Cable TV Empowers Women in India and Pakistan?
In their latest book of the Freakonomics series, Superfreakonomics, the authors cite the findings of two American economists Robert Jensen and Emily Oster that cable TV in 2700 households empowered Indian women to be more autonomous. Cable TV households had lower birthrates, less domestic abuse and kept more girls in school. Here are some highlights from the book about India:
1. If women could choose their birthplace, India might not be a wise choice of a place for any of them to be born.
2. In spite of recent economic success and euphoria about India, the people of India remain excruciatingly poor.
3. Literacy is low, and corruption is high in India.
4. Only half the Indian households have electricity, and fewer have running water.
5. Only one in 4 Indian homes has a toilet.
6. 40% of families with girls want to have more children, but families with boys do not want a baby girl.
7. It's especially unlucky to be born female, baby boy is like a 401 K retirement plan, baby girl requires a dowry fund.
8. Smile Train in Chennai did cleft repair surgery at no cost for poor children. A man was asked how many children he had. He said he had 1, a boy. It turned out that he also had 5 daughters which he did not mention.
9. Indian midwives in Tamil Nadu are paid $2.50 to kill girls with cleft deformity.
10. Girls are highly undervalued, there are 35 million fewer females than males, presumed dead, killed by midwife or parent or starved to death. Unltrasound are used mainly to find and destroy female fetuses. Ultrasound and abortion are available even in the smallest villages with no electricity or clean water.
11. If lucky enough not to be aborted, girls face inequality and cruelty at every turn because of low social status of Indian women.
12. 51% of Indian men say wife beating is justified, 54% women agree, especially when dinner is burned or they leave home without husband's permission.
13. High number of unwanted pregnancies, STDs, HIV infections happen to Indian women when 15% of the condoms fail. Indian Council of Medical Research found that 60% of Indian men's genitalia are too small to fit the condoms manufactured to international standard sizes.
14. Indian laws to protect women are widely ignored. The government has tried monetary rewards to keep baby girls and supported microfinance for women. NGO programs, smaller condoms, and other projects have had limited success.
15. People had little interest in State run TV channel due to poor reception or boring programs. But cable television has helped women, as 150 million people between 2001-2006 got cable TV which gave them exposure to wider world.
16. American economists found that the effect of TV in 2700 households empowered women to be more autonomous. Cable TV households had lower birthrates, less domestic abuse and kept daughters in schools.
Freakonomics series authors Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner use the above facts to prove what they call the "Law of Unintended Consequences".
They argue that access to cable TV, not originally intended to help liberate women, has done more to improve the lives of Indian women than the many laws and government programs designed to help them.
Cable television is present in over 16 million Pakistani households accounting for 68% of the population in 2009. I am not aware of any studies done on the impact of cable TV on rural women in Pakistan, but my guess is that trends similar to India's are empowering women in Pakistan's rural households with growing cable TV access.
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Gender Inequality Worst in South Asia
Grinding Poverty in Resurgent India
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WEF Global Gender Gap Rankings 2009
India, Pakistan Contrasted 2010
Female Literacy Through Mobile Phones
Pakistan's Woman Speaker: Another Token or Real Change
Female Literacy Lags Far Behind in India and Pakistan
Female Genocide Unfolding in India