As they say, good things first. On an encouraging note, this year’s economic survey is a pink copy – a colour that signifies womanhood. The focus of the study is to highlight the gender gaps prevailing in India today.
According to the statement released by the Press Information Bureau (PIB), ‘assessments have been made based on three specific dimensions of gender, i.e
- Agency (relates to women’s ability to make decisions on reproduction, spending on themselves, households and their mobility and health)
- Attitudes (relate to attitudes about violence against women/wives, and the ideal number of daughters preferred relative to the ideal number of sons)
- Outcomes (relate to ‘son preference’ measured by sex ratio of last child, female employment, choice of contraception, education level, age at marriage, age at first birth and physical or sexual violence experienced by women)
The above indicators aim to reflect the status, role and empowerment of women in the society.
The findings suggest that India’s performance has improved. 14/17 indicators of women’s agency, attitudes and outcomes show progress. The remaining are comparable with developing countries similar to India.
One of the eye-catching facts of the recently released Economic Survey is the significant decline in women’s employment. We were at 36.3% in 2005-06 and that changed drastically to 24.3% in 2015-16. A fall of 12.3% is a reality check. This news is especially disheartening when recently at Davos, International Monetary Fund chief Christian Lagarde, quoted IMF research, saying ‘women’s participation in the workforce to the level of men can boost the Indian economy by no less than 27 %.
Other indicators that require attention include – use of reversible contraception and son preference. ‘A meta-preference manifesting itself in fertility stopping rules contingent on the sex of the last child, which notionally creates “unwanted” girls, estimated at 21 million.’ In other words, women are forced to keep giving birth to children, till the much awaited male child is born. Of course, that is a disappointment and a sign that the work towards changing mindsets should continue.
The survey states that ‘India must confront the societal preference, even meta-preference for a son, which appears inoculated to development.’
Regarding heterogeneity, the North-Eastern states are have out-performed all the other states. The survey notes that ‘while hinterland states are naturally lagging others, what’s surprising is that southern states don’t perform as well as their development levels would suggest.’
Going forward, governments various schemes Beti Bachao – Beti Padhao, Sukanya Samridhi Yojana Schemes and mandatory maternity leaves are steps in the right direction. The survey sums up emphasising – India is committed to rank higher in the Ease of Doing Business indicators and wants to show a more profound commitment on the gender front. There are several facts that show that India is progressing and moving towards the India of our dreams. But there is no stopping. Addressing rigid societal and cultural barriers is an ongoing process, and the work must go on.