Gender discrimination continues to be an enormous problem within Indian society. Traditional patriarchal norms have relegated women to secondary status within the household and workplace. This drastically affects women’s health, financial status, education, and political involvement. Women are commonly married young, quickly become mothers, and are then burdened by stringent domestic and financial responsibilities. They are frequently malnourished since women typically are the last member of a household to eat and the last to receive medical attention. Additionally, only 54 percent of Indian women are literate as compared to 76 percent of men. Women receive little schooling, and suffer from unfair and biased inheritance and divorce laws. These laws prevent women from accumulating substantial financial assets, making it difficult for women to establish their own security and autonomy.
In Rajasthan, all of these problems are aggravated by high levels of seasonal migration. For many men in Rajasthan, migration is required since rural parts of Rajasthan often lack a sufficient economy to provide income for a family year-round. Women are commonly left behind to care and provide for the entire household. This is increasingly difficult because it is estimated that an average woman’s wage is 30 percent lower than a man’s wage working in a similar position. While these mothers work, they must also tend to domestic responsibilities. This formula for supporting Rajasthani families leaves little resource for the growth and development of women’s rights and education levels.
A strong “son preference” exists in the region, as it does throughout the country, and high rates of female infanticide and female feticide plague the area. In 2001, for every 1,000 males living in Rajasthan there were only 922 women (Marthur et. al., 2004). Having sons is economically advantageous to families due to cultural institutions; these institutions serve to drastically devalue the roles women play in the traditional society. Women continue to struggle to achieve equal status to men, making gender equity an issue of particular importance for Rajasthan.
In Rajasthan several NGOs that have hosted FSD participants are instrumental in providing opportunities for women. These organizations help to build networks among women to create financial self-help groups. They introduce ideas about microfinance, allowing women to participate in management activities. Other local NGOs implement projects that export the skills of women abroad to generate significant income. In 2006, Olen Crane, an FSD intern, helped nearly 400 women artisans in the Udaipur area by collecting samples of their textile products and shipping them abroad to sell to American companies. Similar projects have enormous potential to improve the financial and social status of Rajasthani women. Organizing change at a local level and planning participatory action will help to eliminate bias and stereotypes, and generate awareness of the significant gender divide that exists within Indian society.