Sikkim, a small and beautiful state situated in the Himalayan region shares international borders with Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal in the north east, south east and west (respectively) and with the Darjeeling district of West Bengal in the south. The Himalayan state of Sikkim became part of the Indian Union in 1975. It has a total area of 7,096 square kms which is the smallest in comparison to the other adjoining states of the Himalayan region. It has a total population of approximately 6,10,5772 persons out of which 47.09% are women according to the Census figures of 2011.
Women have always played an important role in Sikkim's development story. Traditionally women have enjoyed greater freedom in Sikkim than in many other parts of the country. The Sikkim Human Development Report revealed that the state has the best gender parity performance among the northeastern states, with female labour force participation at 40 per cent. This is much higher than the national average of around 26 per cent.
In recent times, with the support of the state, women have played an active role in various spheres of life. Sikkim's womenfolk have exercised leadership roles by taking advantage of the available educational and development opportunities.
According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS number 4), 41 per cent women in the state have 10 or more years of schooling which is much better than the country's average of 36 per cent. Only 15 per cent women, aged 20 to 24 years, were married before the legal age of 18 as against the national average of 27 per cent. There are only 3 per cent teenage pregnancies in the state. This is the lowest rate among the northeastern states. Moreover, the infant mortality rate in the state is 30 percent against the national average of 34 percent. Sikkim has significantly improved its performance with regard to safe deliveries according to the fourth National Family Health Survey.
Sikkim, along with Meghalaya, occupies the top positions (in northeast India) in terms of women's empowerment. This empowerment index takes into account things like the participation of women in household decisions, ownership of land, cell phones and bank accounts and instances of spousal violence. The women and child development division of the social welfare department, Government of Sikkim adopts the strategy of empowering women through education and awareness generation with greater emphasis on welfare programmes, vocational training and employment.
According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS number 4), 41 per cent women in the state have 10 or more years of schooling which is much better than the country's average of 36 per centThe women and child development division proactively works towards providing equality to women and children and also protects the rights of women and children in the state. Its main functions are all round empowerment of women, establishment of self reliant women's self help groups, strengthening and institutionalizing the savings habit in rural women and their control over economic resources and encouraging widow remarriage in the state with the objective of raising their social status and ensuring social security. It also provides secure and affordable accommodation to working women in the urban areas like Gangtok and Namchi, which is incidentally the South Sikkim district headquarters.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development launched 'Mahila E-haat' a unique direct online marketing platform to meet the aspirations and needs of women entrepreneurs/SHGs/NGOs on 7th March 2016. The USP of this online marketing platform is facilitating direct contact between vendors and buyers. The scheme aims at empowering and ensuring financial inclusion of women in the economy by providing continued sustenance and support to their creativity through the marketing platform.
The portal is impacting over 26000 SHGs/NGOs/women entrepreneurs with nearly 4 lakh beneficiaries directly and indirectly through 300 contact points. Capacity building, skilling, financial and internet training along with awareness and sensitization workshops are also being conducted across the state. Mentoring, hand holding, sourcing etc. by established women entrepreneurs and corporate are also being implemented.
Women in Sikkim are more empowered to take decisions than women in other parts of the country. According to NFHS-4 (of 2015-16) 85 per cent women have freedom of movement, including to the market, the health facility and places outside the village or community and this is much better compared to national average. Almost all (95 per cent) of the currently married women in Sikkim participate in household decisions as against the national average of 84 per cent. Nearly 80 per cent women in the state have mobile phones for personal use against 46 per cent at the national level. Close to two thirds (64 per cent) of women in Sikkim have a bank or savings account that they operate on their own.
Moreover, only 3 per cent of married women have ever experience spousal violence as against 29 percent nationally that makes it the lowest across Indian states. In Sikkim women are also entitled to own ancestral property along side their male siblings. This highlights gender equality within the family. A 30 percent reservation in panchayati raj elections also gives women in Sikkim an equal opportunity to contest elections and take up leadership positions in society.
With inputs from: Social Justice, Woman Empowerment & Child Welfare department, Government of Sikkim and National Family Health Survey