Pandora’s Box – Policy Challenge in Empowering Young Women Leaders in Local Governance.

Session Report
Reetwika Mallick

The Gender Impact Studies Center, at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi conducted a Two-Month Online National Winter School Program on ‘Young Women Leaders in Public Policy Fellowship’ from January 6th, 2024 to March 8th 2024.

The course, spread over two months, provided a unique opportunity to gain in-depth insight into public policy. The course led by esteemed experts, empowered young women to be effective leaders. Through a combination of engaging lectures, interactive workshops, networking, guidance by thematic experts and practical exercises.

Day 4 of the Young Women Leaders in Public Policy Fellowship commenced with Dr Purnima Chauhan, Visiting Senior Fellow, IMPRI, providing a comprehensive overview of the challenges that women-oriented policies encounter in the process of formulation as well as implementation. Dr. Chauhan in her enlightening session also alluded to the possible steps that can be adopted in order to overcome those challenges at the local governance level.

Role of Gender in Public Policy

Dr. Chauhan outlined the journey of women empowerment from ‘women in development (WID)’ to ‘sustainable development goal 5’, concerning gender equality and thereby taking a leap from formal equality to substantive equality, putting gender on the center stage. Since gender is septo-neutral Dr. Chauhan asserted that instilling the gender question in policy formulation is crucial. While sharing her experience in introducing gender-based budgeting in Himachal Pradesh, Dr. Chauhan delineated that such an attempt at inclusion is a disruptive reform, since gender biases have been normalized in society.

Dr, Chauhan during the session elaborated on the issue of gender blindness. According to Dr. Chauhan, the lack of questioning both by men and women in the sphere of cultural practices or the popular legends or the daily life discrimination that one encounters has reinforced gender blindness. Therefore, Dr. Chauhan stressed the fact that any policy that is women-centric needs to be owned by everyone. Thereby requiring a change in the mindset of the entire society in order to get the desired results.

Delving into the essence of policy formulation and implementation, Dr. Chauhan cautioned the session through several examples that even those policies that seem to have no biases, have differential impact on the people based on their socio-economic position in the society. Therefore, in order to achieve the desired outcomes and to avoid reiterating the existing flaws, Dr. Chauhan emphasized the need to develop a strong feedback mechanism. One such instance of public policy that lacked the modification in order to get the intended outcome was the Public Services Guarantee Act which only ensured the timely receival of services and not emphasize the quality of services received.

Dr. Chauhan taking the session forward, explained the roller-coaster ride of public policy outcomes through a policy example. Mission Shakti, a national creche scheme in 2022 was revised and subsumed under the Palna scheme. The aim under Mission Shakti was to provide daycare facilities for children of 6 months to 6 years for working women so that they can put their best foot forward and at the same time improve the nutritional status of the children. However, during the period- 2015 to 2020, more than 70 % functioning creche were shut down. And due to the close-down of these creches, in MGNREGA women were affected

Steps Taken to Correct Gender Inequality

Dr. Chauhan explained in depth the various approaches to combating gender inequality through public policies. One such approach, the formal equality approach as described by Dr. Chauhan did not take into account the differences that existed among the people during policy formulation and thereby lacked an outcome-oriented approach. An alternative to the formal equality approach could be the protectionist approach whereby individuals are made responsible for their protection.

Identifying the drawbacks in both approaches, Dr. Chauhan advocated for achieving substantive equality, i.e. equality of opportunity, equality of access and equality of results while taking into account the diversity that. Dr Chauhan, in explaining the substantive approach, shared an example of a Swedish town planning committee, whereby women’s concerns were taken into account since a lot of the burden was handled by women. The town therefore was planned, keeping the necessities and unequal sharing of burden between men and women in mind.

Data in Policy

Dr. Chauhan highlighting the need for gender disaggregated data, shared the instance of the distorted sex ratio of Himachal Pradesh in the under 6 years category among children. After analyzing such data, the reasons behind the imbalance in the sex ratio were addressed and the gap was bridged.

Dr. Chauhan also proposed that there is a need to analyse the data that is being generated, the simple data collection on paper would not assist in getting the desired outcome of any policy. Women’s representation in local bodies, as Dr. Chauhan mentioned appeared to be appealing but the need was to analyse whether the women actually exercised the power.

Towards the end of the session, Dr. Chauhan discussed India’s ranking in several global indices and the possible reasons behind India’s poor performance in the indicators. Dr. Chauhan also listed out a few steps that can be adopted to overcome the existing loopholes.
Concluding the session Dr. Chauhan stated that, only the tip of the iceberg of gender inequality has been addressed till now. Dr. Chauhan asserted that the gender gap needs to be bridged at the earliest in order to not only progress socially but also economically and environmentally. Dr. Chauhan urged to shift from women’s development to women-led development in order to achieve a gender-equal society.

Read more event reports of IMPRI here:

Reshaping Narratives in Public Policy through the Young Women Leaders Fellowship