With a low sex ratio of 933 females per thousand males as well as on other counts such as maternal mortality rates, property rights and literacy rates, India’s ranks low on the gender equality index. The National Human Development Report of the Planning Commission in India (2001) notes that the attainments in human development indicators for females as a proportion of that of males has only marginally improved from 62 per cent in the early eighties to 67.6 per cent in the early nineties. This means that on average the attainments of women on human development indicators were only two thirds of those of men.
There are apprehensions that design, planning and implementation of the Agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in India would worsen the gender asymmetry in terms of accessing affordable health care, nutrition and their rights on community knowledge systems. At one level, the granting of monopoly rights serves to enhance the costs of products and services especially those related to medicines. Also, at another level, TRIPS by extending legal recognition to only individual rights excludes protection to community based knowledge systems wherein women have a critical stake thereby ignoring both its economic significance and contribution. Taken together, the implementation of the TRIPS agreement is likely to impact adversely the right to affordable health care, nutrition and property of women.
It has been estimated that 38 per cent of India’s 5.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS in India are women. Women constitute nearly 47 percent of the cancer burden in India. Approximately 67 per cent of the women between the age group of 13 – 50 are suffering from anaemia. In India it has been found that though women report more illnesses with an increase in income (this is primarily because reporting of morbidity increases with an improvement of level of living) treatment of the disease does not show a corresponding trend. As per the National Sample Survey, financial constraints and lack of affordable of medical care are the chief factors contributing to this trend. In addition to the same women are more susceptible to diseases such as gynecological disorders, cancers and tumors and diabetes mellitus. Maternal and Perinatal Conditions constitute nearly 11.6 percent of the disease burden in India.
A recent study shows effective drugs for the treatment of anaemia are out of reach for the vast majority of poor women. Existing prices of breast cancer treatment drugs such as endoxane, melphalan are in the range of approximately $3 –$43. Clearly, once the product patent regime is operationalised, these prices would climb further by elimination of generic competition and creation of monopoly rights over new drugs and new vaccines. Thus for instance, a patent on the new vaccine for cervical cancer would effectively put if out reach for poor and needy women.
An important challenge relates to the complex linkages of the TRIPS Agreement with food production, food security and nutrition in developing countries. It is believed that Article 27(3)(b) of the TRIPS Agreement permitting patents on seeds and microorganisms such as algae, bacteria and fungi would increase the prices of seeds and fertilizers while restricting traditional exchange, use or sale of seeds by farmers. Increasingly, women farmers access farming inputs from the market and given existing disparities between women and men’s access to cash and credit, women farmers would undoubtedly face a greater risk of falling into chronic indebtedness.
It is apprehended that the TRIPS Agreement would lead to increasing privatization of genetic resources and agricultural knowledge. Protection of plant varieties (PPV), essentially articulated in terms of the rights of commercial breeders, will impact access of women farmers’ to germ plasm and scientific knowledge. Further, with an increased emphasis on monoculture, PPV would undermine conservation of biodiversity and sustainability concerns with negative consequences for local food security, including decreased nutrition.
It is well known that women have been at the forefront of preservation of biodiversity in many communities for centuries. The international community has recognized the close and traditional dependence of many indigenous and local communities on biological resources, notably in the preamble to the Convention on Biological Diversity, (CBD), which has been ratified by 178 countries since 1992. CBD also recognizes the contribution that traditional knowledge can make to both the conservation and the sustainable use of biological diversity, two fundamental objectives of the Convention. It addresses the role of both women and local communities in the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. The TRIPS Agreement does not accord recognition of, and compensation for, traditional and local knowledge among women and men farmers.