Making development much more inclusive - Hindustan Times
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Making development much more inclusive

Mar 15, 2023 08:56 PM IST

The old growth versus equity, and development versus environment, approaches became less salient. Equity, access and democratic participation, diversity and pluralism are today seen as integral to development, with policy choices being predicated on sustainability and inclusivity.

From the closing decades of the 20th century, the discourse on development has expanded to include human security concerns. The alarm bells rung by the pathbreaking Club of Rome Report of 1972, The Limits to Growth, which triggered a questioning of the anthropocentric view of progress and the dominant Gross Domestic Product (GDP)-centric paradigm of development from the perspective of sustainability. It became clear that the earth could not sustain rapaciously extractive production and extravagant consumption.

The administrative and political will to optimise resource utilisation must clearly be galvanised. India’s enthusiastic support for women-led development at the G20 cannot lose sight of the two crucial axes of human security: Freedom from want and freedom from fear. (HT PHOTO)
The administrative and political will to optimise resource utilisation must clearly be galvanised. India’s enthusiastic support for women-led development at the G20 cannot lose sight of the two crucial axes of human security: Freedom from want and freedom from fear. (HT PHOTO)

A further impetus to this re-scripting was provided by the Brandt Commission Report (1980), calling out inequities between the Global North and South; the contributions of Swedish statesman Olof Palme and Gunnar Myrdal; economist EF Schumacher in the 1970s, including his critique of gigantism and call for appropriate technology; and the UNDP Human Development reports by Mahbub ul Haq, buttressed by Amartya Sen’s recasting of development as freedom foregrounding capabilities and entitlements.

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The old growth versus equity, and development versus environment, approaches became less salient. Equity, access and democratic participation, diversity and pluralism are today seen as integral to development, with policy choices being predicated on sustainability and inclusivity.

The United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2000 sought to capture this spirit, only to later expand and nuance them into a more globally inclusive compact in the elaborate framework of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The recognition that the older hegemonic models of economic development and scientific progress were exclusionary and devalued women and Third World communities as producers of economic value and generators of knowledge gained traction. The professed gender neutrality of the post-World War II development paradigms began to unravel.

Women comprise nearly half of the world’s population, and in most developing countries produce between 60-80% of the food and yet account for about 50% of the world’s extreme poor. Two-thirds of the world’s illiterate are women. They have unequal rights and insecure access to resources. They suffer disproportionately from poor nutrition, inimical societal and environmental factors and failing health care provisions. From the 1980s, UN initiatives (most notably the Beijing Plus Declarations on the Status of Women, 1995) along with civil society networks of women pushed the envelope on the link between gender and sustainable development, arguing that the increase in women’s power and the sustainability of development are ecologically tied to global peace and security. Organisations such as the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, Gender and Water Alliance, ENERGIA, Gender and Climate Change Network, Diverse Women for Diversity are only a few of the expanding networks of women who, through advocacy, have kept the agenda vibrant and alive.

Women’s movements in India, too, have spawned many grassroots initiatives that interrogate androcentric and monocultural views and foreground women’s innovative contribution to development and climate action. India is one of the few countries globally to adapt and localise the SDG framework to the grassroots, integrating it even within gram panchayat development plans.

In addition to a detailed National Indicator Framework, states have developed SDG vision documents, strategies, action plans and context-specific indicators. The intention is for localisation to generate ownership of the Agenda 2030 at all levels of governance, moving the thrust from just an “all of government” to a “whole of society” approach. An index developed by the government chose to focus on 13 of the 17 SDGs and excluded goals 12 (responsible consumption and production), 13 (climate action), 14 (life below water) and 17 (partnerships for the goals). The exclusion of climate action is significant.

India’s SDG index and baseline report in 2018 was probably one of the most comprehensive localisation exercises undertaken in any country. The 39 localised targets of 2018 were increased to 54 in 2019. Himachal Pradesh, for instance, introduced 30 new schemes in 2018-19 to bridge gaps in target achievement, and Maharashtra approved an ambitious livelihood programme for rural women to financially service 113,000 underprivileged and debt-ridden women the same year.

It is now universally acknowledged that gender is a cross-cutting issue — a common denominator for the realisation of SDGs. It impacts all of them. Consequently, the target scope of Goal 5 (gender equality) becomes a crucial barometer. India has adopted several gender-specific targets across its chosen SDGs in addition to several SDG targets and parameters that are specific to the goal of gender equality. Yet, the government’s target review processes reveal that the gender-related targets are the single-most underachieved across SDGs. This is despite government initiatives introduced at the national and state levels to improve the social, economic and political status of women. These schemes include the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana; Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao; the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana; Pradhan Mantri Ujwala Yojana, Sukanya Samridhi Yojana, Janani Suraksha Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana — all meant to reach women from underserved communities.

Despite India’s adoption of gender-responsive budgeting since 2005, the gender budget has remained below 5% of the GDP. Gaps appear between the schemes on paper and implementation on the ground. A large percentage of funds allocated for women’s safety and security remain unutilised. The Nirbhaya Fund is a stark example of this underspending. The administrative and political will to optimise resource utilisation must be galvanised. India’s enthusiastic support for women-led development at the G20 cannot lose sight of the two crucial axes of human security: Freedom from want and freedom from fear.

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

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