Differential Development of Women in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh: Need for Decentralized Empowerment Policy

Abstract: Unlike Kerala which is the most developed Indian State in terms of universal literacy, women’s literacy and education, infrastructural development, least infant and maternal mortality and overall quality of life, Andhra Pradesh is only still developing are several parameters of development are at the bottom among the southern states in India. Female illiteracy in Andhra Pradesh is the highest in South India, Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) is equally high and women’s development continues to lag behind. This paper will study the differential development of women in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh on a comparative basis and examine the need for a decentralised women’s empowerment policy. The paper also highlights the future thrust areas for women’s development and empowerment.

Keywords: differential development of women, Human Development Index (HDI), Infant Mortality Rate (IMR), decentralised women’s empowerment policy, family health, women’s empowerment, female literacy rate, health status

There is considerable variation in the development of women in different states of India; in general women are considered to be better off in Southern India (comprising Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Pondicherry and Andhra Pradesh) than their sisters in the Indo-Gangetic plain, comprising mainly the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. In South India, Kerala is the most developed state in terms of universe literacy, women’s literacy and education, infrastructural development, least infant and maternal mortality and overall quality of life. On the other hand, Andhra Pradesh is only still developing and several parameters of development are at the bottom among the southern states in India. Female illiteracy in Andhra Pradesh is the highest in South India, Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) is equally high and women’s development continues to lag behind despite the progress being made in recent times, particularly for women’s development. The two states, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, have differential stages of women’s development and factors that may have contributed to higher development of women in Kerala than in Andhra Pradesh. This paper will study the differential development of women in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh on a comparative basis and examine the need for a decentralised women’s empowerment policy.

Infrastructure Development

Some interesting aspects of infrastructure development in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh can be seen in Table 1. Andhra Pradesh is the fifth largest state in India, both in area and population. Kerala holds the 21st rank in terms of area and 12th in terms of population. Andhra Pradesh has the largest population (75,727,541) and Kerala the lowest population (31,838,619) among the Southern States. Andhra Pradesh has 27% of urban population whereas Kerala has 26% urban population. Even the villages and semi-urban areas of Kerala show remarkable urban features. Andhra Pradesh lags behind in urban infrastructure and services which may be an important factor in explaining the poor quality of life in the state. Andhra Pradesh has a population density of 275 whereas Kerala has a population density of 819, among the highest in India. The road length in Andhra Pradesh is 1,65,417 km. approximately whereas Kerala has an impressive road length of 2,19,805 km. Andhra Pradesh has a rail route of 5,029 km and Kerala has 1050 km rail route. India’s first private airport, the Cochin International Airport Ltd. (Nedumbassery) was opened in Kerala in June 1999. In April 1997, Kerala became the first state in India to have public telephones in all its villages, accessible over STD/ISD from any part of the world. However, Andhra Pradesh has made a much more impressive progress in overall economic development and industrialisation than Kerala, in the last one decade.

Socio-Economic Indicators and Quality of Life

Kerala is the only state with a unique positive sex ratio of 10.58. Kerala has also been declared the first ‘baby friendly’ state in the world in 2002. Andhra Pradesh with a sex ratio of 978 shows a growing neglect of girl children and strong son preference which is more pronounced in the urban areas as there is greater access to medical facilities for scanning and elimination of female foetuses. Women in Kerala have achieved a high health status as indicated by low female IMR of 1.4, lower maternal mortality rate of 198 (in 1998) and life expectancy of 74 years. In Andhra Pradesh, the female IMR is very high at G6 and life expectancy is only 62 years.

In 1991, Kerala became the first fully literate State in India. The female literacy rate in Andhra Pradesh is only 5.1 percent even below the all India average of 54 percent and lagging far behind Kerala’s female literacy rate of 88%. There are 13 districts in Andhra Pradesh with female literacy rate below 50. The drop-out rate of girls is very high with nearly 79% of them quitting school education at various stages without taking the class 10 examination.

The legal minimum age of marriage for Indian women is 1.8 years but the age at marriage in Kerala for women is 20.2 years whereas in Andhra Pradesh it is 15.1 years. The low age at which girls are married in Andhra Pradesh predisposes them to health damages, exposes them to greater risks of maternal and infant mortality and leaves them with little opportunity to participate in self-development activities.

In India, women’s social status is closely associated with motherhood. Women in Kerala have a total fertility rate (TFR) of 1.96 much below India’s mean TFR of 2.85. Women in AP have a TFR of 2.1 but the prevailing strong son preference in the state forces women to give birth to a son through multiple pregnancies.

A comparison of the Female Work Participation Rate (FWPR) shows that it is only 35.3% for women in Kerala as against 54.2% for women in Andhra Pradesh. The FWPR of 1991 for Kerala is also below for the national average. A closer analysis of the sectional shift in the work force indicates that in Kerala female work force has shifted from the primary sector to the tertiary sector. (Geethakutty, 2004: 1 72)

Andhra Pradesh has a burgeoning problem of child labour, majority of them being girls who are school dropouts or work in the unorganised sector. An informal interview with several girl child labourers revealed that widespread drought conditions and the subsequent crisis in the agricultural sector had led to unemployment and many parents used the earnings of girl children to tide over the crisis and keep the family going. The education of girls was the first casualty in the event of any crisis in the family.

The Human Development Index (HDI) for Kerala stood at 0.638 and the state is ranked first in the country. Andhra Pradesh has a HDI value of 0.416 which is below the national value of 0.472 and the state is ranked tenth in human development. A comparison on the socio-economic indicators of women’s status in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh reveal that women in Andhra Pradesh continue to be backward in education which can be attributed to their lower level of social development in South India (sec. Table 2).

Health Status

The health status indicators of women in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh can be seen in Table 3. Anemia has detrimental effects on the health of women and children. More than half of the women (32%) in India have some degree of anemia (mild, moderate or severe anemia) (NFHS-2, 2000: 250). Less than one-fourth of Kerala women have anemia whereas half of the women (50%) in Andhra Pradesh have anemia. Anemia is an important underlying cause of maternal mortality and perinatal mortality. It also results in an increased risk of premature delivery and low birth weight (Seshadri, 1997).

In India only 20% of mothers receive all required components of antenatal care which includes three or more antenatal checkups, two or more tetanus toxoid injections and iron and folic acid tablets or syrup for three or more months. Only over one-third of women in Andhra Pradesh (35.6%) receive all forms of antenatal care whereas 65% of women in Kerala receive all forms of antenatal care. Among all the States in India, Kerala tops in delivery care with 93% of deliveries taking place in medical institutions and a similarly high percentage of deliveries assisted by a health professional. Only 50% of deliveries in Andhra Pradesh are carried out in a medical institution.

A survey by ORG-MARG for the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) revealed that promiscuity among men and women in Andhra Pradesh is highest in the country (The Hindu, August 14, 2003). Nineteen percent of men and seven percent of women in Andhra Pradesh are reported to have sex with non-regular partners in the last one year, whereas the national average for men is 12% and for women 2 %. It is estimated that in Andhra Pradesh, the HIV prevalence has reached over 1 % among women attending antenatal clinics. Some districts in the state have reported an incidence of as high as eight percent of confirmed HIV cases among pregnant women threatening the next generation (Mallady, 2003). The health status of women in Andhra Pradesh is far from satisfactory and safe motherhood services have yet to reach full utilisation.

Housing and Sanitation

According to NFHS-2 (2000), 36 percent of the households in India had access to toilet facilities. Only Kerala was far ahead with 85 percent households having access to toilet facilities when compared to Andhra Pradesh with only 33 percent households with this facility (NHDR, 2002). Lack of toilet facilities and poor sanitation predisposes women to infections and related diseases. The houses in Kerala are the least cramped which has positively helped women to manage personal hygiene and achieve better health status. Small houses with hardly any ventilation and lack of privacy to manage personal sanitation can also increase the morbidity conditions of women who are homebound (Prasad, 2004a).

It was estimated that in 1999, 668 mandals in 18 out of 23 districts of Andhra Pradesh were declared drought affected. This meant 17, 431 villages and 104 towns with a population of 41.59 million, almost 60 percent of the state population faced severe drinking water shortage. In the dry districts, people live almost under perpetual drought conditions. The lack of water facilities seriously affects the health of women and children particularly in managing personal hygiene and keeping the home environment clean.

Exposure to Mass Media

Women’s exposure to mass media constitute newspaper or magazine reading, watching television or listening to radio at least once a week and a visit to cinema or theatre at least once a month (NFHS-2, 2000). It can be seen from Table 4 that 64% of women in Kerala read newspapers/magazines, 71% listen to radio, 62% view television and 12% visit cinema theatre when compared to only 19.5% of women in Andhra Pradesh who read newspapers/magazines, 39% who listen to radio, 58% who view television and 35% who visit cinema. The percentage of women in Andhra Pradesh who have heard of AIDS is 55% as against 87% of women who have heard of AIDS in Kerala (NFHS-2, 2000:234). Newspaper/magazine reading and radio listening is more popular among women of Kerala as against the popularity of television viewing and cinema going among women in Andhra Pradesh.

Crime against Women

Women in Andhra Pradesh face higher incidence of crime when compared to women in Kerala (see Table 5). Women are subjected to cruelty by relatives, molested, kidnapped and abducted, raped, face eve-teasing and die in dowry related cases in both states but women in Andhra Pradesh face more violence especially dowry deaths, eve-teasing, kidnapping and abduction. Regarding the rising crime against women in Kerala, George Mathews, Director of Delhi-based Institute of Social Sciences, says that: ‘The numbers on rising crime… show efficient conscientious reporting and reporting of crime, unlike most other states’ (Quoted in Wadhwa, 2004).

Autonomy of Women

Women in Kerala have greater autonomy in decision-making on their health-care (72.6%), going to the market (47.7%), visiting friends and relatives (38%) as against women in Andhra Pradesh. 66% of women in Kerala have access to money when compared to 58% of women in Andhra Pradesh. In general, women in Kerala enjoy greater autonomy than women in Andhra Pradesh (See table 6).

Need for Decentralisation of Development Policy

The variation in socio-economic, demographic and environmental conditions in the development of women demands both national and region specific policies to improve the quality of women’s lives. Development strategies must be decentralised to tackle specific local problems and meet the needs of women to bridge the gender gap in human development.

The low age of marriage of women in Andhra Pradesh is one of the reasons for the high maternal and infant mortality rates in the state. A multi-sectoral and integrated approach must be adopted to strengthen health care delivery system to bring down maternal and infant mortality apart from creating widespread awareness on the legal age at marriage (Prasad, 2004b). The increasing trend of son preference and low worth of the girl child has led to a steep decline in the sex ratio. The intensification of women’s education can be beneficial in increasing the age of marriage of women and also contribute to sirens then their health, nutrition and livelihood. As Sen (1999) observes:

There is considerable evidence that women’s education and literacy tend to reduce the mortality rates of children. The influence works through many channels, but perhaps most immediately it works through the importance that mothers typically attach to the welfare of the children, and the opportunity the mothers have when their agency is respected and empowered, to influence family decisions in that direction. Women’s empowerment appears to have a strong influence in reducing the much observed gender bias in survival (particularly against young girls).

‘The high IMR of 66 per 1000 births in Andhra Pradesh is due to neo- natal deaths of pre-term babies and low birth weight babies according to Prof. Balasubramanian of the Indian Institute of Health and Family Welfare. ‘Therefore any intervention should take care of both mother and the baby’ (quoted in Mallikarjun, 2003). The high percentage of home based deliveries (42%) in Andhra Pradesh is also a cause for the high IMR. Prof. Balasubramanian also pointed out that it would take at least 50 years for Andhra Pradesh to reach the current level of Kerala (14/1000) where hospital deliveries are 90 percent, coupled with other socio-economic factors such as high female literacy, higher marriage age and good health infrastructure.

Social conscientisation and the rights of the girl child campaigns must be taken up vigorously to stem the rapid decline in the status of girls and women in Andhra Pradesh. The increasing prevalence of HIV among women, particularly mothers, calls for greater campaign efforts on popular mass media of television and cinema to inform, educate and create widespread awareness on the dangers of AIDS. The rising levels of crime against women in Andhra Pradesh demand strengthening of the legal systems to eliminate discrimination and all forms of violence against women and the girl child.

Despite Kerala’s impressive record on women’s development there are several paradoxes. ‘The facts like low and declining FWPR, high level of unemployment, concentration of women in unorganised sectors and in low paid activities, low level of political participation by women, rise in crime against women, increasing suicide rates, increasing extravagance of marriages, prevalence of dowry, low level of decision making and autonomy within the home etc. tell the other side of the continuing disempowerment of women in Kerala’ (Geethakutty, 2004: 185).

Literacy and education do not necessarily bring about emancipation of women. A study by the Centre for Development Studies showed that high literacy levels of women in Kerala have not led to their empowerment as they have to pay large sums of cash, gold, property and consumer durable goods as dowry during marriage. The study also found that the girl’s share of landed property is sold and the cash given to the husband; the girl usually has no control over this money (The New Indian Express, June 16, 2003).

Jewellery and silk saree shops specialising in expensive wedding wear have mushroomed across Kerala as never before. In recent years, such business, which thrive on the dowry based institution of marriage, have become the biggest advertisers in the print and electronic media in the state. The high levels of literacy and social awareness have not led to any lessening of the demands for dowry. Though it is an offence under Indian Law, the dowry system enjoys wide social sanction in the State. A large section of urban women have apparently reconciled themselves to the fact that dowry has become a condition for marriage in Kerala. Some young women actually back the practice of dowry viewing it as a substitute for their share of the family fortune (Anand, 2003).

The new Kerala Dowry Prohibition Rule, 2004 makes mandatory for all state government employees to furnish a declaration to his head of the department after marriage that he has not taken any dowry. The declaration would have to be signed by his wife, father and father-in-law (The Hindu, July 17, 2004). This has been seen as fulfilling a long-standing demand of the National and State Women’s Commissions. But the fact remains that government employees form a miniscule of the state’s population dominated by business class and migrant workers who do not fall in this net. It is also being reported that many married women who have paid huge dowries but allowed the declaration by their husbands had no legal claim or stand when their marriage failed and they were faced with divorce.

Kerala which has the highest HDI in India and is remarkable for its social development is beset with an alarming growth in suicide rate. Around 8900 suicides are reported every year from the State giving it the dubious distinction of being ranked first among states on this score. Depression, alcoholism, mental illness, fall in price of agricultural products, ruthless and competitive lifestyle, unemployment, pampered child rearing practices and a lack of immunity from frustration are the major reasons cited behind the growing rate of suicides in the state (TNIE, November 6, 2002). The Kerala Cabinet cleared a project for bridging the digital divide by making at least one person in every family computer literate and trained to access e-mail and internet with ease. There does not seem to be any concerted effort to mitigate the crisis in social life or avert the trend of suicide of complete families (Prasad, 2004c: 41 -42).

The consumption of alcohol in Kerala is estimated to be 8.3 litres of liquor per person, the highest in India, and nearly three times the national rate (Wadhwa, 2004). This has contributed to the rising crime against women and the increasing trend of suicides in the state. The women’s movement gave rise to several anti-alcohol agitations in various parts of the country in the severities and eighties. Various women’s groups including Mahila Samakhya in Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Tehri Garhwal and Pithoragarh have waged a war against the liquor trade and alcohol abuse (see Joshi, 2004). There is hardly any social movement to check this problem and bring about temperance in the State.

The anti-arrack movement in Andhra Pradesh grew out of the inspiration gained by women in adult literacy classes. In 1992, women of Dubagunta in Nellore, one of the poor dry districts of southern Andhra Pradesh, organised and agitated to force the closure of the arrack shop in the village. Newspapers published this story and women all over the state marched to the arrack shops and sought to stop the auction of contracts to sell arrack. The press, in particular, Eenadu, the largest circulating Telugu daily, covered the anti-arrack movement spearheaded by the women for a year (Gopalakrishnaiah, 1997: 19). But prohibition was withdrawn in 1994 as the State wanted the additional revenue generated by liquor sales.

There is a strange silence on women’s issues in Kerala, where women’s health, education and basic socio-economic indicators match those of the advanced countries in the world. Women’s activism for gender equality is quite weak even where women enjoy situational advantage. Highly educated and financially independent women are seen succumbing to dowry demands, son-preference, domestic violence and sexual harassment at the work place.

While Kerala society is in a stage of transition from tradition to modernity, Andhra Pradesh is still a predominantly traditional society in which women are constrained by several cultural and social norms that govern their lives. Women in Kerala are facing the dilemmas of a society that has social development without striking the right balance between the social values and economic change. Kerala is in need of a massive anti-dowry movement, an anti-alcohol struggle to stem the tide of violence against women and greater participation of women in the national women’s movement to address women’s issues more comprehensively as their experiences would be valuable to women of other States in their march towards development and empowerment.

Table-1: Infrastructure and Demographic Profile

Infrastructure and

Demographic Profile

Andhra Pradesh



275,045 sq. km

38,863 sq. km







Density (population per sq. km)



Urban Population



Road Length

1,65,417 km

2,19,805 km

Rail route

5,029 km

1050 km

Source: Manorama Year Book 2003

Table-2: Selected Socio-economic Indicators of Women

Socio-economic Indicators

Andhra Pradesh



Sex ratio





61. 11



Literacy (Female)

51. 17



Dropout ratio of girls




Female IMR (per 1000 live birth)




Life Expectancy




Age at Marriage

15. 1 years

20.2 years

I 6.4 years

Total Fertility Rate




HDI (2001)




HDI Rank (2001)



Source: National Human Development Report 2001 (2002)

Table-3: Health Status of Women

Health Indicators

Andhra Pradesh



Women with anemia




All types of Antenatal Care




Institutional Delivery




Source: National Family Health Survey (NFHS-2) 1998099, IIPS, 2000

Table-4: Women’s Exposure to Mass Media

Media Exposure

Andhra Pradesh



Newspaper/ Magazines




Radio listening




TV viewing








No Media




Source: National Family Health Survey (NFHS-2) 1998099, IIPS, 2000

Table-5: Crime against Women

Violence against Women

Andhra Pradesh



Dowry death (1998)




Rape 869








Kidnapping and Abduction








Cruelty by relatives




Source: Crime in India, National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs (Reproduced from National Human Development Report 2001 (2002) p.155)

Table-6: Autonomy of Women

Autonomy of Women

Andhra Pradesh



% of involvement in any decision-making




What to cook




Own health care




Purchasing jewellery




Staying with parents/sibling




Got to market




Visit friends and relatives




Access to money




Source: National Family Health Survey (NFHS-2) 1998099, IIPS, 2000


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KIRAN PRASAD. Associate Professor in Communication and Journalism, Sri Padmavathi Mahila University, Tirupati. Has published over a dozen books and many scholarly papers in national and international journals. Her latest books are Communication and Empowerment of Women, Strategies and Policy Insights from India and Information, and Communication Technology: Recasting Development (2004).

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Associate Professor in Communication and Journalism, Sri Padmavathi Mahila University, Tirupati. Has published over a dozen books and many scholarly papers in national and international journals. Her latest books are Communication and Empowerment of Women, Strategies and Policy Insights from India and Information, and Communication Technology: Recasting Development (2004).

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