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A UN report says that Indian Dalit women die 14 years younger than an upper caste woman. (UN Flag image courtesy: sanjitbakshi, flickr)

A UN women report has found that the caste of women in India determines their mortality rate. Poor sanitation, inadequate water supply and health care are some of the factors that get affected in India due to caste and this in turn leads to Dalit women dying younger than upper caste women, the report says.

According to a finding from the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies in 2013, the average age at death for Dalit women was 39.5 years against 54.1 years for higher-caste women. The report also states that even when factors that affect mortality remain the same, Dalit women die younger than upper caste women. Comparing many of these factors, it has been found that “life expectancy among Dalit women is 11 years lower than that of higher caste women despite experiencing identical social conditions like sanitation and drinking water.”

Comparing social location and wealth, the study has observed that “a young woman aged 20-24 from a poor, rural household is 5.1 times as likely as one from a rich urban household to marry before the age of 18, 21.8 times as likely to have never attended school, 5.8 times as likely to become an adolescent mother, 1.3 times as likely to have no access to money for her own use and 2.3 times as likely to report she has no say in how money is spent.

Being from a scheduled caste and being landless affects the working conditions. The report says that even a Dalit woman works for pay, it will be under “exploitative working conditions.”

Citing the example of the Safecity intiative in India – a platform that crowd-sources personal stories of sexual harassment and abuse in public spaces, the report said that it was possible to generate data to make changes. It said that “the closure of public toilets in one neighbourhood in Delhi resulted in an uptick in assaults on women. Using this crowdsourced information, municipal authorities were able to link the increase in assaults to the closure, prompting the local authorities to reopen and maintain the toilets.”

It noted that worldwide, in the countries that were considered, for every 100 men, there were four more women living on less than $1.90 a day. This gap widens during the reproductive years.

It also says that “over 50 per cent of urban women and girls in developing countries live in conditions where they lack at least one of the following: access to clean water, improved sanitation, durable housing, and sufficient living area.” It notes that “1 in 5 women under the age of 50 experiences physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the past 12 months.”



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