Hunger and Gender Gap Indices:
India’s Sorry Performance

The UN’s Global Hunger Index 2009 ranked countries on three leading indicators – prevalence of child malnutrition, rates of child mortality, and the proportion of people who are calorie deficient.
According to this Index, India ranks a sorry 65th out of 88 countries, with a hunger rate of 23.9. Countries like Uganda (38th); Mauritania (40th); Zimbabwe (58th) and many others have a better record than India on this front. Even war-torn nations have managed to combat the scourge of hunger quite well, while India -- even though it boasts of being the second fastest growing economy in the world -- languishes far behind and millions in the country go hungry. Almost 21 per cent of the Indian population was undernourished (between 2003 and 2005), 43.5 per cent Indian children under the age of five were underweight (between 2002 and 2007) and the under five-year-age infant mortality rate in 2007 was 7.2 per cent.
India ranks behind even its poorer neighbours – Nepal (55th) and Pakistan (58th). China improved its ranking from 15th in the 2008 Index to the 5th position in 2009, even though it has a huge population.
The Global Hunger Report, noting that one billion are hungry people in the world today, held the global financial crisis responsible for a dramatic rise in hunger across the world. According to the Report, more than 17,000 children die of hunger daily - one every five seconds. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “The world has more than enough food. Yet, today, more than one billion people are hungry.”
The India Gender Gap Review 2009 (released on 9 November by the World Economic Forum alongside the release of the Global Gender Gap Report 2009) reveals the shameful state of India’s performance on the front of gender equality, ranking India 114th among 134 countries. The Review places India bottom (134th among 134 countries) in terms of the ‘health and survival’ index. One contributor to this shameful statistic, according to the review, is “poor maternal health” – only 42% of births in the country are supervised by health professionals, and 300 Indian women die during childbirth or of pregnancy-related causes every day.
According to the Review, India also has among the worst sex ratios at birth in the world, ranking 131st on this variable. While the “normal” sex ratio at birth is considered to be 1.06 boys for every girl that is born, in India this average is 1.12 boys for every girl, a ratio that is significantly worse in some regions. In addition to female foeticide and infanticide, poorer nutrition and lower levels of medical treatment during illness leave girls far more susceptible than boys to disease and infections, leading to poor health and a shorter lifespan. The infant mortality rate for boys and girls is 56 and 61, respectively, out of 1,000 live births.
In the educational attainment subindex, India ranks 121st; the literacy rate for women (53%) is still only two-thirds that of men (76%). Close to 245 million Indian women lack the basic capability to read and write. Current gaps on primary, secondary and tertiary enrolment rates place India in 113th, 123rd and 103rd positions, respectively. Almost twice as many girls as boys are pulled out of school or never sent to school.
In the economic participation and opportunity subindex, India holds 127th position. Women’s labour force participation, at 36%, is less than half of the labour force participation rate of men (85%).Women’s estimated earned annual income is less than a third of men’s income. Women make up only 3% of legislator, senior official and managerial positions. The Report holds India’s performance in the political empowerment subindex to be relatively strong, ranking India at 24th position. However, women in India hold 11% of the positions in parliament and 10% of ministerial-level positions, placing India in 100th and 93rd positions, respectively, on these indicators. India’s high ranking in ‘political empowerment’ seems to be mainly a result of its high rank (4th) on the indicator relating to the number of years that a female leader has held the head of government position in the last 50 years: Indira Gandhi was 16 of the last 50 years were occupied by a female in the executive office. The mass of Indian women are better placed to judge whether a woman PM for 16 years made any difference to the quality of their lives: given India’s spectacular failure to ensure women’s basic health and survival, not to mention education and equality in economic participation and opportunity.
Manmohan Singh and his ilk boast of India’s ‘growth’ and increased global prestige which they attribute to neoliberal policies and increasing ‘partnership’ with the US. The fact that India ranks behind many of the poorest and most deprived countries of the world in terms of feeding its people and ensuring survival and equality for its women, calls the bluff of that ‘prestige.’