Development organizations, researchers, practitioners and consulting agencies across the world have started measuring women’s contribution to the economy. Several studies and projections have stated that if women harness their full economic potential, economic growth will be manifold alongside changes in social norms and biases that impact their wellbeing. In 2015, McKinsey & Company stated, if women had the same financial incentives, skills, opportunities, and access to technology enabling them to participate in the labour force as men do global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could increase by up to 26% by 2025. The Food & Agriculture Organization posited that when men and women farmers have equal access to resources and services, yields can increase by 20 to 30%, raising total agricultural output in developing countries by between 2.5 and 4%, making it possible to reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17%.
Women’s active participation in the Indian economy has the potential to generate US$700 billion of added GDP by 2025, create around 50 to 60 million jobs through women-run and/or owned enterprises by 2030, improve health and education outcomes for households given they spend 90% of income on families. Once women can harness their full potential with equal rights and opportunities within the economy, it will improve their intra and inter household socio-economic status, decision-making and bargaining power and have a positive intergenerational impact on health and education. This potential has made women’s economic empowerment (WEE) an important step towards fostering gender equality, economic growth and an inclusive environment.
Despite this opportunity and need, women's participation in the Indian economy is extremely low and declining.
Recent improvements in women’s development indicators have been driven largely by various government initiatives across India such as Beti Bachao Beti Padho, One Stop Centres, Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana to name a few.
However, despite such efforts, women's economic indicators have remained low.
Moreover, the gender gap in entrepreneurship and the labour market have been exacerbated by gaps in skills and access to finance.
Additionally, there are other significant constraints women in India face that impede their economic opportunities such as the unrecognized socioeconomic role of women, lack of access to knowledge, information, skills, assets and financial services and gender-biased discriminatory social norms.
These issues and statistics demand a collaborated call for action by all the ministries in the government since all of them are key stakeholders in developing a robust model for women’s economic empowerment in the country. Most often, at the central and state level, a nodal ministry, namely, the Ministry of Women and Child Development is solely held accountable for the execution of women-related initiatives. There have been efforts across ministries to assist women but they have been disjointed given the priorities of the respective ministries, therefore, the evidence of such efforts are either fragmented and/or unavailable.
The policy landscape has to be inclusive with contributions from all government ministries and departments to attain large-scale, sustainable impact. A multi-pronged approach to women’s economic empowerment backed by interministerial coordination can help India in building an enabling environment for gender equality.
The approach to women’s economic empowerment should bring about systemic and normative changes. Here, systemic change will impact institutions i.e., public and private for the promotion of gender equality and equity and work on the systemic inequalities that persist for women such as underrepresentation in decision making, gender bias for work opportunities, etc. These changes will reset the gender power gap within the economy, political systems and corporations. On the other hand, normative changes will assist in redefining social and gender norms and conceptions of being a woman or a man; the expectations from both genders. Such changes will help women and men in questioning and altering traditional norms that impede their economic growth and opportunities.
To achieve such changes, the approach to interministerial coordination has to be beyond scheme/policy allocations. It will have to entail the formation of a robust action plan/strategy for all ministries/departments that will start from understanding gender-specific problem statements to implementation of gender-inclusive policies with clear roles and responsibilities of every institution.
Such model/s can integrate interventions that enable women’s economic empowerment. Women empowerment initiatives span across multiple ministries such as Women and Child Development, Health and Family Welfare, Education, Rural Development, Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Social Justice and Empowerment, and Finance, to name a few. A holistic approach will help in leveraging all ministries/departments to advance the mechanism for gender-inclusive policymaking. This can help in keeping gender issues at the forefront of political discourse, prevent duplication of efforts to achieve same/similar targets and allow for cross-learning through shared experience models.
This blog has been authored by Guriya.