Contemporary Social Stratification: The Impact of Gender on Education and Healthcare in India

Social stratification refers to society’s categorization of its people into groups based on socioeconomic factors like wealth, income, race, education, gender, occupation, and social status, or derived power. 

While the concept traces its roots from early 20th century, the consequences of the practice make it relevant even today. The Millennium Development Goal 3, 4 and 5 were based on promotion of gender parity, women empowerment and to eradicate gender inequality. Let us analyze how the practice of gender discrimination as a social stratification influences the education and healthcare system in India. 

Impact on Education 

Gender is a crucial determinant in terms of education facilities being available to children. According to an article published in The Wire, the Delhi government’s Economic Survey 2017-18 shows that during the academic year of 2016-17, a total 6, 28,000 girl students were enrolled in private schools. The same figure for boys has stood at 9, 37,000.

Traditional gender norms push girls into helping with household errands and sibling care, leading to irregular attendance that eventually results in dropouts. Early marriage, lack of safety in schools and low aspirations linked to girls’ education also contribute in them dropping out of schools.

According to a piece published by the Scroll. in, on a report by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, across India, 39.4% girls aged 15-18 years drop out of school and college. Of the girls who drop out, 64.8% do so not because they are performing jobs, but because they are forced to take on household chores, or are engaged in begging.“In other words, around 65% girls who do not attend any educational institution are either engaged in household activities, are dependents or are engaged in begging and other activities” the report said.

The commission said its report was aimed at not only highlighting the amount of children who have dropped out but also at indicating how a majority of girls in the 15-18 age bracket are “left out of India’s current skill development program.” It pointed out that adolescent girls also lack support from society and are smashed down by the community social norms that create barriers to their economic advancement. 

It is critical to have a structure to identify girls at risk of dropping out and implement techniques to bring those that have dropped out back into school. The mechanisms for dialogue with parents and community are integral to alter social norms towards girls’ education. The presence of strong female role models in the community, such as women teachers, is the key to changing popular perceptions in terms of what girls can do. This is critical for the education of not only this generation, but also the next.

Children are often excluded from school because of family obligations or chores which are more often allotted to girls than boys. BRAC schools in Bangladesh have given priority to girls and inspired other countries to follow their example. The school schedule is flexible; though it runs for two hours a day, six days a week, the times are set by local parents, and the school calendar is accustomed to fit local considerations such as the harvest. A similar adaptation can be done in India. 

It is also important to assure the safety of girls. They are often troubled and harassed in schools and/on their way to schools. When schools are associated with sexual or physical violence, girls’ access to education is negatively affected. Parents will naturally hesitate to send their daughters to schools that are thought to be sites of physical or sexual gender violence. Lack of safety and security in the school environment may be obvious in terms of physical danger, such as beatings or rape. The abuse of girls–sexual, physical and emotional – by teachers is a common problem. Breaking the silence about violence at school is an important step towards its diagnosis and prevention.

The Gambia did this by including in a sexual harassment policy a directive stating that teachers should not be alone with pupils of the opposite sex. Implementation of similar policies in India will help encourage girls to attend school more regularly and help create a healthy environment for their development. 

Impact on Health

Gender bias also has a significant part to play in how women seek regular healthcare. According to dw.com, a collective study was conducted by researchers at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the Indian Statistical Institute, Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, and Harvard University. The research examined the records of 2,377,028 outpatients who visited the AIIMS medical facility from January to December 2016. The experts found only 37% of women got access to healthcare, as compared to 67% of men.

In 2016, 84,926 women from Bihar visited AIIMS compared to over 200,000 men from the same state. By comparison, gender bias was less pronounced in New Delhi, where female patients numbered 480,000 compared to 660,000 males. The study also found that the cost incurred on travel has a direct bearing on access to health care for women. The greater the distance of the female patient from the clinic, the lesser the probability of women turning to healthcare,” In other words, a family would not take female members to specialized hospitals like AIIMS if it meant spending a lot of money on travel.  

Poor socioeconomic conditions in India limit many women’s access to adequate healthcare, resulting in poor health of children. This also hinders the mother’s abilities to lead full and productive lives. In many areas, maternal mortality is still high owing to poverty, backward practices and views, and the lack of access to proper medical care.

Along with that, only a small percentage of women in India have access to clean hygiene when it comes to menstrual care. Even today, millions of women in India do not have access or cannot afford to purchase sanitary pads because of their cost, and end up relying on unhygienic methods such as cloth, leaves or husks. This can cause severe infections, rashes, and discomfort. There is a lack of acknowledgment of illnesses among Indian women that isn’t the same as a lack of awareness. Women are usually aware they’re ill but say they didn’t think it was serious or their family didn’t think it was dangerous and this becomes a cause why they didn’t seek or continue care.

 According to an essay published by News 18 “Important Women Health Issues in India” in 2019 – India is considered to be among the countries with the highest rates of malnourished females in the developing world. This is especially serious in scenarios where economic inequality is rampant, leaving poorer citizens unable to get sufficient food or food with adequate nutrition value. Being malnourished makes individuals more susceptible to infectious diseases which, in some cases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis, can have fatal consequences. Poor nutrition also affects the health of the mother and the baby.

“The mental conditioning of Indian society has led to women having a very high threshold of patience and silence. Health of a woman is not a priority in our country. No one wants to invest in women’s health. ,”said Ambuj Roy, lead author of the study and professor of Cardiology at AIIMS.

There is a dire need of systematic action. The healthcare infrastructure needs to be strengthened with the biggest beneficiaries being the elderly and young women who are most neglected and discriminated against. 

We will constantly have to come up with unique and innovative techniques to eliminate gender-based differences in fields of education and healthcare. Women have been suffering since forever for their basic rights and needs. While there has been growth, the rate isn’t very encouraging in India. One reason for this is the society India has–where women feel privileged if they are being provided access to their basic rights and necessities.

The current situation demands to be worked upon, improved and brought under control. It requires an immense amount of commitment and major reforms in the Indian Healthcare system that need to be implemented and monitored regularly. Simultaneously, there is also a need to create awareness amongst the society about gender equality and equal opportunity for women. If we cannot ensure equal and accessible healthcare and education for women even today and if we let gender be the determinant of the quality of life that women lead, how far have we actually come?

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Vama Parakh

Vama Parakh

Vama writes on issues regarding society, environment, psychology and health. To connect, reach out to her on LinkedIn or at her email - parakhvama01@gmail.com

Vama Parakh

Vama writes on issues regarding society, environment, psychology and health. To connect, reach out to her on LinkedIn or at her email - parakhvama01@gmail.com

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