Tribal women

Tribals or adivasis, as they are popularly known as a symbol of self-assertion, comprise of around 8.2 per cent of the national population. The tribals are concentrated mostly in the central belt of India and parts of the North-East. The status of women in the tribal societies is comparatively better than that of the women in general society—apparently so. The sex ratio of the tribes in India during 1991 showed 971 females per 1000 males while it was 927 females among the general population.

  • The tribal women, constitute like any other social group, about half of the total population. The tribal women, as women in all social groups, are more illiterate than men.
  • Role of women is not only of importance in economic activities, but her role in non-economic activities is equally important. The tribal women work very hard, in some cases even more than the men.
  • Mitra and Singh write that discrimination against women, occupational differentiation, and emphasis on status and hierarchical social ordering that characterise the predominant Hindu culture are generally absent among the tribal groups.
  • Bhasin (2007) also writes that though tribes too have son preference, they do not discriminate against girls by female infanticide or sex determination tests.
  • The status of tribal women can be judged mainly by the roles they play in society. Their roles are determined to a large extent through the system of descent.
  • Most of the tribes in India follow a patrilinear system. There are exceptional cases like the Khasi, Jaintia, Garo and Lalung of Meghalaya in the North-East who follow the matrilineal system. The Mappilas of Kerala too are a matrilineal community.
  • Since women in the tribal communities’ toil hard, they are considered to be assets. Not surprisingly, the practice of bride price during marriages is quite common among them.
  • The tribal women in the North-East were famous for their weaving skills. Almost every tribal girl used to learn weaving at home. They usually used to weave in their leisure time and for self-consumption.
  • Tribal women as such enjoy very little control over immovable property. They hardly ever inherit land, particularly in the patrilineal societies.
  • Despite several economic, political and social changes, women, are still far behind.
  • Primitive Economy results in overburdening of women. They are exposed to wild animals, poisonous vegetation as a cost of survival (women are known to actively participate in economy)
  • Cultural Practices – Numerous practices like genital mutilation are disastrous to the physical and mental health of women.
  • Health: Malnutrition, anaemia, lack of access to healthcare & proper medicines, lack of literacy & education opportunities, low empowerment & sense of independence
  • Sexual Exploitation – A number of complaints regarding officials committing sexual offences have come to light. (especially Naxalite area)
  • Isolation – Prevents women to take up education or benefit from government policies like maternity benefit, reservation etc.
  • Financial exploitation by money lenders.
  • Male migration leading to feminization of agriculture and poverty.
  • Tribal migrant women face issues of low wages, bad work conditions, malnutrition, unhygienic sanitation, cramped housing.
  • Reservation of seats and relaxation in marks in admission to educational institutions, scholarships,
  • Van Bandhu Kalyan Yojana-with special focus on o the qualitative and sustainable employment for tribal families, Improving the quality of education and health and improving the quality of life in tribal areas.
  • Single Window System for Obtaining Market Information on Minor Forest Produces,
  • Setting up of Eklavya Model Residential Schools, & Tribal Research Institutes, which undertake intensive studies of tribal arts, culture and customs.
  • Access to marketing, ex: women’s part time job is to collect minor forest product like honey, resins, herbs etc. has brought income security among many tribal
  • Tribal women of North East are self-employed, border e-Haat has added colour to their life.
  • PESA extended to tribal areas are testimonial for the success of democratic decentralisation besides 33% reservation.
  • Infrastructure facilities like providing toilets under SBM. Etc.
  • Stand Up India Mission which is dedicated to SCs/STs and Women would fetch good opportunities.
  • Democratic Decentralization in Tribal areas would ensure their participation at the political level.

Integration of tribals into mainstream economy is important for inclusive development. A women centric approach can help achieve this goal. Hence, problems of tribal women should be taken into consideration when undertaking planning.