Family health

Cautious Optimism About Gender Data in National Family Health Surveys (NFHS-5)

Anupma Mehta

The recently released compendium of fact sheets on various health and empowerment indicators from the fifth round of the National Family Health Surveys (NFHS-5) for the period 2019-21 gives us cause to cry, particularly with regard to the empowerment of women and the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 5) on empowering women and achieving gender equality.

The 14 states and UTs covered in the survey comprise a cross section across the country including Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Chandigarh, NCT Delhi, and Pondicherry.

The indicators traditionally analyzed in the Survey relate to population, health, family planning and nutrition estimates.

However, what is remarkable about NFHS-5 are the notable results from the Woman’s Schedule component of the survey, which covers a wide range of topics, including marriage, fertility, contraception, vaccinations and child health care, nutrition, reproductive health, women’s empowerment, and domestic violence.

Increase in women’s empowerment

The two main sections asking about the survey’s gender indicators include ‘women’s empowerment’, covering women aged 15-49, and domestic violence, focusing on women aged 18-49.

In the Empowerment section, each respondent, i.e. a currently married woman, was asked about the extent of her autonomy in three key household decisions regarding health care for herself, major household purchases, housework and visits to family and friends.

Significantly, 88.7% of women, including 91% urban women and 87.7% rural women, responded positively to this question, which is an increase from the corresponding overall figure of 84% recorded during the the previous NFHS in 2015-16.

Among other issues, the opening and use of bank accounts by women showed the most promising results. A total of 78.6% of women in urban areas reported independently owning and managing their bank accounts, down from a much lower figure of 53% in the previous survey.

There was also a notable increase in land ownership among women from 38.4% to 43.3%, and ownership and use of mobile phones from around 45% to 54% during the period. corresponding.

Persistence of domestic violence

A component that always commands attention in any gender-based survey, primarily because of its association with the respect women enjoy inside and outside their homes, is that of the physical violence they are the object.

The gender-based or sexual violence data for women aged 18-49 in NFHS-5 is somewhat, but not entirely, encouraging, as it shows a decline from NFHS-4 in the occurrence of intimate partner violence , from 31.2 to 29.3% and physical violence during pregnancy, from 3.9 to 3.1%.

However, the celebration may be more cautious if these data are considered to correlate with comparable data indicating an increase in domestic violence perpetrated against women during the national COVID lockdowns in 2020 and early 2021, which coincide with the period covered. by NFHS-5.

For example, the number of complaints of domestic violence against women received by the National Commission for Women (NCW) increased sharply, from 2,960 in 2019 to 5,297 in 2020. And in the first quarter of 2021, the NCW continued to receive more than 2,000 complaints each month of crimes against women, nearly a quarter of which related to domestic violence.

Specifically, NCW data recorded 1,463 complaints of domestic violence against women during the January-March 2021 period. So, is there a gap between the NCW and NFHS-5 numbers?

At the state level, the most impressive violence results in NFHS-5 were recorded by Chhattisgarh, which recorded a drop in domestic violence from 36.8 to just over 20%, and violence related to pregnancy from 4.9 to 0.9%, over the two survey periods.

Punjab and Haryana also saw a significant drop in both categories of gender-based violence. On the other hand, the states of Jharkhand and Rajasthan are exceptions, both registering an increase in violence during pregnancy, the first from 2.8 to 3.1% and the second from 1.4 to 2.1 %, during the corresponding periods.

The most alarming finding, however, was seen in Uttarakhand, which saw a notable increase in domestic and pregnancy-related violence.

What does the IHDS data say?

When viewed in full, however, one wonders if the numbers hide more than they reveal. Where do we stand with the results of the India National Human Development Survey (IHDS)?

The IHDS, which was conducted jointly by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) and the University of Maryland in two rounds, in 2004-05 and 2011-12, surveyed 41,554 households in 1,503 villages and 971 urban neighborhoods across India.

The IHDS asked women a direct question about whether they were regularly beaten by their husbands for any of the following reasons: leaving home without telling their husbands, not paying bride price, neglecting household chores, not cook acceptable meals and engage in extra activities. marital affairs.

Although relationships with other men were the most common reason for beatings, as many as 30-40% of respondents said they had been victims of violence for the other four reasons as well.

Significantly, the IHDS findings suggest that economic empowerment, such as having a job and a reasonable income, could mitigate the incidence of domestic violence against women and ensure better outcomes. in their married life.

The IHDS findings also indicate that empowering women through inheritance and education, which would enhance their ownership and wealth, is likely to produce more desirable outcomes and reduce the perpetration of violence and abuse. against them.

Interestingly, as mentioned above, the gender module in NFHS-5 also shows an overall improvement in indicators of female ownership of land and income from paid work, as well as owning and operating independently. bank accounts by women.

Although it is not possible to establish a direct causal relationship between the empowerment of women in terms of wealth and assets, on the one hand, and better treatment of married women by their spouses, on the other , there appears to be an underlying association between these two outcomes.

Right now, the NFHS-5 results offer a muted reason to celebrate.


Anupma Mehta is an editor at the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER). The opinions expressed in the article are personal.


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