties to their full capabilities. Women need robust nutrition due to family duties, economic duties and biological duties that are performed by them when compared to only the economic duties entrusted to the male family members. To stop anemia, women need to have a blood count of 12 by the twelfth year. But in India, most women have 9 which causes serious anemic problems. There is also the risk of morbidity, which is the incidence of sickness per 1000 women, due to low nutrition and being burdened with over work. It is said most rural women fall very sick regularly, more often than their urban counterparts. Death due to low nutrition, low quality of life, overwork, maternity, morbidity and negligence leads to high death rate among rural women in India. An estimated 530,000 women die in childbirth each year which is a figure that has not changed in 15 to 20 years.
The MGNREGS which started as National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 is one of the most important rural development schemes in India. This is a law that allows women in both rural and urban areas to work and receive equal pay as men. It aims to empower women to join the workforce in the rural areas, by providing 100 days of wage employment in a financial year for adult members including women who work in unskilled manual labour types of jobs. MGNREGA is now applicable to all of India and is one of the most revolutionary schemes in the world. Many women who do household work in rural India without much education have joined the scheme as to empower themselves and other women in India.
In January 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi started the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme to empower women and especially to educate the girl child instead of getting them married. As stated earlier, female foeticide is a big issue in India where children abort a child because of being female. India not only needs to move away from this concept, to secure equality among the genders but also needs to make sure that the girl child has similar rights to men during education and employment. This scheme has proved to be controversial as many sources claim that Modi does not have a clear goal to ensure that this scheme takes place in families around India. Such schemes in India have gone a long way in helping the rural women to become more empowered and gain a voice in their society.
From education to health and family life, rural women are undermined and not given enough freedom to express themselves. Illiteracy among rural women is high and schemes such as Save Girl Child, Educate Girl Child scheme, can be critical in improving the lives of rural women although they can be challenging to implement. It is very important that rural women know their rights and benefits so that they not only strive to better conditions for themselves but for the community as a whole. It is important that families and the society include empowerment in their agenda to promote women in literacy and enable them to the workforce.