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“It Would Take 202 Years To Close The Gender Gap”: Human Development Report, 2019

Every year, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) releases the Human Development Report (HDR). Focusing on the ‘beyond’ aspect of the development gap among the countries, 2019’s HDR, titled Beyond Income, Beyond Averages, Beyond Today: Inequalities In Human Development In The 21st Century, demystifies the arguments of inequality “framed around economics.”

It uncovers the patterns of economic distributions and opportunities and zooms in on the biases often left unaddressed during the data collection and analysis process that affects women the worst. It compels policymakers to make informed decisions by presenting convincing data that supports UNDP’s recommendations.

In The World ‘Designed For Men’

2019’s HDR is 366-pages long. Each page is full of information that will take a day each to digest its key findings and recommendations — a befitting timeline if you’d want to deep-dive into it this leap year. This was a joke, but that the world is designed for men is not.

Chapter 4, titled Gender Inequalities Beyond averages: Between Social Norms And Power Imbalances, of the report begins with this declaration: “[g]ender inequality is arguably one of the greatest barriers to human development.”

It also reminds us of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing Platform for Action 1995) that desired to achieve gender parity, but not much has been or achieved in this regard. Women, still, are discriminated against in almost all spheres of social and economic participation.

As I immersed myself in reading this chapter to frame my case for this article, I was shocked when I encountered this declaration: “Based on current trends, it would take 202 years to close the gender gap in economic opportunity.”

The ‘equal’ world that I dream of is no longer there on the horizon. I wonder what’re doing. No. I wonder, is what we do helping in any way to create a level-playing field for women? Is it enough? Reading this report, I think: No!

Figure 1. Gender Inequality Index: Regional Dashboard

Source: Human Development Report, 2019.

Why This Imbalance?

The report presents two trends, well supported by feminist experts, that reflects “intrinsic imbalances in power”:

  1. Gender inequalities are intense, widespread and behind the unequal distribution of human development progress across levels of socioeconomic development.
  2. Gender inequality tends to be more intense in areas of greater individual empowerment and social power. This implies that progress is easier for more basic capabilities and harder for more enhanced capabilities.

The revealing part wasn’t these two trends, but the usage of two things in the second trend: “basic capabilities” and “enhanced capabilities.”

Figure 2. Remarkable Progress In Basic Capabilities, Much Less In Enhanced Capabilities

Source: Human Development Report, 2019.

The report highlights that women, when trying to break the glass ceiling, are aiming for the positions of power and influence they’re faced with great resistance. It’s at those positions where women are underrepresented.

The inference that can be drawn is simple: The higher the power and responsibility, the wider the gender gap. The report also reveals that, in 2019, of only 24% occupied a position in national parliaments and other political portfolios, which again were unevenly distributed — mostly were given social welfare and family planning portfolios. This confirms a deeply-rooted gender bias all over the world.

“Norms influence expectations for masculine and feminine behavior considered socially acceptable or looked down on. So, they directly affect individuals’ choices, freedoms, and capabilities.” — Human Development Report, 2019.

Figure 3. The Greater The Empowerment, The Wider The Gender Gap

Source: Human Development Report, 2019

Although a relief-sign is that women have successfully smashed the barriers and have entered the corporate world, but they are still underrepresented in the senior positions and board.

Their reproductive role, along with social norms, plays a major part in the parity in positions of power. (See Figure 4 to understand the impact of social norms and the role that they play in ensuring women’s exclusion.)

Figure 4. How Social Beliefs Can Obstruct Gender And Women’s Empowerment

Source: Human Development Report, 2019 (Mukhopadhyay, Rivera, and Tapia, 2019.)

What We Need

Researchers (Mukhopadhyay, Rivera, and Tapia) prepared a “multidimensional gender social index” that helps measure gender biases, beliefs, and prejudices.

Across the different dimensions it has a question — for example, “Men make better political leaders than women do” — where the interviewee has to place the belief on a scale ranging from “strong disagreement” to “strong agreement.” The survey — amassing data of 77 countries (81% of the world’s population) in first waves and in the last waves of data collection, surveyed 59% of the population in 32 countries — revealed that countries with higher social norms biases had higher gender inequality.

It’s nothing surprising because men — including me — are trained from the time we’re born on how to ‘treat’ girls, daughters, sisters, mothers, wives, and/or partners. Women start facing discrimination right from their birth. Not cared for in the childhood, not given proper education, not paid properly once they’re out in the world to work, not respected at their in-laws’, not cared for during their pregnancy.

Image credit: Mashable

Their mental, reproductive health suffers. And, those who’ve managed to break the basic structure of power and have entered a level-playing field find yet another area where they’re targeted and bullied: the online space, what the report called ‘digital public space.’ Women who are active in politics face more violence than men do.

This is a vicious loop that has to be broken by providing basic amenities to young girls right from the beginning. Besides those basic amenities, we must focus on ensuring that at each-and-every stage of their socio-economical and political development.

From education, participation in collegiate-level activities, student politics, growth in employment opportunities, there must be an adequate mechanism to restore justice whenever they’re wronged or aren’t given their due, and to ensure that they are provided with opportunities.

Besides those basic amenities, we must focus on ensuring that at each-and-every stage of their socio-economical and political development.

The report also highlighted that we need better mechanisms to collect data in order to show a better (or rather, a truer) picture in order to arm policymakers with relevant insights that can help them make inclusive policies. We need policies that provide us with the hope that we don’t have to wait for two centuries to see the gender gap closing.

Editor’s note: Do you want to know where India stands in the Human Development Index (2019)? You can access the report, released on December 9 (2019), here.

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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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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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