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Gender vulnerability index points at high regional imbalances; Goa ranks top in security, Bihar worst overall

Even as India slipped India slipped 21 places on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap index to a lowly 108, behind neighbours China and Bangladesh, primarily due to less participation of women in the economy and low wages, a report on gender vulnerability, conducted for the first time by Plan India and and released by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, seems to offer a clearer picture as to just why that may have happened.

The report compiled by studying 170 indicators, data for which is available across all the states in India, has put Goa as the safest place for women, whereas Bihar emerged as the worst performer. The study, which studied all the statistics in dimensions of protection, education, health, and poverty, however, has highlighted that a very high regional imbalance exists in the country. Firtstpost took a deeper look at the report across the five dimensions, here’s what we found:

Healthwise performance of Indian states

Kerala tops the list when it comes to the healthy women in the gender vulnerability index, followed by Tamil Nadu, Sikkim, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Maharashtra, Punjab and Manipur among the top 10. The report says that Kerala also has among the lowest rates of anaemia, including those among pregnant women.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Among the best performing states, Kerala, Sikkim and Tamil Nadu perform well on most indicators of maternal health, including critical indicators, the study says. Surprisingly, Tamil Nadu, which is ranked third best in the list, has one of the lowest rates of breastfed newborns among all the 30 states studied.

Sikkim, which performs exceptionally well on the critical indicators, its problem is conversely, that of overweight girls.

Bihar is placed at the bottom ranking 30. Of the ten states in bottom 10, six are BJP-ruled (or with BJP part of the ruling coalition) states including Jharkhand, which was recently in the news for malnutrition deaths of children and Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP came to power earlier this year. There are four northeastern states in the list namely Nagaland, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya, of which Arunachal Pradesh is under BJP rule while in Nagaland the party is part of the coalition.

A comparison of the health indices on geographically, shows South India performing better than rest of India, with four southern states featuring in the top 10; the only exception being the newly formed Telangana, which is ranked 20 in terms of health. Out of five states ruled by Congress, three — Punjab, Karnataka and Congress 1 feature among the top 10.

Girls and women in Haryana, Bihar and Jharkhand are among the most undernourished, the study points out. “As many as 40 percent girls are underweight and more than 60 percent of women are anaemic in these states,” it says.

Bihar performs poor across the board, but despite that mothers are breastfeeding their infants.

Himachal Pradesh1521156
Tamil Nadu31222210
Andhra Pradesh52611512
West Bengal162992118
Jammu and Kashmir283241320
Madhya Pradesh2522261425
Arunachal Pradesh2018292526
Uttar Pradesh2930192729

“Although, 84 percent of married women in the country are participating in household decisions, collectively speaking, there are considerable state-wise disparities which imply that women in our country don’t have an equal voice across,” the study says. The study finds that land ownership is an important indicator of gender inequality, as it increases her participation in decision making.


No surprise then that in Manipur, which is among the best-ranking states in terms of poverty, close to 70 percent women own land. Andhra Pradesh and Telangana (also among the best ranking states) display more female land ownership than the national average. Mizoram, where land ownership among women is far below the national average, surprisingly, also has the lowest poverty headcount ratio.

Uttar Pradesh, which ranks 29, in the list, has low rates of female land ownership, and high poverty headcount. The proportion of women who are included in the financial systems is the lowest in Bihar, the worst performing state in the list. The state also showed women having the lowest household participation rates.


Safety of women has emerged as a real challenge across the country with cases of sexual assault often making the top headlines, and the states which perform the best in the dimension of protection are Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Tripura. However, violence against women (especially by their spouses) is still unacceptably high for both Punjab and Tripura and is a painful reality across all states.

Though the state governments took no time to revel over the ranking in terms of protection for women, the study says that in Goa and Himachal Pradesh, younger girls are at higher risk for sexual abuse and rape.

Delhi emerges as a clear outlier when it comes to crimes against women. The rate is also notably high in West Bengal.

What emerges out clear from the study is that huge regional imbalances exist when it comes to protection of women.

“The regional disparities for crimes against women are appallingly high, nationally the figure stands at 53.9 percent, in states like Assam and Delhi this rate crosses over 140 percent; child sex ratio is far below an acceptable standard; child marriages is over 40 percent in West Bengal, whereas it’s estimated to be less than 8 percent in Punjab. At the same time, the highest proportion of girls and women in the country who have ever experienced violence during a pregnancy are in Karnataka,” it says.


Along the four dimensions, education has the third highest score on the Gender Vulnerability Index with Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Punjab, Maharashtra, and Goa emerging as the best performing states in education.

Poor educational outcomes and inputs have been regarded as both a cause and consequence of poverty and inequality, it comes as no surprise then that India scores similarly in both poverty and education, the report says. Collectively, India is moving in the right direction, however, the study says, there are stark differences across regions and years of schooling.

“While Sikkim has five students per teacher at primary, and 15 at higher secondary; Uttar Pradesh has a ratio of 39 at primary and 97 at higher secondary level. Moreover, the percentage of girls with correct scores for mathematics and languages differ by state, by a maximum of 11.2 and 9.8 percentage points, respectively,” the report says.

Among the top five, although Himachal Pradesh, which is headed for Assembly election in a week’s time, carries a strong foundation in education from the previous decades, it has sustained the achievements, the report says. “School participation rates were almost as high for girls, as they were for boys in 1996, even before the Millennium Development Goals were introduced,” it added.

In all the five states, dropouts at primary level are well below the national average, however, they are still considerably higher for Punjab. The state also has a poor gender ratio.

The study points that the top-five states, however, fail miserably when it comes to providing toilets, a factor which also influences the health of the female students greatly.

The study says that states like Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Meghalaya have some of the highest dropout rates for girls.


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