Women’s development is critical for achieving sustainable development. The social, economic, and political development of women is essential for ensuring equitable and inclusive growth of largely populated countries like India.
Historically, women’s development has been a challenging area in India. It is important to note that India ranks 120 among 131 countries in female labor force participation. Despite 133 million Indians coming out of poverty in decades of 1990 and 2000, the participation of women in the workforce is still quite low. As per an estimate, only around 27% of adult women had a job (or was eligible for) compared to nearly 80% for the men. Another finding shows that 20 million women had dropped out of the workforce in just seven years i.e. between 2005 and 2012. As per an estimate, India could boost its growth by 1.5 percentage points per year if around 50% of women can join the workforce.
However, the current reports indicate that women in India are emerging in all sectors, including politics, business, sports, and agriculture. The women are serving in many fields including working as army commanders. There are a number of grassroots initiatives by the Government and civil society organizations which are showing great results. The Government has launched flagship schemes to promote gender equality, including Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter) and Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (a scheme to provide gas connections to women from below the poverty line households). Both these schemes have contributed significantly to women’s empowerment in the country.
A comparison of the National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) 2019-20, focusing on 15 to 49 years age group women, with earlier NFHS data reveals that the country has made significant progress on many indicators related to gender development. For example, the percentage of women having a bank or savings account that they themselves use has increased from 53% in 2015-16 to 78.6% in 2019-20. The percentage of Women owning a house and/or land (alone or jointly with others) has increased from 38.4% to 43.3%. The percentage of women having a mobile phone that they themselves use increased from 45.9% to 54%. Although the survey data of a few indicators may not reveal the exact situation on the ground, however, it gives an indication that gradually but steadily, the women’s development is positively growing.
India is a large country. There are also significant variations in women’s empowerment within the country due to geographic, economic, and social disparities from one province to another. The role of the Central Government and Central agencies becomes quite important in developing and implementing customized women’s development plans which address the local conditions and ground realities.
The review of growth data shows that health, education, and economic empowerment are major issues for women’s development in India. While it is difficult to say that in the complex Education-Health-Economy (EHE) web of indicators which are the causes and which are the result, however, it is quite evident that the interplay of EHE indicators is directly linked to the social values and mindset.
The geography, culture, education, and macro-economic factors become quite significant in shaping the overall growth ecosystem for women. The data shows the significant variations in women’s development indicators from one province or region to another province. This implies that the Central agencies and other Government bodies, which are working in the areas of healthcare, education, economy, and enterprises need to work more closely for developing the integrated approach to women’s development.
The role of the Central Government and Central agencies becomes quite important in developing and implementing the customised women development plans which address the local conditions and ground realities.
Despite the numerous challenges, the recent trends show positive signs and with careful and evidence-based planning, women’s development in the country can be significantly accelerated more effectively and positively. Remember, women’s empowerment in India will be the foundation for the overall development of the country in the long run!
The Government has launched flagship schemes to promote gender equality, including Beti Bachao Beti Padhao and Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana. Both these schemes have contributed significantly to women’s empowerment
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