Can India Achieve The UN Goal Of Gender Equality By 2030?

A report compiled by Equal Measures 2030, found that not a single country is on track to achieve gender equality by 2030; India ranked 95th out of 129 countries. To achieve gender equality, models and solutions need to create an enabling environment targeting gender inequality, especially gender-based violence (GBV). This creates equal access to opportunities and resources for women and girls in India. Effective programs have put women at the centre of the programming.

In a one-minute introduction film by documentary filmmaker Satish VM for Swasti‘s flagship community health and well-being program, 18-year-old Pooja, a garment factory worker looks unblinkingly into the camera and says, “I want to be successful.”

Pooja’s aspiration is against a backdrop of the odds stacked against her. Pooja lives with her parents Chandrakanth (50) and Parvati (40) and her sister, Priyanka (11) in an 8X10 feet asbestos shed that serves as their living, cooking and sleeping quarters. They are part of the 56% of India’s population who are unable to meet all of their basic needs. There is no toilet nearby, no electricity and no water connection, and they end up spending a major portion of their meagre income, purchasing water.

Picture Courtesy: VM Satish

Pooja aims to be a “helper” which is the cadre of staff she reports to at the moment. Her aspirations and hard work alone, however, cannot address this situation of inequity and marginalization that Pooja lives in; with poverty affecting 2.3% more women than men in India. She also has to face vulnerability to abuse and violence regularly.

The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation noted that 25% of recorded cases under crimes against women are related to sexual assault. Violence functions as a mechanism to maintain existing power inequalities, especially to subjugate women. Gender-based violence (GBV) is founded in this unequal power-relations between men and women. It prevents women from achieving their full potential. But GBV cannot be attributed to any single factor. Therefore, strategies to prevent gender-based violence must be grounded in programmes and interventions that promote gender equality as the ultimate goal.

India scored 56.2 out of 100 in the study that led to the report, with 100 being absolute gender equality. Our country is not alone in falling short—none of the UN member states is on track to achieve gender equality by 2030. Moving beyond binaries, India has a long way to go in terms of mainstreaming equality for all.

However, there is good news. Different legislative acts enable safety, security and justice such as POSH—which is the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and more. The role of civil society becomes critical to witness the realization of the goal and subsequently, better ranking in the Gender Index.

The Way Forward

This is an opportunity for contemplation. What are the steps and measures that can be taken on-ground to determine the way forward?

Only 25.5% of women participate in the workforce compared to 53.3% of males. The approach to achieving gender equality and therefore providing space for girls and women like Pooja to fulfil their aspirations, requires an ecological framework that promotes gender equality at the heart of every design, be it policy or programme. It needs to address the complex interplay of factors that operate at the individual, relationship, community and greater societal level. Besides, women are not a homogenous group. Intersecting social identities such as sexual orientation, gender identity, caste and socio-economic status render some women even more vulnerable to violence. This necessitates a nuanced and holistic approach to preventing gender-based violence.

The approach can be translated on-ground to create sustained solutions in varied ways:

  1. Increasing women’s economic independence through improving financial literacy, access to financial services and assisting women to develop their employment prospects.
  2. Working with vulnerable populations to enable the realization of sexual and reproductive health and rights.
  3. Skill development through life skills education for low-income women equipping them with knowledge, skills and an understanding of their rights and entitlements enabling them to manage their lives better.
  4. Working on challenging socially constructed gender norms rooted in patriarchy that result in harm to all genders binary and non-binary (LGBTQAI+).
  5. Improving the prevention of violence and violence response systems through community-based mechanisms and concerted sensitisation mechanisms.
  6. Supporting the meaningful involvement of women and men affected by gender-based violence in the design and delivery of services and the advocacy and policy response through the provision of technical assistance.

It is essential to not only ensure women and girls are free from violence but that they have the agency, autonomy and self-determination to reach their potential and lead lives they value. But it cannot be done with a single solution.

Factory-based supported programmes like HERrespect, Women in Factories etc., with brands and their supply chain factories focus on the development of a gender-sensitive work environment and robust workplace systems to address women’s issues, including sexual harassment and discrimination. Brands like Levis and Marks and Spencer support factory and community-based programmes for women. The Marks and Spencer supported POWER programme, an acronym for Providing Opportunities to Women for Equal Rights is another example that looks at increased leadership by engaging in life skills, gender sensitivity and sexual harassment training in communities and factories.

Picture Courtesy: Anup J Kat

These programmes are complemented by community co-created programmes like Invest4Wellness supported by donor partners from various sectors such as Marks and Spencers, Levis & Co, AHT, HDB, Inditex and few others. Invest4Wellness reach out to girls and women like Pooja with doorstep services and enable her to make choices that better her health and well-being and carefully addresses every impediment in the path of her wellness, systematically.

This shows that when we collaborate across the board with every stakeholder to combine different approaches to provide an intelligently designed holistic solution, we arrive at the cusp of a breakthrough, making on-ground implementation smoother and robust.

Ongoing campaigns in the media and concerted efforts at policy and legislature echo the sentiment of pushing through for a gender-equal world. Together, these, along with a plethora of micro approaches and varied collaborations, hold the promise of ecology where women and girls thrive.

Empowering women does not just benefit her as an individual but her entire community. The United Nations states the economic impact of achieving gender equality in India is estimated to be U.S. $700 billion of added GDP by 2025.

Now is the time to unlock that reality. Here is to making success a reality for Pooja and India’s 60 crores and counting female population.

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