Opinion

How to reduce the gender gap in States

Urvashi Prasad / Vedeika Shekhar | Updated on February 26, 2019 Published on February 26, 2019

Raising the presence of women in education, employment and the political process must be accorded priority

In NITI Aayog’s first report on Sustainable Development Goals, all States, barring Kerala and Sikkim, are in the red on gender equality (SDG-5). There are several reasons why freeing women from all forms of discrimination seems like a lofty goal.

First, as highlighted in ‘Economic Survey 2018’, India’s continued obsession with boy child and selective abortion have resulted in over 63 million “missing” women while also creating a category of 21 million “unwanted” girls. Second, the drop-out rate for girls continues to be higher, especially at the secondary and higher education levels. Third, despite education and employment, Indian women spend ten times more hours on unpaid household chores than men.

And, fourth, an improvement in the income of male workers, coupled with the shortage of flexible work opportunities and inadequate infrastructure, have discouraged the participation of women in productive economic activities.

The government is implementing several initiatives to address these challenges, including ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’, ‘Pradhan Mantri Matritva Vandana Yojana’ and the Maternity Benefit Act. So what needs to be done to make SDG-5 achievable for all States by 2030?

Given the multi-dimensional nature of issues facing women, it is critical that we develop a set of indicators on which progress is measured on a regular basis. As suggested by NITI Aayog in its ‘Strategy for New India @ 75’ document, a dedicated unit should be established within the Women and Child Development Ministry and its State-level counterparts for monitoring progress on gender-related targets across ministries.

Sex ratio at birth

States need to strengthen the monitoring of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 for ensuring its stringent implementation. Investments in locally customised information, education and communication campaigns also need to be enhanced, including offering rewards for districts that achieve the desired sex ratio. Of course, such campaigns should not focus on families ‘Below the Poverty Line’ alone but also engage families from higher wealth quintiles.

Identifying girls who are at risk of dropping out of school and those who have already dropped out is crucial. An electronic national educational registry for tracking every child could be a possible avenue for doing this. Relatively higher financial incentives also need to be provided for delaying child marriage.

Conditional cash transfer schemes like the ‘Kanyashree Prakalpa’, which has been successful in promoting girls’ education in West Bengal, need to be replicated. The Post Graduate Indira Gandhi Scholarship for Single Girl Child scheme could also be extended to families with two girl children. Of course, investments in safe transport options such as Bihar’s bicycle distribution scheme and school infrastructure, especially provision of separate toilets and sanitary napkins, need to be stepped up considerably.

Employment

Defining time-bound targets for reversing the decline in the female labour force participation is a must. The implementation of legal frameworks like the Maternity Benefit Amendment Act needs to be monitored and incentivised if necessary, especially to catalyse the initial adoption of such progressive legislation by the private sector.

NITI’s ‘Strategy for New India @ 75’ suggests providing tax benefits to sectors or companies that employ over 30 per cent of women workers. Skill training programmes also need to be reoriented to focus on training women in non-traditional areas like construction and taxi-driving. Further, the progressive integration of women who work in the informal sector with the formal economy needs to be achieved through effective implementation of legal and social protection measures. The private sector, too, must play its part. Barely 5 per cent of companies on the Bombay Stock Exchange currently have women CEOs. Bringing about transparency in recruitment and promotion policies and correcting any gender biases that creep into wages are vital as is ensuring strict implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act.

While increasing women’s participation in politics has been one of the most intractable challenges, it remains absolutely critical for achieving gender equity. The 33.3 per cent reservation in Panchayati Raj Institutions (now 50 per cent in some States) has enabled over one million women to participate in local governance every five years. This needs to be replicated at all levels of the governance system.

Thus, while there is no magic bullet for bridging the gender gap, concerted policy actions along with the efforts of the private sector and citizens can make the achievement of SDG-5 by 2030 a reality.

The writers are Public Policy Specialist and Young Professional, respectively, at NITI Aayog. The views expressed are personal.

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Published on February 26, 2019
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