A brief history of women empowerment in India

A brief history of women empowerment in India

By Dilip Chenoy

The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Indian Constitution in its Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties, and Directive Principles. Despite that, where does India stands in terms of women empowerment?

India has made significant gains in improving the lives of its women in terms of providing them with better health and education facilities, greater participation of women in governance at the grassroots level coupled with enhanced access to family planning services. The Government has been committed to recognizing gender equality and women empowerment as the foundations of multiple cross-cutting strategic policy themes.

Despite closing two-thirds of its overall gender gap (score of 66.8%), India lost four positions to be ranked 112th in World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2020 that covered 153 countries.

Despite the positive trends that the country has witnessed in terms of women empowerment, there are still some major challenges which the country is yet to overcome. Despite closing two-thirds of its overall gender gap (score of 66.8%), India lost four positions to be ranked 112th in World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2020 that covered 153 countries.

In terms of the economic gender gap, India has only been able to bridge one-third of the gap which has significantly widened since 2006.

In terms of the economic gender gap, India has only been able to bridge one-third of the gap which has significantly widened since 2006. Amongst the 153 countries studied, India was the only country where the economic gender gap (0.354) has been larger than the political gender gap (0.411).

However, deterioration of data on crime against women, reduction in labour participation clearly indicates that much still needs to be done to achieve true empowerment for women.

The parameters which can be indicative of women empowerment in India are:

  1. Property rights
  2. Access to education
  3. Access to health care facilities
  4. Women’s safety and security
  5. Women’s representation in Parliament

Status of property rights of women

There have been gains in women’s inheritance rights, yet challenges remain in implementation. Social biases and lack of enforcement continue to hinder the full realization of Indian inheritance laws. Inheritance laws and property distribution fall under the Hindu and Muslim personal laws, both of which exempt agricultural land. 

Educated women lead to healthier families and better development indices.

For a country with a predominantly agro-based economy, women’s inability to inherit agricultural land exacerbates the feminization of poverty and neglects women’s welfare. We find that notwithstanding the 2005 Hindu Succession Amendment Act which granted equal inheritance rights to sons and daughters in the joint family property, particularly agricultural land, barely 16% of women in rural landowning households own land, constituting only 14% of all landowners and owning 11% of the land.

India can add $770 billion to its economy by 2025 by encouraging girls to study and participate in the workforce.

Access to education

Educating women is critical for the socio-economic development of individuals and the nation. Lack of educational opportunities and barriers to completing 12 years of education costs countries between $15 trillion and $30 trillion according to a report, ‘Missed Opportunities – The High cost of not educating girls’, released by the World Bank in 2018.

According to the report, educated women lead to healthier families and better development indices. According to the Mckinsey Global Institute report on Gender parity, India can add $770 billion to its economy by 2025 by encouraging girls to study and participate in the workforce.

Women are closing the higher education gap. various government programs focusing on girl child education and specific reservations for women in higher education institutes have had a positive impact. Among graduates in 2018-2019, women represented:

  • Undergraduate degrees: 53.0%
  • MPhil degrees: 69.6%
  • PhDs: 41.8%

Women in India are at the receiving end of heavy gender biases and are subsequently more likely to be at multiple disadvantages in terms of healthcare.

Access to health facilities

Women in India are at the receiving end of heavy gender biases and are subsequently more likely to be at multiple disadvantages in terms of healthcare. Malnutrition, lack of basic sanitisation, and treatment for diseases all contribute to the dearth of healthcare resources available to women in India.

Over the course of time, the issues affecting women’s health have undergone a drastic change, and currently, NCDs, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney disease, respiratory diseases, and trauma are the leading causes of death for women worldwide – in high as well as low-income countries.

NCRB report highlights that the rape vulnerability of a girl or woman has increased up to 44% in the last 10 years.

Women’s safety and security

According to the National Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB), India recorded 88 rape cases every day in 2019. NCRB report highlights that the rape vulnerability of a girl or woman has increased up to 44% in the last 10 years. The poor safety and security scenario of the country has a deep impact on the decision of girls and women to step out to learn and work.

These rising number of threats to women’s safety and security are due to factors like patriarchal mindset; objectification of women in various print and digital media platforms, Lack of infrastructure in rural and urban-rural clusters, and poor police-citizen ratio in the country, besides the usual spoiler, lack of awareness and gender sensitization in society.

Ministry of WCD has started a One-Stop Centre scheme set up to address violence against women. The scheme provides medical, psychological, legal, police, and shelter facilities to women. The Ministry of Home Affairs also has a women’s safety division launched in 2018 to strengthen measures for the safety of women in the country and instill a greater sense of security in them through speedy and effective administration of justice in a holistic manner and by providing a safer environment for women.

There are only 66 women members in Lok Sabha, which is barely 12.15% of the total house strength.

Women’s representation in parliament

The Women’s Reservation Bill gives 33% reservation for women seats in all levels of Indian politics. This is an attempt to increase female political participation. The bill was first introduced on 12 September 1996. Successive governments tried to push for the bill, but it took 14 years to get it passed in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament).

The bill is yet to be passed in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) and in all state legislative assemblies. The introduction of the bill was a historic attempt to alter gender demographics in the Indian polity.

This Bill could help to expedite a process that usually takes generations by incorporating women’s voices in governance. There are only 66 women members in Lok Sabha, which is barely 12.15% of the total house strength. In the case of Rajya Sabha, there are 33 women members, constituting a total of 12.7% of total house strength.

Violence against women in India is widespread and the consequences for perpetrators rarely match the crime.

Gap in policy and implementation

The gap in policy and practice in women empowerment is most visible when it comes to the level and kinds of violence women face in India. Despite the policies, laws, and initiatives by civil society institutions. Violence against women in India is widespread and the consequences for perpetrators rarely match the crime. Enforcement of laws and sentencing of perpetrators are long and arduous processes, and the gaps in these processes are further widened by corruption.

Another gap in implementing laws and policies on violence against women is the inaccessibility of the information on victims’ rights among rural and less educated women. Additionally, social stigma and the fear of abandonment by the family play a big role in women and girls’ ability or inability to access laws and policies to address sexual and physical violence. 

The gap is that every woman in the country still does not have access to health facilities or education and feminization of poverty is true. The gap is because missing women and children still fuel the illicit trade of sex and organ trade of the world.

Continuing to work is a daily choice – which is rarely made by women alone.

Women empowerment

The way forward

1.) A woman’s decision to enter the labour force is deeply influenced by her family, marital, educational, and social status. Continuing to work is a daily choice – which is rarely made by women alone.

Therefore, to (a) bring more women into the labour force, and (b) prevent them from dropping out of work, there is a need for targeted interventions by all relevant stakeholders – the government, private sector, media, and civil society.

  • There is a need for an increased focus on skill development and capacity building of women to utilize their creative and innovative potential while increasing their participation in the economic labour force.
  • All sectors within the economy must be incentivized to adopt gender-neutral hiring and promotion policies.
  • The Government can initiate apprenticeship and/or training programs with the private sector to absorb women in sectors where they are underrepresented.
  • Companies must be ranked annually on indicators related to gender equality like percentage of women employees at various levels, working environment for women, gender-responsive training programs and CSR activities, etc.
  • Focus on upskilling the women engaged in unpaid household work and create opportunities for them to engage in economic activities like weaving, handicraft, packaging, etc., and develop them as women clusters which will make them beneficiaries of major government schemes in a targeted and convenient manner.
  • Set quantitative targets to increase access and improve learning outcomes for girls at the primary, secondary, and tertiary level under the new National Education Policy
  • Increase quantum of allocation for programs targeted at women under the Gender Responsive Budget from the present 1% of GDP.
  • FLO’s 3Cs (Competency, Capacity, and Confidence) Initiative building through transformational life skills & Technical Education Adopt ITI Programme(AITIP) empowered women with technical tools and that knowledge to enable them to become economically independent. The initiative helped women overcome negative behavioral patterns, become self-reliant and enable them to be more productive. Civil society & Media: Influence attitudes and choices. Encourage women to join schools, vocational training programs; undertake confidence-building programs and highlight female role models in mainstream media, in schools, colleges, and celebrate the success of professional women.
  • FLO has collaborated with TSIIC to create the first-ever all women’s industrial park, set up by women-owned businesses.

The biggest barrier to gender equality is the mindset, stereotypes, social norms, and unconscious bias that are contributing to the ever-widening gender gap.

2.) The challenges faced by women in MSME are not airtight and they cannot be targeted with singular policy measures. For instance, the lack of women’s ability to deal well with complexities is one of the reasons for the lack of registration of MSME units and lack of access to institutional credit. However, the lack of access to institutional credit is also related to the poor financial literacy of women.

Similarly, engagement of women in low-level skill jobs makes them more vulnerable to job losses due to economic disruptions while it also limits their income augmentation opportunities. To overcome these challenges a transformational and integrated approach is required which involves all stakeholders (Government, banks, think tanks, industries, etc.).

It is important to identify the linkages between these challenges while expanding the reach of the existing policies. This would let us tap into the full potential of women entrepreneurs and promote innovation, economic growth, and job creation.

We must eliminate all discrimination against women.

3.) The biggest barrier to gender equality is the mindset, stereotypes, social norms, and unconscious bias that are contributing to the ever-widening gender gap. Changing a societal mindset can take generations. This is a long-term endeavor, and because of this, young women are at the heart of our efforts.

As our cultures approach the so-called fourth industrial revolution (the digital revolution), the way we work is changing at an unprecedented pace. Developments in global connectivity, technological services, the emergence of scaled robotics, and Artificial Intelligence will radically reshape many sectors of our economies.

We need to ensure that future generations are adequately equipped to thrive in this environment — and in this preparation, we must eliminate all discrimination against women.

Also Read: How women are empowering the Indian fintech sector and way round

(Dilip Chenoy is the Secretary General of FICCI.)

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Autofintechs.com. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)

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