Why India Needs To Work Towards The Economic Inclusion Of Women

“Economic equity is enormous empowerment of women. Having jobs that provide income means that women can be a more effective force, a more equal force, in the political process. Women with income take themselves more seriously, and they are taken more seriously”. – Betty Friedan       

Economic inclusion is a process of improving the terms of participation in the economy for people who are disadvantaged on the basis of age, sex, disability, race, religion, ethnicity, and their status through opportunities and access to resources.

It’s a well-known fact that gender equality and diversity in workforce boosts productivity, which further leads to the economic growth of the country. But economic inclusion often evades women.

Women’s choices are suppressed, and many constraints are imposed on their participation in the economy, which results in their economic exclusion.

Women’s Participation In The Economy

Globally, women’s labor force participation is 49% compared to 76% for men, which calls for refinement in economic and social dimensions of each country to remove generalization, as all countries suffer some loss of human development due to gender inequality.

India’s female labor force participation rate is among the lowest in the world at 26% and has declined significantly over the last two decades.

Stumbling Blocks:

1. Social Norms

Patriarchy plays a vital role in depriving women of their equal economic rights. Women in India are traditionally taught to be financially dependent, and independence acts as a threat to male dominance. Restrictions are imposed on them at an early stage of education itself. Which ultimately leads to no professional or job-based skills.

Women eventually lose their enthusiasm for participating in the workforce.

 2. Gender Wage Gap

In India, women are paid 34% less than men on an average.

This discrimination discourages women from participating in economic activities. The gender wage gap causes a sense of inferiority.

As women have to struggle between paid work and unpaid work (family chores), the wage gap disparity does not award them with the status they deserve. Because of which, they are often forced to choose between workforce participation and unpaid work.

3. Poverty And Illiteracy

Poverty plays a huge role in economic inclusion.

Poverty at first stage snatches the educational rights from women, because of which they are unable to fulfill even basic job requirements in future. Only 65.46% are provided with primary education in India.

Poverty also forces women to do work, which offers merely food only enough to stay alive. This kind of employment is not a fair inclusion of women in the economy; instead, it takes a toll on their health.

Illiteracy leads to economic exclusion as well as social exclusion, which consequently widens the length and breadth of gender discrimination.

Economic Inclusion Of Women Leads To Social Inclusion

Empowering women ensures social progress and mobility. Equal footing with men in the economy helps women in practicing their social rights too.

Women who practice their right in the economy regardless of their caste, family background, religion, race, and other aspects are financially independent and do not depend on someone else for their survival. This independence drives acknowledgement of freedom to explore further opportunities and develop personally while contributing to the sustainable development of the country.

“Women with income take themselves more seriously and they are taken more seriously.” – Betty Friedan

Economic inclusion gives access to resources, enhancing opportunities, voice, and respect for the rights to women, who are generally intersected with different forms of socio-economic inequality. Social inclusion is the key to development.

Participation of women in the labor force also promotes employment of more women at different hierarchical levels of the company/organization. As the participation of women in the workforce increases, they work more productively, and unpaid work like child care and household chores are divided, which slaughters the gender roles prevailing in the society.

Why Social Inclusion Is Mandatory?

Social inclusion is a crucial element for the development of a country as social integration breaks the myopic vision of an all-male society. Financial independence removes the restriction of following gender norms. But still, India lags in integrating women in social and economic activities.

Labor workforce participation role for women in 2017 was 28.5% compared to 82% for men. A survey suggests that increasing women’s labor force participation by 10 percentage points can add $770 billion to India’s GDP by 2015.

This economic inclusion can make a significant impact on the gender pay gap and social equality. In 2011, out of the 11.7 million working women (in urban areas), only 43% were given regular wages and salary.

This leads to partial integration instead of complete integration.

Women constitute of 48.5% of the population of India; it makes social inclusion pivotal for a developed society. Absolute social inclusion would accelerate the practice and awareness of women’s rights and would also help to eradicate barriers like illiteracy, gender discrimination and more.

Social inclusion holds the capacity of bringing a huge change in the country and its position across the world.

Even Cargo: Working For Economic Inclusion Of Women

Even Cargo scales up innovation and uses the power of spreading awareness and training to achieve women’s equal rights in the economy. Even Cargo works towards the growth of women in the labor force by training women who do not practice their right to economic inclusion.

Being India’s first women-only delivery personnel service, Even Cargo trains women in dimensions to attain their socio-economic rights.

Women who are employed as delivery girls at Even Cargo are trained in riding two-wheelers by Honda and are also given training in self-defense and soft skills. Not only this, but Even Cargo also helps women in developing relevant skills required for them to work in the logistics sector through a logistic-specific training. Negative social norms and economic barriers that prevent women from fully exploiting their potential are eradicated by Even Cargo.

Women who are involved in this process and work at Even cargo have seen a 100% increase in their annual household income which not only benefits their (women’s) position in society but also contributes to the sustainable development of the economy.

The contribution of Even Cargo also brings attention to the need for social inclusion of women by making them self-supporting.

Even Cargo works on the barriers like illiteracy, poverty, and the gender wage gap and is also fighting against social norms as they all emerge as a major reason for economic exclusion.

Government For women’s Economic Empowerment

As women work in the informal sector with low wages and no social protection, Indian government and governments across the world are working towards the economic inclusion of women.

An ICRW publication stated, “Economically empowering women is essential both to realize women’s right and to achieve broader development goals of economic growth.”

According to The Beijing platform for action,“There is a need to promote women’s economic independence ensuring equal access to resources for all the women .

India, with a low rate of women participation in the workforce, has launched several schemes to encourage women and provide them economical as well as social inclusion.

Some of the schemes are:

  • Support to Training and Employment Programme ( STEP) for Women—launched with the aim of upgrading the skills of marginalized women.

This includes wage laborers, unpaid workers, and family below the poverty line.

  • Mahila-E- Haat: It is an initiative for meeting the needs of women entrepreneurs; the scheme was launched to provide financial inclusion to women entrepreneurs in the economy.
  • Mahila Shakti Kendras: This scheme is launched to empower rural women through community participation to realize their full potential.

And many other schemes are being launched for women to reap the benefits of prosperity and enjoy socio-economic rights.

Various steps are being taken to break the blocked women capacity to enjoy economic inclusion.

We can say that myopic vision for economic inclusion is broken, and the involvement of women is also in the list now. But the world has miles to go to achieve gender equality in the economy.

Featured image via Getty
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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