Affirming gender equality in policy and practice - Hindustan Times

Affirming gender equality in policy and practice

ByHindustan Times
Mar 08, 2023 09:04 AM IST

The article has been authored by Akhila Sivadas, executive director, Centre for Advocacy and Research, New Delhi.

Given the theme for this International Women’s Day, March 8, 2023, viz. DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality, one wonders whether in the face of many persisting structural and systemic barriers compounded by the pandemic that thwart women’s empowerment and the progress toward gender equality, all the efforts that has been made to strengthen the legal framework on the rights of diverse genders and the many gender intentional policies and programs, including leveraging technology for empowerment, are going to make a difference at all. And more so in the context of the post-Covid situation, as the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women and marginalised populations. In fact, all women-owned small and petty businesses that worked in areas such as food processing, garment manufacturing and traditional crafts were all nearly wiped out.

Gender equality is not only a fundamental right, but also a prerequisite for a peaceful and prosperous world. (Shutterstock) PREMIUM
Gender equality is not only a fundamental right, but also a prerequisite for a peaceful and prosperous world. (Shutterstock)

It is not surprising that their expectation for appropriate support and assistance from the government to tide over the crisis has increased. One of the programmatic thrusts of the governmental schemes has been on rebuilding, reskilling and strengthening women’s work participation and economically empowering them by augmenting their organisational capacity as federated self-help groups to do business, including using digital technology to learn, connect and market their products. In fact, with the situation getting grimmer and more daunting, it is not surprising that women and girls are seizing every possible opportunity to buck the trend.

There are many reports that are emerging from the ground and even from rural hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar about the fight back being waged by women, girls and persons of diverse genders. They are becoming tech-savvy, accessing digital learning, growing their small businesses and even using the internet to become effective local leaders and influencers. Evidence points out that as of 2021, in India, 54% women between the age of 15 and 49 years owned a mobile phone and in urban India 7 out of 10 women had a mobile phone that they themselves used and with many of them, particularly in smaller cities, showing greater enthusiasm for e-payment. A survey conducted by Rakuten Insight in October 2022 reveals that 85% of female respondents (as against 86% of men) preferred to use PayTM.

Meanwhile, with India’s overall ranking positioned at 135 out of 146 far behind all South Asian countries with the exception of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and last or 146th in the sub-index of health and survival, South Asia is reporting the lowest performance, having closed 62.4% of its gender gap, far below the global index of 68.1%. While worldwide, countries will take 132 years to reach gender parity, South Asia is expected to take an estimated 197 years, to achieve it.

Therefore, the question that arises in the face of the widening gender gap, as reflected in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, 2022, is, can the winds of change through innovation powered by technology help gender mainstreaming and moving towards greater parity? This is very complicated because even, while economic recovery is being planned and efforts being made to make some of it to happen, crimes and violence against women are on the rise; by May, 2020 domestic violence complaints had risen to an all-time high of 131%. This situation had worsened post-lockdown. The National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) report, released in August, 2022 showed that 4,28,278 cases of crimes against women were filed; 31,878 rape cases were recorded from January and December 2021 and as high as 1,37,956 complaints of domestic violence reported. While these rising figures more than anything else indicate the determination of women, girls and persons of diverse genders to speak up and with the support of civil society organizations and the law enforcement system coupled with the information they get from the internet are leveraging helplines, counselling and one stop crisis centres to secure justice, it is also clear that a lot of the incremental gains made pre-Covid in areas like livelihood development, girls’ education and healthcare are under threat and in some cases being undone. Incidences of early marriage and discontinuation of schooling by girls is on the rise and occurring in different parts of the country. To a great extent, this is because the ongoing effort made to mainstream gender has not integrated the voice and agency of women and marginal communities in shaping the crisis response. While there is growing demand for all social development programmes as well as for all services related to health and access to justice, the effective mainstreaming of women and marginal communities and prioritising their issues is not happening. Women and the marginal communities are not at the centre of development planning and programme development. With lack of sex-disaggregated data, sustained financing and poor representation in decision-making bodies, we can neither formulate salient policies and rules to execute nor unleash fully their potential in terms of thought, leadership and commitment needed to achieve gender equality. In fact, what we are witnessing today in Iran and Afghanistan in response to a massive anti-hijab protest, in the former and to legitimise women’s subordination and their secondary status in the latter in defiance of all international human rights conventions and instruments are signs that mere recognition of gender equality as the cornerstone of an inclusive governance and society is not enough. Recognition needs to be translated into decisive enablement for gender transformative processes focusing on legitimising their power and say in decision making and not just enabling their empowerment

The article has been authored by Akhila Sivadas, executive director, Centre for Advocacy and Research, New Delhi.

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