A note on women, health care, and general conditions in India
After completing my sixth week here in India I was compelled to write a little bit about the social conditions here. Some of this I have learned through lectures and other things I have learned through observation of the people.
First I will talk about women. I actually decided to write this today after truly realizing how privileged I am to not be an Indian woman, especially one of lower education and socioeconomic status. Although I knew this before it really hit home today after spending the day in maternity (more on this later). I guess I will start at the beginning here. The ratio of males to females in India is roughly 1000:927. This dramatic difference is related to female feticide. Men and women are so concerned with having male children that there is a problem with people learning the sex of their unborn fetus and choosing to abort if they learn that they are pregnant with a female child. This has lead to a law that prevents parents from learning the sex of their child until birth.
What has led to the preference of males to females? Before I begin I will just note that this is not something that is isolated to India alone. In the US there was a time when women didn't even have the right to vote and all over the world woman continue to be valued less than their male equals. Back to India, the preference of the male child over the female child is deeply related to religion Not only does the male child carry along the family name it is also believed that he is the one that helps the parents get into heaven. When someone in a family dies it is tradition that the eldest male child lights the fire of the dead which will allow them to get into heaven. So it follows that without a male child the family will not be able to enter heaven. However, under this it is also written that during marriage of the female child the family is 'sacrificing' their female child to this new family as a way to get into heaven. So this would mean that a family needs not only a male child to light the flame of the dead to get into heaven, but also a female child to sacrifice in order to get into heaven. However, people are often victims of selective reading which leads to picking and choosing the things that are the most important to them in religion, hence the preference for a male child.
India is considered the youngest country because they have the highest number of youth, India adds the size of Australia to its population every year, and every minute, 33 children are born here. These numbers are due both to the lack of knowledge/use of contraceptives and the practice of having children until a family finally has a male child. In many cases these families cannot afford to continue having children which leads to further poverty. For some families this means that the female children will stay home from school to do housework while the family sends the male child to school because this is all that they can afford.
When the daughters of the family are married their mother-in-law is basically the law of her household. The mother-in-law gets to decide whether or not the woman will be allowed to use contraceptives to delay or stop further pregnancies, so she basically gets to decide when her daughter-in-law gets pregnant. In addition to this there is also a problem of children being married at young ages like 14 (the law states that women can't get married until 18 and men can't marry until 21). It is also considered a blessing for a couple to get pregnant within a year of marriage, which means that women are having children at very young ages and way before they are ready physically or mentally to have a baby. Also while working in the hospital I have learned that women begin to think they are infertile after a year and a half of not getting pregnant so they are getting fertility treatment early which often leads to twins.
The last thing I will talk about is the role women play in the health of their family. The more educated women are the healthier their family is and it is also related to lower infant mortality rates. If a woman is educated about health she is able to properly care for her family and to make sure that her family is getting the healthcare they need. This is a problem when some girls are taken out of school early to help out around the house or if they are married at an early age. Ultimately if you improve the status of women then many problems related to health in a family would improve
Well this was a lot more than I had intended to write about women so I will just end with a few thoughts that I will not expand on:
· In the villages the people have access to an e-health center, which is essentially internet access that allows them to call doctors and talk to them about what ails them. But, the primary use of the e-health centers is for checking where farmers can sell their crops for the highest prices
· Women giving birth at home are provided with a birthing kit which includes a plastic sheet for the woman to lay on so that they are in a clean environment, a razor to cut the cord, soap for the woman delivering to wash her hands, gauze to clean both the mother and the baby, and string to tie the umbilical cord
· There are public health programs that have doctors going to different villages to train one person to be the primary health provider for the entire village (many people will not go to the doctor unless they absolutely have to)
· Marriage is ultimately a social function, most are arranged (there are some love marriages), and people must marry within their caste
· Some people don't know how to read calendars so they base their children's birthdays on holidays near the birth
· 61% of Indians lack potable water, 83% rural and 55% urban people have no latrine or drainage facility, 44% don't have electricity, and 38% of households are single room dwellings.
** I just want to note that although this is what I have learned through lectures and observations I have also learned that the status of woman in all families is not the same. For families of higher status the girls receive the same education as the boys and I have even spent a good chunk of time here learning from very bright and intelligent female doctors/interns. It is just hard to let the observations I have made of the uneducated woman go untalked about. The hospital that I have spent these last weeks in primarily cares for people of lower economic status which means that I have spent a lot of time observing interactions between the doctors and uneducated women, as well as men. It is very hard to see how the lack of basic knowledge effects their lives and their health.