Source: E-mail dt. 7 March 2015


Women health in India


K. Praveena

Lecturer, Department of Economics,

Thiagarajar College, Madurai – 09. Tamilnadu, India.





            The origin of the Indian idea of appropriate female behaviour can be traced to Manu in 200 BC: “by a young girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independent, even in her own house”.  Women's health refers to health issues specific to female anatomy. Women's health issues include menstruation, contraception, maternal health, child birth, menopause and breast cancer. They can also include medical situations in which women face problems not directly related to their biology, for example gender-differentiated access to medical treatment.  Women's health is an issue which has been taken up by many feminists, especially where reproductive health is concerned. Women's health is positioned within a wider body of knowledge cited by, amongst others, the World Health Organization, which places importance on gender as a social determinant of health.


            The health of Indian women is intrinsically linked to their status in society. There is a strong son preference in India, as sons are expected to care for parents as they age. This son preference, along with high dowry costs for daughters, sometimes results in the mistreatment of daughters. Further, Indian women have low levels of both education and formal labor force participation. They typically have little autonomy, living under the control of first their fathers, then their husbands, and finally their sons. Poor health has repercussions not only for women but also their families. Women in poor health are more likely to give birth to low weight infants. They also are less likely to be able to provide food and adequate care for their children. Finally, a woman’s health affects the household economic well-being, as a woman in poor health will be less productive in the labor force.


Gender Bias based Health Concerns in India


            Government of India’s National Rural Health Mission aims at correcting rural inequities in the matter of health. It seeks to integrate health with sanitation, hygiene, safe drinking water and nutrition. Like most of the schemes and programmes initiated by Government, even the NRHM also has failed to achieve the goals at the implementation level, with the primary health centres and sub-centres crumbling.  Women from infant stage to their old age women get an unfair deal in the matter of health. Their health concerns receive a low priority resulting in women bearing pain and discomfort in silence for long periods of time without seeking relief. The sex ratio in India speaks volumes about the neglect. It is not just the poor who for want of resources and with the inherent preference for a boy are guilty of bias. Even in well-to-do families parents tend to spend more on the health-care of boys than on girls.


Socio-Demographic status of Women


The ratio of female to male population in India has been low. As per Census data, sex ratio of women to per thousand men is as given below:


Sex Ratio of Women to per Thousand Men



Sex Ratio

























Source: Census of India, 2011.


            In the beginning of 20th century sex ratio was 972 and thereafter is recorded a sharply declining trend. The lowest sex ratio was in 1991 when it was only 927 females on per 1000 males. It may be explained into socio-cultural factors and the pre-natal sex determination.  In the beginning of 1901 sex ratio was at the level of 972 on per thousand males. Later on it moral towards downward and it reached at 964 in 1911, 955 in 1921, 950 in 1931 and 945 in 1941. It may be observed that sex ratio was in declining trend cheering the above table. The possible factors are marital status poverty etc. However, we faced both world wars, in which a no. of soldiers not only get died but also made migration from here but still then we see its graph towards down trend.


            The data shows that in 1951 the sex ratio made slightly the attitude by one point and it reaches at 946 in comparison to 945 in 1941. But it could not stay itself in this trend slipped down by 946 to 930 in 1971. Later the census year 1981 data recorded a positive trend but it could not stay in the same trend and slipped down again at 927 in 1991. During 1981-2001 and aware-ness our society recorded a change in thinking of common people which may be reflected in the increasing trend of sex ratio i.e. 933 in 2000.


Women Health in India


            Health is complex and dependent on a host of factors. The dynamic interplay of social and environmental factors has profound and multifaceted implications on health. Women’s lived experiences as gendered beings result in multiple and, significantly, interrelated health needs. But gender identities are played out from various location positions like caste and class. The multiple burdens of ‘production and reproduction’ borne from a position of disadvantage has telling consequences on women’s well-being.


            The    health  of  women  depends  on their emotional, social and physical well-being which  are  determined  by  different  social, political and economic contexts of their lives.  India  being  large  country,  has  a  diverse population-  socially,  culturally  and economically;  yet,    the  common  major problem  that  women  here  face  in  availing healthcare,  is  inequality,    between  men  and women;  among  women  of  different geographical  regions,  social  classes  and indigenous  and  ethnic  groups  across  the country.


            There  are  several  factors  responsible for  the  current  status  of  women,  one  is  the  culture  itself.  Women are subjected to selective malnourishment from birth. There is strong preference for the male child in several states promoting illegal sex determination and female foeticide. This not only poses threat to the  expectant  mother’s  physical  and  mental health  but  also  imbalances  the  sex  ratio, thereby  giving  rise  to  several  other  social problems.


Indian women and nutrition


Malnutrition is defined as a health condition caused by lack of proper nutrition and well-balanced diet. Human body requires a mix blend of proteins, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids in an appropriate ratio to ensure proper and smooth functioning of all the human systems. If this requirement is not met, the person suffers from variety of diseases and ill health. The problem of malnutrition and lack of food intake is more reported with girls and women of the society. Girls belonging to the lower middle class or those below the poverty line suffer the most when it comes to fulfill the demand of adequate nutrition. In the poor families the income is limited that is not even sufficient to fulfill the basic needs of life. Whatever such families have in terms of income and nutrition is given to the male siblings without any consideration to the health of the girls.


            It is a known fact that women are more prone to nutritional deficiency because of the kind of reproductive cycle they have and because of the extra amount of household work they perform. The work pattern and the pressure on them demands for more food but sadly their basic need is not met. Adolescent girls grow at a faster rate and they need good amount of proteins, vitamins, and calcium to ensure healthy growth and development. Improper food makes them weak and can become the cause of various diseases like anemia, weak immunity, hypothyroidism, goiter, blindness, and even death. Pregnant women also needs more of nutrition as they have to bring up themselves in a healthy manner along with providing good nutrition to a new life developing in their womb. In such cases low food intake and lack of nutrition rebounds on the society by causing major health issues to the offspring be it a girl or a boy. Low birth weight is a common problem noticed with mothers having improper diet. This further leads to cognitive impairment, developmental problems, and can even be a cause of infant deaths.


            Malnourished women also put an impact on the national economy as lack of nutrition greatly reduces the ability of women to work, and strength of women to endure sufferings. In all ways it is greatly affecting the productivity of women. It affects both physical and emotional health of women that eventually leads to economic losses both for the family and the country. The unfortunate part is that despite of the continuous progress and growth of the country’s economy, women are still living a life full of misery and pain. Researches and reports have dictated that in the recent years the per capita food consumption rates in the country have drastically increased but even then women are not able to get sufficient nutrition. With malnutrition amongst women, the society is facing a tough time. There should be initiatives and actions taken against the issue to ensure that even women can enjoy the right to adequate nutrition and live a healthy life. Think from the other end of the spectrum that if women of the society will get good food to eat and stay healthy then eventually they’ll be able to serve more, love more, and live more.




            Women’s empowerment is hindered by limited autonomy in many areas that has a strong bearing on development. Their institutionalized incapacity owing to low levels of literacy, limited exposure to mass media and access to money and restricted mobility results in limited areas of competence and control (for instance, cooking). The family is the primary, if not the only locus for them. However, even in the household domain, women’s participation is highly gendered. Nationally, about half the women (51.6%) are involved in decision making on their healthcare. Women’s widespread ignorance about matters related to their health poses a serious impediment to their well-being. The NFHS-2, for example, reports that out of the total births where no antenatal care was sought during pregnancy, in 60 percent of the cases women felt it was ‘not necessary’. And, at a time when AIDS is believed to have assumed pandemic proportions in the country, 60 percent of the ever married women have never heard of the disease. Women’s inferior status thus has deleterious effects on their health and limits their access to healthcare.




1.       World Health Organization, 1996, “Revised 1990 Estimates of Maternal Mortality: A New Approach by WHO and UNICEF,” WHO/FRH/ MSM/96.11, Geneva.

2.      Duggal R., Health and nutrition in Maharashtra. In Government of Maharashtra (2002). Human Development Report: Maharashtra, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 53-77 (2002)

3.      http://www.iapsmgc.org/index_pdf/102.pdf

4.      https://www.census.gov/population/international/files/wid-9803.pdf