NEW DELHI, India — The last (2001) census in India flagged a disturbing trend. According to the census, only 927 girls were born for every 1000 boys. Because the natural ratio favours more female than male births, experts say that each day some 2000 Indian girls are lost to prenatal sex selection.
This occurs because of a preference for sons, coupled with medical technology that allows parents to learn a child’s sex before birth. But the root causes point to deeply rooted gender inequality, as Purnima Mane, UNFPA Deputy Executive Director (Programme) pointed out at an awards ceremony that aims to mobilize the power of the media to change the perception of women.
“The root cause behind sex selection has been the low status of women and girls in a male-dominated society,” said Ms. Mane.
The UNFPA-Laadli Media Awards for Gender Sensitivity, honour professionals who change the way society views women in television, print and advertising. Initiated by Population First, a Mumbai-based NGO, with the support of UNFPA, the awards are helping to spur, in Ms. Mane’s words, “a mass movement against gender-inequality”. She noted some of the ways media is changing public opinion, especially regarding sex selection, an important area of concern for UNFPA in Asia.
“In recent years, the media has played a major role in bringing the issues around gender and sex selection centre stage,” said Ms. Mane. “The extent of the problem is understood today because of the media. The consequences of this practice on the lives of women are also understood because of the work that the media has done to bring these into the foreground. It is the media that has uncovered the lucrative nature of this illegal practice. And indeed it is the media that has shown how different communities, different individuals, different women, have overcome these and striven for equality.”
Initiatives like the UNFPA-Laadli Media Awards are proving to be a catalyst to a much larger change in perceptions and sensitivities in Indian society, Ms. Mane noted, adding that today, some of the most popular soaps on television are based on stories around gender equality. She noted that TV commercials are now portraying Indian girls and women in non-stereotypical roles, pointing to her personal favorite, a Vodafone ad, in which a little girl is seen playing in the mud and rain, going fishing, and doing all these activities, which at one time seemed to have been reserved exclusively for boys.
At the May 11 national awards ceremony, Tara Sinha, who began her career in advertising at London 58 years ago, received an award for lifetime achievement. Over a dozen media persons from Indian television, print and advertising, received awards for gender sensitivity. This was after a round of regional awards where dozens of others were honoured for their work.