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Not All Is Well With Urban Mothers In India

By Jayanthi A Pushkaran

13 May, 2015
Countercurrents.org

Picture Credit: Scroll.in

As the hype of Mother’s Day settles down, its time to deal with reality: from the battered slums to chic offices, it is not an easy job being a mother in urban India. According to a global ranking of the best and worst places to be a mom, India held 140th place out of 179 countries in 2015. In Save the Children’s 2015 report titled “State of the World’s Mothers” India slips in motherhood index putting it behind Zimbabwe, Iraq and Bangladesh. The global mother’s index that measures countries on four indicators of mother’s wellbeing: risk of maternal death; under-five mortality rate; expected number of years of formal schooling; the gross national income per capita and participation of women in government. This report compiled data from multiple United Nations (UN) agencies to understand which countries are well suited for mothers' and kids, and where they face greater hardships.

It was found that 50,000 mothers die each year in India as a result of birth complications, as against 1,200 in the United States. The maternal mortality ratio in India has declined in recent years. Government figures show it at 167 for every 100,000 live births for the two-year period of 2011 to 2013, down from 178 for the previous two-year period. But the country is still way off target for Millennium Development Goal 5, which requires that the key figure be 109 by the end of this year. It is not just a matter of how many women are dying but also who these women are. Irrespective of India's current state of economic development, it is the poor and marginalized women who continue to die of preventable causes. The common causes include delay in emergency transport, inappropriate and unavailable emergency obstetric care and a lack of abortion services. Gaps in antenatal and post-partum care, which overlook the high prevalence of anemia, also contribute to high maternal deaths.

India also figured in the list of 10 countries with the higher survival divide between wealthy and poor urban children. The other countries include Rwanda, Cambodia, Kenya, Vietnam, Peru, Ghana, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Madagascar. According to this report, Indian children on average spend 11.7 years in formal schooling and 52.7 out of 1,000 children in India die before their fifth birthday.

In urban slums, death rates of mothers and children exceed even rural areas. The report highlights that children living in Delhi were among the most unequal with large gaps between health provision for the poorest and the richest. It found that the children of the urban poor in Delhi are 3.2 times more likely to die than their richer counterparts. The authors said, "While private high-quality sector health facilities are more plentiful in urban areas, the urban poor often lack the ability to pay for this care. Public sector health systems are typically under-funded, and often fail to reach those most in need with basic health services. In many instances, the poor resort to seeking care from unqualified health practitioners, often paying for care that is poor quality, or in some cases, harmful”. In addition, overcrowding, poor sanitation and food insecurity make the poor mothers and children even more vulnerable to disease and ill health.

Urban mothers on the other end of the economic spectrum face an entirely different set of obstacles. About a quarter of first-time mothers, unable to balance their career and family post childbirth, opt out of jobs to raise their kids, said an Assocham survey earlier this year. A majority of the respondents were highly qualified as most held a Master's Degree in various fields but cited conflict of priorities as the primary reason for them to quit their jobs. India has 397 million workers, of whom 123 million are women. Of them, 18 million are in urban areas. Women are an estimated 38.2 percent of all economically active individuals. They earn 66 per cent of men's salary for equal work; the literacy rate among women is 39.3 per cent and they make up 28 per cent of the labour force which constitutes educated employed women. India has the largest number of professionally qualified women. This includes female workers at all levels of skills — from surgeons, pilots to bus conductors and labourers. Women work roughly twice as much as men, combining home and workplace. However, India’s female labour participation rate is 35%, one of the world’s lowest. Indian women held only 9.5% of all board seats at 200 leading Indian companies listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange, one of the lowest percentage share of women directors globally. At the entry level, women account for 29% of the workforce, but this drops to 9% at the mid-to-senior management level, according to a 2013 report from consultancy McKinsey and Co.

The socio-economic condition in India has contributed to the need for dual income in middle class families. In nuclear families, married women have a tough time balancing work and childcare, especially if they don't get help from family. In several Indian homes, usually the woman is responsible for the lion's share of the work, especially since most Indian men do not help at home, as various studies have shown. After a long tiring day, women are still expected to cook, clean and attend to the other demands of the husband / children and maintain the house. Stress and emotional distress associated with household chores, social commitments and other obligations make raising kids a delicate balancing act for women, which tends to take a toll on their health, wellbeing and career ambitions.

Clearly, there is a strong need to close the gap in life chances for mothers so that - no matter where they live - everyone has a fair chance to survive and fulfil their potential.

Jayanthi A Pushkaran is a Delhi based Gender consultant working on issues related to gender equality, environment, science policy, child rights for a range of organisations including government think tanks, grassroots charities, international aid agencies and social enterprises in India. She is also a doctoral candidate at the Centre for Studies in Science Policy, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Email: ap.jayanthi@gmail.com twitter: @apjayanthi

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