Southern India has best states for women.
The top-performing states are clustered in the southern tip, while the worst performing states lie in a belt across the north and center, from Rajasthan to Assam. The subnational index rankings broadly echo state-level rankings in other studies. A study conducted by the Hindustan Times found similar geographic patterns in their “Women Empowerment Index,” and McKinsey Global Institute’s Index has three of the top five states for women (Mizoram, Kerala, and Goa) in common with the top five on the WPS Index.
Kerala, the top-ranked state on the subnational index, ranks second for women’s education and first for cellphone use and has relatively few deaths from organized violence. Kerala has long been regarded as a success story of human development, yet the subnational index shows that this has not translated into women’s employment. “Educated unemployment” has been attributed to enduring cultural norms favoring men and the unequal burden of women’s domestic roles. Furthermore, Kerala’s high ranking on the security sub-index reflects low organized violence and intimate partner violence but does not capture generally high crime rates. In 2016, Kerala had the second highest rate of crime under the Indian Penal Code, behind Delhi, and the highest number of cases of special and local-law crimes.
In Manipur, schooling, employment rates, and participation in household decision-making are high relative to the rest of the country. Yet major gaps persist on other indicators, and the state performs especially poorly on security. Manipur has the highest rates of intimate partner violence and son bias, and the second highest number of recorded battle deaths (organized violence). The state has become known for protracted ethnic conflict, which has been associated with physical, emotional, and sexual violence against women, who have been used as a weapon of war amid heightened patriarchal norms and discrimination. The net result is that Manipur is bottom ranked on the subnational index in India. This finding underlines the importance of considering security, since measures of inclusion and justice alone may portray a misleading picture of the reality of women’s lives.
Some of the highest ranking states perform poorly on some fronts. For example, Karnataka ranks 4th overall but 20th on the inclusion subindex. Chandigarh ranks 1st on the inclusion subindex but 18th on justice and 16th on security.
Another interesting state is Meghalaya. It is home to the Khasi, a matrilineal society for whom clan membership and inheritance follow the female lineage, yet it ranks 15th on the subnational index. This mediocre performance on the index may reflect the facts that the Khasi make up only about half the population of Meghalaya and that the index does not include subnational laws, such as the Meghalaya legislation on succession, in which inheritance follows the female lineage.