Gender Implications of Drought Events

The study shows that female literacy is very low at 31% in Satlasana (a heterogeneous community), compared to the state average 38%, because of the strong perception that girls should take care of household work and siblings. Consequently, 98% of women are engaged in household work (Mudrakartha et al., 2004b; COMMAN, 2005).

Interestingly, the Bhiloda tribal belt and Bhuj have a higher female literacy rate at 43%. The availability of service sector options in Bhiloda has encouraged enrolment of girl children in schools, which is higher compared to other study areas. Women also take up business (22%) in Bhiloda. In contrast, in Satlasana, women do not go in for either service or business. This is because of the sociocultural restrictions on women, especially those of higher castes.

Although Bhiloda and Bhuj show similar female literacy, the business opportunity for females is slightly more in Bhiloda. In contrast to Bhiloda, the service opportunity in Bhuj is found to be nil.

Notably, a disturbing trend is found in the sex composition across the study areas. The overall sex (female/male) ratio (Bhiloda, Bhuj and Satlasana) was 920:1000 as per primary survey (Moench and Dixit, 2004; Mudrakartha et al., 2004b) comparable with official record of 919:1000 (Census, 2001). However, the primary survey threw up the following startling facts:

• Bhiloda: 928:1000; Bhuj: 965:1000; Satlasana: 920:1000.

• Sex ratio of children up to 5 years: Bhiloda: 717:1000 (highly unfavourable to females); Bhuj: 855:1000; Satlasana: 756:1000.

• In Satlasana, the sex ratio in the age group of 6-14 years is 662:1000, which is alarming (due to preference for male children, inter alia).

In other words, the overall sex ratio of children up to 5 years of age in the study areas is 789:1000, which is a matter of serious concern. Of much more concern are the Bhiloda and Satlasana areas where the ratio is even more skewed. This scenario projects a great gender and social disparity for the future.

Does drought have an impact on the adverse sex ratio? It was difficult to establish a direct link between the adverse sex ratio and droughts, also because this dimension was beyond the scope of the project. However, indirect evidences include, in addition to the sociocultural beliefs and other practices, the drastic reduction in the expense on food consumption in chronically drought-affected areas, which was 70% in Satlasana and 30% in Bhiloda. In contrast, the expense increased by 9% in Bhuj due to the availability of cash flow because of the large number of post-earthquake relief and rehabilitation programmes. Such an adaptive approach has more inherent sacrifice by womenfolk, who in Indian custom prefer to feed the adult male and the male children first. It was informally gathered that this often led to malnutrition and increased susceptibility to illnesses of mother and child - all of which was beyond the scope of the research study.

Was there an effect on the marriage prospects of girl children in view of the economic and health impacts of drought? The study established a direct link in terms of a rise in the marriage age of girls as prospective families avoided marrying their children into families living in drought-prone areas. Early marriages were also reported as some poor families married off girl children because they were unable to feed them; often, two sisters were married off at a time to save on the marriage costs. The lower dowry demand for younger girls also contributed to early marriage. Ironically, there was also a rise in the marriage age of girls as some parents delayed the marriage of the second daughter because they needed time to gather money. This was particularly observed in families with 2-3 girls or more.

Interestingly, over the last 6-7 years, the Prajapati community of Satlasana taluka has evolved a system of 'mass marriages' as a coping mechanism. This is a low-cost marriage arrangement where many girls and boys are married off in a common ceremony, and there is no demand for dowry.

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