For a State that prides itself as a leader in the self-help group movement for economic empowerment of women, the recent national survey reports on human development indicators tell a dismal story taking the sheen out of the tall claims of political leaders.
With a staggering 10.53 lakh SHG groups having a membership of over one crore women mostly in rural areas and accounting for maximum bank loans availed in the country, Andhra Pradesh has been an acknowledged leader in the country -- a feat which the successive governments have never failed to highlight at every forum in the last 15 years .
Significantly, these over one crore strong SHG members became the sought-after vote-bank for every political party.
Yet, the latest 2011 census report and the key indicators from the National Family Health Survey-3 and the recent sample registration system (SRS) bulletin from the Registrar-General, India, are bound to create disquiet.
For, Andhra Pradesh figures among the bottom rung States in the country in the human development index (HDI) parameters. Be it literacy, health, marriage age and fertility parameters, female sex ratio, birth and death rates and maternal and infant mortality rate, AP’s performance is dismal.
Time to introspect
Seriously, it is time for the political parties to do soul-searching and reflect it in their election manifestos.
In literacy rates, AP with 67.6 per cent figures just above Bihar (63.8), Rajasthan (67) and Arunachal Pradesh (66.9) while the all-India figure is 74.04 per cent.
AP’s progress in literacy rate over the last decade was lower compared to Bihar and Arunachal Pradesh.
In the State, male literacy in 2011 was 74.8 per cent while female literacy stood at 59.1 per cent.
The average age of marriage for women in the State at 18.7 is the lowest in the country against the national average of 20.2, according to NFHS-3 survey.
Analysts said high illiteracy, early marriage and motherhood, ignorance about health and nutritional issues had a direct fall-out on women’s health with low body mass index (BMI) and anaemia -- 33.5 per cent women are below normal BMI and 62.9 per cent are anaemic (national average - 55.3 per cent).
More infants in Andhra Pradesh rural areas are dying than in rural Bihar and general death rate is also more in the State at 7.4 compared to national average of 7.
To sum up, more than 50 per cent of women in the State are illiterate, marry early, anaemic and as a result IMR is high as infants are born with low birth weight and other health issues.
About 50 per cent of neo-natal deaths are within 28 days after the birth. Though institutional deliveries of women had gone up, IMR rate has not declined.
From 2001 to 2010, there was no major focus on adult literacy programmes. Former Minister for Women and Child Welfare Sunitha Laxma Reddy, however, says like pulse polio immunisation programme, sustained focus alone will bring visible change in human development parameters.
Literacy holds the key
Poonam Malakondaiah, Principal Secretary, Primary Education, says literacy holds key for any programme. For instance, if bank linkages to SHGs are linked to literacy and adult literacy programmes under Sakshar Bharathi are given further boost, it will have a positive impact on overall social well-being of women, she reasoned.