In India, a silent revolution of nari shakti is unfolding
Several indicators reflecting the status of women are moving in the right direction. While there is no magic bullet for bridging the gender gap, a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach can ensure that nari shakti emerges as a key enabler for India in this Amrit Kaal.
Since taking office in 2014, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi has recognised that India’s true potential will only be realised when women are given equal opportunities in all spheres of life. This is consistent with global research and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Appreciating that achieving gender equality is a decades-long journey, the government has placed nari shakti at the core of its vision for India as a developed country by 2047.
Gender equality is not only a fundamental right, but also a prerequisite for a peaceful and prosperous world. There is evidence to suggest that improvements in a woman’s status have benefits for the well-being of other household members. According to the Clinton Global Initiative, when women work, they invest 90% of their income back into their families, compared to 35% for men. Investing in women also boosts economic development. It is unsurprising, therefore, that SDG-5, which pertains to gender equality, is seen as a key goal. Every gender-related initiative of the government has been aligned to one or more SDG-5 targets — ending discrimination and violence against women, improving access to basic services as well as increasing women’s economic, financial, and political participation.
The flagship Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme aims to address the mindset challenges that underpin discrimination against women. Various welfare schemes have focused on ensuring access to basic services for all women. For instance, free gas connections under the Ujjwala Yojana have saved over 90 million women from the daily ordeal of collecting firewood. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has enabled access to toilets for millions of women without violation of dignity. Under the Jal Jeevan Mission, walking long distances to collect water for daily consumption is becoming a thing of the past.
To support women’s participation in the labour force, several initiatives have been announced, including the Maternity Benefit Act, which has enhanced the paid maternity leave provision from 12 weeks to 26. Recognising that access to credit is a constraint for women entrepreneurs, schemes such as Stand-Up India and Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana (PMMY) have been implemented. At least 75% of PMMY’s beneficiaries are women. The Nirbhaya Fund has been used to establish over 1,000 fast-track courts for enabling expeditious access to justice.
Several indicators reflecting the status of women are moving in the right direction. The total fertility rate has declined from 2.2 to 2.0 at the national level between the fourth and fifth rounds of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS). The sex ratio at birth has improved from 919 (NFHS-4) to 929 (NFHS-5). For the first time, the female infant mortality rate (IMR) was equal to the male IMR in 2019-21. The maternal mortality rate has also reduced from 167 in 2011-13 to 97 in 2018-20.
More women are enrolling in college as compared to men. Indicators driving women’s economic participation, such as bank account and mobile phone ownership, have also improved by 28 percentage points and 10 percentage points, respectively, since 2015. Women’s political participation has been a silent revolution. At the grassroots level, out of the three million women globally who are appointed to political offices, 1.4 million are from India.
We must invest in gender and age-disaggregated statistics to enable more targeted policy interventions. We also require better mechanisms to capture women’s contribution to the economy through paid and unpaid work. Gender sensitisation in schools, alongside intensified social behaviour change communication campaigns, can help challenge intergenerational biases.
Skill training programmes should also be emphasised, as should the strengthening of infrastructure. Further, investing in the care economy by scaling up affordable childcare services will reap dividends. The private sector must ensure transparency and gender parity in recruitment, promotion, and wage policies, as well as lead the way in designing part-time work options and technology-enabled work from home models.
While there is no magic bullet for bridging the gender gap, a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach can ensure that nari shakti emerges as a key enabler for India in this Amrit Kaal.
Suman Bery is vice-chairman, Niti Aayog
The views expressed are personal