A special issue of the journal, Social Science and Medicine-Population Health will be released at a function in New Delhi on Friday. The issue, titled Gender Equality, Empowerment and Health: From Measurement to Impact, will include 14 new research studies that showcase the science behind measurement of gender inequalities as well as women and girls’ empowerment and their effect on health. The issue is being released during an international seminar marking 25 years since the National Family Health Survey was first conducted.
Professor Anita Raj, director, Centre of Gender Equity and Health, University of California, who has written a commentary in the special issue, told The Indian Express that the special issue was being released to mark 25 years since the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing was conducted, which set the first Declaration and Platform for Action toward Women’s Equality. “It has also been five years since the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), including SDG 5: Gender Equality and Empowerment of all Women and Girls, were ratified,” she said.
“Three of the papers were based on research in India, which is why we decided to launch the special issue in Delhi. India is at the forefront of collecting and analysing population-based data on gender, health and development, and can offer guidance to other nations on how to prioritise gender data collection and use,” she added.
The issue highlights three major areas of focus in newly forming research: women and girls’ agency as indicated by control over one’s own actions and safety from violence as recourse against agency, gender attitudes and norms related to the treatment, opportunities and value of women and girls relative to men and boys, and distribution of and control over assets and resources that can facilitate or impede shifts from agency to action.
A study that highlights ways husbands and families control reproductive behaviours and showcases how this reproductive coercion, first measured in the United States on the basis of partner control, must be adapted and expanded in the context of India to include consideration of in-laws, where there is cultural acceptability of in-law involvement in reproductive decision-making, Raj added.
Gender attitudes and norms were also recognised in a number of papers in the special issue as affecting both health and health behaviour across national contexts. Another study from India that assessed health expenditure related to hospitalisation found that women, especially older women, are less likely than men of the same age, to be hospitalised when needed, and less likely to be prioritised for scarce resource financing (for instance, reliance on borrowing money or selling of assets to ensure payment of expenditures) when hospitalised, Raj said. Though this work does not directly assess norms, findings clearly reveal normative perceptions of women’s lesser value and potential return on investment relative to men, particularly as women age, Raj added.
All these findings highlight ongoing inequalities but also how we can target these areas for sustained change, she said.