Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta, Sunidhi Agarwal

Since 1944, GDP is accepted as the standard measure of economic performance, which was initially commenced in 1934 by Simon Kuznets. We have always looked at economies and their progress through the GDP parameter, which is a very quantitative growth kind of an approach, but as we moved to the 70s, the kind of narrative slightly started getting more broadened in its perspective.” said Dr Jyoti Chandiramani, Director, and Symbiosis School of Economics in a webinar organized by Gender Impact Studies Center, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi and Delhi Post News on Transforming India 2030 towards Gender Equality: Women and Sustainable Development Goal.

Jyoti Chandiramani_Transforming India 2030 towards Gender Equality_ Women and Sustainable Development Goals

Like the Kuznets curve, which talked about the worsening of the environment initially as per capita income increases and then it begins to improve after a certain point of time was proved wrong, the same thing has happened with inequalities. Various Oxfam reports and World Economic Forum reports have denied the statement that the income inequalities would initially reduce. After a particular point of time, they will increase, and then the inequalities will reduce.

One of MDGs’ goals is to promote gender equality and empower women, which was significant amongst the eight goals taken. Even in global governance, it got a huge push from the MDGs point of view. When we look at gender parity, in 2018-19, we see that we are somewhere inching closer, but we fall woefully short on this front when we compare ourselves with other countries.

When it comes to the multi-dimensional poverty index, India’s Government made an action plan to improve the country’s Global MPI performance by identifying the reform areas through six steps. Step one was to disaggregate the parameters, step two map schemes and high-frequency administrative indicators, step three identify relevant ministries, step four is a consultation with the states, union territories, and ministries; defining targets and timelines is step five, and the last step is priority setting – high/medium/ low on the achievement on different parameters, something that we have been following in the Indian context be it at the center or the state.

Coming to the SDGs, the fifth goal talked about achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls, where it talked about certain targets and indicators. But it’s not just the fifth goal that has an impact on women. There’s a cross-cutting element in every goal, which makes the agenda very well defined. Looking at the targets, the points that came out were discrimination, violence, addressing harmful practices, discussion on the value and unpaid care domestic work undertaken by women.

Talking about how policies should promote shared responsibilities within the household and the family and the low participation of women in job opportunities ensure women’s full and effective participation. One can find that the labor force participation rate is shallow in India. Of course, universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights were all the targets identified over there.

In the global framework, we stand 117 on the SDG total, but when it comes to the SDG dashboard for India, we have not made much progress on gender equality. The indicator list for India talks about sex ratio at birth; it talks about female to male ratio of average earnings received during the preceding calendar month among regular wage salaried employees, the rate of crime against women, married women between the age of 15 to 49 who have experienced spousal violence, the proportion of sexual crime against girl children, seats won in the parliament, female labor force participation rate and operational landholdings.  

Dr Chandiramani further says that “if one put all these rights from MDGs to the HDIs to the SDGs and the global dimensional poverty index, one can see that the scope for women and there the gap that was emerging was getting elaborated as we moved on and therefore this conversation and discourse has become far more meaningful in today’s time. When we look at the gender global gender gap index, in 2019, it was 112 on 113.

Looking at some other eminent countries, three stood out very prominent. One was Bangladesh because it’s always known to have an excellent performance on its human development index, and on the gender gap ratio, it ranked at 50. South Africa among the BRICS economy ranked at 17, and the Philippines stood at 16. While India on the economic index scored 110, in 2006, we moved very low towards 149 in 2011-12 and 2017-18 because of women’s lower labor force participation rate. Earlier educational attainment was 102, and now we have dropped to 110 on 112. Under health and survival parameter, our rank was 103, and we are down to 150 and political empowerment we ranked at 18.”

The management of the indicators by the other eminent countries has a lot to do with culture. Unfortunately, one of the things that can’t be measured is culture and cultural change. We have always talked about how we as an economy need to spend more as a percentage of our GDP on health and education. Though we may have it in quantity, the quality needs to get enhanced because education has also created a new kind of curve.

Dr Chandiramani says that she feels sad to see that the sex ratio is so skewed currently. It isn’t good even to have this highlighted in an economy that is talking about development. There is a huge number of years going into bridging this gender gap, whether in education, health, survival, and economic participation. We have been regressive, and in South Asia, it would take 71.5 years to bridge this gap if we have to go forward.

Further, Dr Chandiramani talks about the measures that we need to take to bridge the gender gap, “one can’t put this agenda into few points, but due to paucity of time, there’s a lot that we need to work on. Some of these are women should have the right to equal pay, have the right to dignity and decency, right against workplace harassment and domestic violence.”

With the advent of technology and artificial intelligence, courts are beginning to get digitized. There should be an expedited manner in which the courts can enhance efficiency and time management, and this is one aspect that needs to address the backlog; otherwise, people will never feel the confidence of getting justice in the right frame.

“The UNFPA talked about the 19 harmful practices, and one of them that still remains with India is gender-based sex selection and child marriages, which in the rural areas is widely rampant. We need reforms in terms of socio-cultural change by modifying the way we think.”, says Dr Chandarimani.

We stand very low when it comes to the sex ratio. The skewed sex ratio will translate into 6.8 million missing girls at birth from now 2017 to 2030. “A lot of feminist economists have worked on recognizing the unpaid work of women, and women spend much more time than men in the work that they do, and this is something that needs to get formalized and needs to be addressed in a patriarchal society. Hence, one is recognizing the unpaid work of women. The other is to increase the women participation in the labor force to make the GDP much higher.”, enhanced Dr Chandiramani.

One can see that there has been a declining trend at women’s full and effective participation in labor, especially for the age group of 15 to 25. It might be because they are getting into education and that’s the reason why they are not around. The informal sector according to the economic survey of 2018-19 is almost 93 percent whereas according to NITI Aayog it would be in the range of about 85 percent, so we are not even sure about the size of our informal sector.

Even in the organized sector, women’s participation has been declining, and it is stuck at 23.4in total. Coming to agricultural activity, there has been increasing participation of women in it. According to the Economic Survey of 2017-18, women are working but at a lower wage rate than men.

Dr Chandiramani then talks about the plethora of government schemes that are there both in the center and the state.The amount that is being spent and the gap that exists will always be too little, and therefore it would need multi-stakeholder perspective coming from citizens, civil society, academia, researchers, media and the interdisciplinary framework development.

Though there are a plethora of schemes which ranges from the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao to the Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana to the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandhana Yojana or the very old Kudambashree in 1998, which talked about prosperity and women empowerment for poverty in Kerala and the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojanatrying to make urban poverty in terms of energy poverty where you’re using biofuels and where in-house pollution is being addressed.

However, the nudge effect of these initiatives is making a small impact on society which needs to get scaled up, so these outcomes lead to measurable differences.”

Coming to the anecdotal shreds of evidence, Dr Chandiramani says that “since we grow with the society, it’s family, it’s culture, we have to come out of that bubble, and we have to see that society has a lot of gender disparities that needs to be addressed. Therefore, we need to be very large-hearted and inclusive in being able to understand the culture and its sensitivity.”

In her concluding remarks, Dr Chandiramani says, “75 years down the line since the Bretton Woods conference, we’ve moved from the quantitative measurement of GDP. And, now we should look at the qualitative indicators with utmost sincerity. Evidently, without the GDP growth, the fiscal space is going to be limited. Still, the quality of growth is absolutely what we need to look at, and it’s such a paradoxical situation because of culture’s existence. Joan Robinson has very rightly said that Whatever you can rightly say about India, the opposite is also true.”

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Picture Courtesy: The World Economic Forum