India’s decades-long efforts to improve the sex ratio may be finally bearing fruit.
For every 1,000 males, the country now has 1,020 females, according to the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5), a nationwide survey by the ministry of health for the period between 2019 and 2021. This is the first time the sex ratio has tipped in favour of females. It is also a marked improvement from the NFHS survey of 2015-16.
It has been an uphill climb with social practices like female foeticide and infanticide being rampant. Prenatal sex determination was banned in India in 1996 to prevent sex-selective abortions.
The sex ratio at birth, for children born in the past five years, stands at 929 females for every 1,000 males, according to the survey—a slight improvement from 919 in 2015-16. Experts also caution that the survey may not completely represent the gender balance in India, owing to smaller sample sizes in some states.
“[The] NFHS counts only certain women, who belong to specific demographic categories. There is a bias in it. Just look at the state figures where the sample size is too small. We will have to wait for the next census figures to get a clearer picture,” Jashodhara Dasgupta, a sex ratio expert told Down To Earth magazine.
Improvements in the sex ratio aside, India’s female population still has a long way to go.
Indian women between the ages of 15 and 49 still lag men in literacy.
The gap is significantly wider in rural India. This also translates into a digital divide. Far fewer women have ever used the internet in India, compared to men. Comparative figures for 2015-16 are not available because these questions were added in the most recent survey.
Compared to 2015-16, however, more women have said that they feel empowered to make key household decisions.
The number of women reporting independent bank accounts has increased. More of them participate in household decisions than they did in the previous round of the NFHS survey. The survey is limited in the sense that it does not offer comparative data for men.
The survey is telling when it comes to well-implemented policies and also those that need more focus, like schooling.