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Explained: Where Are We Going Wrong In Making Policies To Empower Women?

Over the years the Government of India has introduced a large number of policy measures with the aim of women empowerment and upliftment. The term ‘women empowerment’ has been a buzzword among several government initiatives, NGO programs, media, students, and activists.

The question which lies ahead is how empowered are the women of the country? And, given the current set of policy measures, is ’empowerment’ really possible?

Women’s participation in the labour force is only 24.8%, in spite of a greater enrolment of women in primary, secondary and tertiary education. Representational image.

What Is ‘Empowerment’?

Women empowerment is not an event but a process. It is the process of women gaining control over their own lives. It involves awareness-raising, building self-confidence, increased access to information and greater control and access over resources. It is a process in which women empower themselves. It has multiple dimensions and has inter-related repercussions of social, economic, political, and capability-development.

It has, therefore, four crucial components:

  1. Economic independence – with greater control over production resources.
  2. Knowledge and awareness.
  3. Building self-confidence and self-image.
  4. Autonomy.
Image credit: India Development Review (IDR)

What Do The Statistics Tell Us?

The Global Gender Gap Index published by the World Economic Forum, since 2006, has been measuring the extent of gender-based gaps. It is categorised among four main dimensions – economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment. In 2020 India’s overall rank is 112 among 153 countries. Performance of India among the four main dimensions:

  • Economic participation and opportunity – 149.
  • Educational – 112.
  • Health and survival – 150.
  • Political empowerment – 18.
India’s Global Gender Gap Index – Gender gap increased.

The data here shows that India is performing at its worst level in comparison to the 2006 data. Women’s participation in the labour force is only 24.8%, in spite of a greater enrolment of women in primary, secondary and tertiary education. Legislators, senior officials and managers only constitute 13.7% of the whole workforce.

Economic Participation of Women in India- Lesser participation of women in the labour force.
Educational attainment – A greater number of women are enrolled but women in the workforce is staggeringly low. Why so?

Policy Initiatives

The Ministry of Women and Child Development along with other ministries has introduced a number of new policy initiatives/schemes with the aim of women empowerment. In the country, sex-selective abortion has drastically led to a sharp drop in the ratio of females born to males. Some states, like Punjab and Haryana, are the worst hit.

The Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme (BBBP) was a flagship program by the central government which was made keeping in mind the sex-selective abortions. It is a joint initiative by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Ministry of Human Resource Development. The central government is also required to assist the states 100% financially and ensure that women receive their education and successfully complete their secondary education. It is also required to ensure the re-enrolment of those female students who have dropped out of primary and secondary education. The objective is to be achieved by collaborating with Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), Grass rootworkers, NGOs for education and overall social mobilisation.

Even if the BBBP scheme addresses the issue to some extent, in my research, I came across no such policies which address the issue of challenging the age-old prejudices by educating men. Representational image.

The above scheme was also integrated with the Mahila Shakti Kendra Scheme to empower rural women through community participation. Community engagement is encouraged through college student volunteers in 115 most backward districts. Annual budget per block is planned around ₹35.36 lakh.

A plan for new district level centres for women has also been planned for the 640 districts, which would be completed in a phased manner during the financial year of 2017-18, 2018-19 and the remaining in 2019-20. These centres are to act as vital links between villages, blocks, and states in facilitating women centric schemes and also act as centres for the BBBP scheme at district levels.

The POSHAN Abhiyaan is meant to address the problem of lower nutrition levels among girls of 0-6 years of age while the Pradhan Mantri Matri Vandana Yojana scheme partially compensates for the wage loss that may occur during pregnancy and the lactation period.

There are other legal measures and labour protection laws that protect women from discriminatory behaviour.

The Labour Laws for Empowerment of Women. The first law which ensures equal wages has not been realized across most sectors in India – Source – Prof. Vibhuti Patel (TISS)

Where Are We Lacking?

Empowerment is a complex issue. It requires the initiative of policy experts, administrators, academics, legislators and the support from the citizen at large. The growing gender gap, the increase in crime against women, as reflected in the NCRB data, paints a larger picture – despite the monumental success in some sectors there exists a glass ceiling that majority of women are yet to shatter. The aforementioned data clearly shows that there exists a smaller number of employed women even if they are more represented in education.

The constitutional guarantees for Gender Equality and Human rights in India – Source Prof. Vibhuti Patel (TISS)

This led to an increase in the drop-out rate and also in some instances in which women completed the tertiary education due to societal expectation. Even if the BBBP scheme addresses the issue to some extent, in my research, I came across no such policies which address the issue of challenging the age-old prejudices by educating men.

When some state governments make new policies, which provide the fund for the marriage of a girl child it also upholds the same old value of the ultimate goal of marriage in a girl’s life, in which the government acts as the patriarch (the elder male of the family). The question arises, Save, Raise, Educate The Girl Child, But for What?.

Ultimately at the end of the day, it is the men who hold the most power in the society and they too need to be educated on the demerits of a power imbalanced society.

A new perspective is needed in terms of policymaking and that new perspective can only be included by including more women in decision-making. Representational image.

The women empowerment policies are mostly formulated from a male gaze, with talk of women sticking to their gender-prescribed societal roles, and how it should be made better. It does not address the sensitisation of men so that they also take up societal roles which have been traditionally assigned to women. Policies in this aspect are still a far-fetched idea among the higher echelons of the government.

I think the policies can only act towards their goal when they are implemented with a focus towards more participation and greater accountability.

With greater accountability and transparency, corruption decreases and the implementation becomes easier. In the BBBP scheme, for instance, The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (C&AG) through a series of audit reports stated:

  1. Inefficient allocation and release of the funds at the state level.
  2. Insufficient monitoring and oversight of community-level activities by district-level task forces.
  3. Excessive expenditure on communication-related activities, vis-à-vis multisector interventions focused on education and health.

Even with the structural imperfections in the policies, implementation also becomes very difficult due to lack of participation and faulty monitoring systems. A new perspective is needed in terms of policymaking and that new perspective can only be included by including more women in decision-making and by addressing women’s experiences. Until then women empowerment is a far-fetched dream.

Featured image for representation only.
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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.

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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.

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Read more about her campaign.

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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.

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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.

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