‘Beti Zindabad’, a nation-wide campaign for gender equality, emphasises the need to protect women’s and girls’ rights.

“Down with Patriarchy. Kick it out of your homes” “Dowry is a ridiculous idea. Discard it” read the big bold letters on posters hung on the trunks of trees. The E.M.G. Yadava College for Women bustled with activities in support of ‘Beti Zindabad’ (Long live daughter), a campaign for gender equality.

The campaign, promoted by Action Aid, an international NGO, is a coming together of various social movements and organisations in the larger role to defeat patriarchy. It calls for immediate attention towards the falling child sex ratio (number of girls to every 1000 boys aged under 6 years) in the South Asian countries.

“Every day, around 7,000 girls are found missing in our country. The ratio which should have been 970 girls to every 1000 boys, has come down drastically to 914,” says K.Y. Babu, Programme Manager, Action Aid. “The declining sex ratio clearly indicates that the larger system of patriarchy and the unbridled culture of greed are the main culprits for the situation,” he says.

He cites the latest census data which states that the girls’ ratio is under 900 in seven states and 135 districts. “Even cities such as Delhi and Ahmedabad feature in that list, where the ratio stands at 836 and 857, respectively. States including Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab do figure in the list where the ratio has dipped below 850. In Tamil Nadu, Ariyalur and Cuddalore are the districts where the ratio is below 900,” says Babu.

The alarming situation emanates primarily from the resistance most families have in bearing a daughter which is again a manifestation of patriarchy, feels M. Shanmugaraja, actor and founder of Nigazh Theatre Centre.

The campaign threw light on the sex-selective discrimination, dismal infant mortality rates of girls, lack of access to health-care and education for girls, early marriage, forced pregnancies, dowry deaths, domestic violence, lack of sexual autonomy and choice, wage inequality, exclusion from economic participation, landlessness, lack of political participation and rape and violence.

Misuse of advanced technologies is being cited as the reason for the present state of affairs. “Though the Pre-conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act exist, strict implementation of it is found wanting in many places. We have embarked on this mission with an aim to break the legitimacy of the practice of sex-selection,” says Babu.

The campaign demands the Central and State Governments and local bodies to strictly enforce women’s and girls’ rights. It also wishes to create a society where everyone, regardless of their gender, social or historical background, has a right to lead a dignified life.

Pursuant to this campaign, the Nigazh Theatre Centre staged ‘Panju Maram’, a play envisaging a society without a woman. “ We also do need-based theatre and wanted to take up this cause,” says Shanmugaraja.

The play comically presents a scenario where the protagonist goes in search of a woman and forecasts a period when woman will exist only as specimen in books. The drama evoked good response from the students.

The campaign was launched in the State on November 25, coinciding with the International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women with a performance at the Loyola College and moved on to Cuddalore and Madurai. Next, it is slated to reach Namakkal. Other districts would be covered in the next phase, says Babu.

“We are reaching out to panchayats, urban bodies, women’s self help groups, medical associations, paramedics, young parents and students,” says Babu, “with an appeal to make gender equality a lived reality.”