India must bridge the gender equality gap - Hindustan Times
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India must bridge the gender equality gap

Apr 28, 2023 07:51 PM IST

A concerted focus on a more robust implementation of the targets of Goal 5 (Gender Equality) of SDGs would lend heft to India’s declared commitment on women-led development

South Asia is home to 860 million women, three-fourths of whom live in India. But among the eight regions monitored by the World Economic Forum (WEF), South Asia’s gender gap, at 66%, is the second largest in the world. It is projected that at the current rate, it will take 71 years to close the gender gap.

The average wage salaries for women remain at around 70% of their male colleagues (HT PHOTO)
The average wage salaries for women remain at around 70% of their male colleagues (HT PHOTO)

India ranks 112 (among the 153 studied) in the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 of WEF. Female Labour Force Participation Rate, according to the Economic Survey 2022-23, is pegged at 25.1% in 2020-21. These, however, are according to conventional computations, and the need to broaden the horizon of measuring work for women is being increasingly acknowledged. Women’s unpaid work, for example, remains largely invisibilised and must ideally be factored into official matrices that measure production and labour.

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The average wage salaries for women remain at around 70% of their male colleagues. Yet, counter-intuitively, as revealed by the WEF Gender Gap Report 2020, India is the only country where the economic gender gap is wider than its political gender gap. Paradoxes abound. The expansion of new work opportunities for women in some sectors coexists with continued weak bargaining power in the labour market and an increase in educated aspirational career women entering the workplace, with many still in the low-paid informal sector.

Similarly, the proportion of female-headed households is increasing, but their economic status is worrying. According to the Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC), most of the 12.8% of the rural women-headed households have a monthly income of less than 5,000. Twenty-three million households in rural India are headed by women, and yet they remain mostly landless or deprived of property rights. World Bank figures reveal that in 2016 despite women-headed households in India being around 14.6%, women faced high levels of precarity. The growing numbers of women farmers in the non-cash crop sectors raise issues around the feminisation of agriculture and the lack of entitlements to land and asset ownership. In addition, patriarchal structures and social taboos regarding marriage and inheritance deprive women of effective agency.

In the recent Lok Sabha elections of 2019, women’s voter turnout exceeded that of men. Yet, their representation in Parliament still remains a mere 14.44% in the Lok Sabha and 10.5% in both Houses of Parliament.

The fault lines of class, caste, religion and region intersect with gender to create groups of women who are doubly or triply disadvantaged, depending on their social and geographical location. In addition, Covid-19 has accentuated the levels of precarity and inequality, causing a further setback in meeting several gender-related targets across sectors. More gender-disaggregated data is required to ascertain its full impact across the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)’s target spectrum.

India has undoubtedly enacted progressive legislation to provide equal opportunities to women and secure their safety and dignity. These include, among others, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005; Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013; Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006; the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976; and the 2015 amendments to laws on the rights of Hindu women to property and inheritance. Yet India’s sex ratio at birth at 898 girls per 1,000 boys, and the increase in structural and physical violence against women (according to National Crime Records Bureau 2019 data) continue to be causes for concern. India still has among the highest numbers of maternal and infant mortalities in the world.

India’s presidency of the G20 is an opportunity to amplify the voice of the Global South and be the bridge between the developed and developing economies. With the fulcrum of geopolitical and economic influence shifting to Asia, earlier categorisations of the “Global North” and “Global South” are losing valency and need reframing. Most countries, with a few exceptions, contain pockets of the North and South within their geographical boundaries. Consequently, the vision of the global compact in Agenda 2030, reflected in the SDGs, encapsulates the “5 Ps” – people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnerships. It demonstrates a call to co-create a more just world order that leaves no one behind and underscores the shared (although differentiated) responsibilities of all nations.

India is well positioned to lead the initiative, especially in South Asia, to provide the policy lexicon for engendering development initiatives, be that in regional trade, development assistance, safety nets and cross-border collaborations in health, education, and welfare. A gender-responsive foreign policy that reflects the spirit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s declaration at the Bali G20 meeting that “global development is not possible without women’s participation” can be a resounding signal from India @75.

A concerted focus on a more robust implementation of the targets of Goal 5 (Gender Equality) of SDGs would lend heft to India’s declared commitment on women-led development. Despite challenges, India’s women have excelled in myriad fields of endeavour. They deserve more expansive vistas of agency and choice. They must not be disappointed or short-changed at this watershed moment in the country’s history.

Meenakshi Gopinath is director, Women in Security Conflict Management and Peace, New DelhiThe views expressed are personal

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