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The Role Of Policy And Society In Accelerating Inclusive Equality

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On the occasion of Women’s Day, March 8, 2021, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute organised a distinguished lecture with Prod Govind Kelkar on The Role of Policy and Society in Acceleration Inclusive Equality: #Choosing to Challenge for Action and Impact. She is the Executive Director at GenDev Centre for Research and Innovation initiative at Gurugram and Chairperson of Gender and Impact Studies Centre at IMPRI. 

Dr Nivedita Haran, Chair for the session and Retd Additional Chief Secretary Dept of Home Affairs Kerala and Honorary Chairperson on Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development, pointed to the futility of celebrating women’s day for a single day of the year. What we need is a concrete policy to cater to gender concerns. Besides the need for policy change, gender sensitivity needs to be established in training, education and research at various bureaucracy and research levels. 

The “WHO” of Economic Justice

Prof Govind Kelkar introduced the focus group for the talk, which was rural women in India. Discrimination against women’s rights to resources and capabilities prevails at two levels. First, the vertical level is embodied through policy, law, community/clan and leadership. The second level, the horizontal level, is represented among everydayness of lives of men and women in social groups, family, structures and systems. 

There are many forms of unfreedom that women face based on sex and gender, which are perpetuated by four key factors:

  1. Women’s dependence on men for law and rituals, increasing the faced vulnerability by the gender. 
  2. The lack of right to decision making.
  3. The active limit to women’s mobility, which comes from social rituals like paradah.
  4. Gender-based violence, which comes from disallowing any transgression of norms laid down for women.

India is a signatory to the SDG where three of the goals are poverty reduction, food security and women’s economic empowerment, which can only be achieved via equitable land ownership. The answer lies in making “Implementable Policies Implemented”.

Conceptualising Economic Justice 

The problem of economic justice is linked to explicit and implicit forms of discrimination within the family/household and exploitation in spheres of production and social reproduction.

Referring to Amartya Sen, Prof Govind Kelkar concretised the idea of economic justice with social dimensions, “economic justice as capabilities (both basic and advanced) for a dignified human life. These capabilities can be nurtured by equality in ownership and control over productive assets and freedom from violence in private and public spaces”. Capabilities are protected, reinforced or changed by the state legal measures and social groups.                                              

Economic justice and gender equality go hand in hand. Nancy Fraser’s theory of justice embodies this while giving the three pillars to justice regarding redistribution, recognition and representation.

women work
If women get a proper presentation in the political institutions via the representation bill, it will ensure that women make the laws and policies which impact them.

Every government policy speaks to two groups; the first is the economic and social elite who have access to state institutions, and the second is the organised groups of men and women in rural areas. Hence, policies are made to benefit from electoral democracies and policies are not implemented to benefit and continue the hegemony of the economic and social elite.

Participation parity is one of the key steps towards overcoming injustice. If women get a proper presentation in the political institutions via the representation bill, it will ensure that women make the laws and policies which impact them. Feminist analyses have identified connections of economic justice to freedom, non-discrimination, bodily integrity and exploitation of free production in agriculture and industry. 

In the Context of Rural Agriculture in India

The COVID-19 Pandemic and the resultant lockdown did not do any favours to the already abysmal condition of Indian Agriculture. Prof Govind Kelkar gave a quick glimpse of the abysmal conditions of the sector in the country through eye-opening statistics.

Various World Bank reports have warned of a declining trend of agricultural productivity in India, from 56.7% in 1950–51 to 16.1% in 2009–10. At the same time, agriculture employs 52% of the country’s labour force, of which is 74% are rural women. Simultaneously, only 12.8% have operational rights and less than 2% enjoy ownership rights.

World Economic Forum 2018 pointedly reported the reason for these disparities within patriarchal traditions that prevent women from having equal ownership rights to property.

The patriarchal lineage system and social norms have presented a condition wherein “land and property rights have been consciously used to keep women powerless and dependent, to demand their autonomy, self-determination and equality and personal security”.

women working on farm
Representative Image.

Right to land and property implies access to power. As they stand right now, the power relations translate in men exercising horizontal and vertical control over women, determining ownership in father’s lineage and formulating taboos for gender.

The pandemic has given a lesson on how important land is for ensuring food security. Economic rights are the result of social norms and economic justice translated into social equality. Hence, economic rights and economic justice hold the key towards social transition.

“In India, with a few exceptions, patriarchal values are retained in laws, customs, practices and policies that discriminate women directly and indirectly, in access, ownership and management of land/property and energy/technology,” Prof Govind Kelkar said.

The Struggle for Entitlement

The paradox of significant women engaged in labour and the insignificant women owning land and productive assets had been understood as a grave policy concern since the 1940s in the form of various regional movements.

The first state response came in the form of a Sub-Committee on Women’s Role in Planned Economy of the National Committee of India where they demanded women’s equal share in land and property. The true change came in 1980 when the sixth 5-year plan acknowledged joint titles. 

The landmark act for the same was the Hindu Succession Amendment Act 2005. It recognised the right of land ownership as equality between men and women. The law saw massive social resistance in implementation.

Woman on farm
Representative Image.

Today, a significant change has come in February 2021, wherein the Uttarakhand government has passed an ordinance to give land ownership rights to daughters and wives of male landowners. This fear of social changes usually results in important policy changes not being implemented. The norms of patriarchy constantly instil in women vulnerability and helplessness via tools of obedience and discipline in the form of gender-based violence and familial exclusion. 

Prof Govind Kelkar recounted her interaction with women who would narrate instances of violence at home and outside. The collective discussions and engagements with the events resulted in the understanding that men in the family had resisted women’s claim to the land, their physical mobility and financial security. The social norms of parental lineage, the practice of dowry and the joint right to land are some social norms that continue to prevent women from land ownership. 

Dr Manorama Bakshi, Social Development and Public Health Professional, pointed out that the gender budget has come down due to COVID-19 to 4.7%. Only seven ministries claim 90% of the gender budget. There is a characteristic absence of gender budget in Ministries like the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. This disadvantages women’s participation in the labour force.

NITI Ayog has set the target of incorporating 30% of women into the labour force. With the pandemic’s effect, pushing women further away from the labour force, there is a needed policy response to these concerns. 

Revolution Through Technology

A 2015–16 survey was brought to light by Prof Govind Kelkar by the Ministry of Agriculture. It showed that a seemingly simple act of removing the husk from maise cobs by hand is tough. A woman uses her fingertips 522 times, fingernails 144 times and her palms 55 times every single kilogram of grain she produces.

In March 2012, an International Conference on Women’s work in Agriculture and Its Impact on Productivity and Potential Role of Technology was organised. At the conference, it was realised that there needs to be a technological response to women agricultural workers’ needs, and this technology must be accessible and affordable. The male bias in the industry is persistent as culture regards machinery to be the purview of men. 

In 2016, a Farm Women Friendly Handbook released by the Ministry of Agriculture of the Government of India made efforts towards engendering a national commitment to the empowerment of farm women. Technology has been recognised under eight schemes which include: 

  • Agricultural technology management agency.
  • Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture.
  • National Mission on Oilseeds and Oil Palm.
  • Integrated Scheme for Agricultural Marketing. 
  • National Food Security Mission.
  • National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture.
  • Sub-Mission on Agriculture Mechanization.
  • Agricultural Insurance.

The key benefit of this state response remains that a women farmer could approach local government at the block or sub-district level to buy modern agricultural machinery on a woman-specific subsidised rate, in the range of 20–40% higher subsidy for a woman farmer than for a man.

Why Land Governance Failed Women

Women working on farm
Representative Image.

The continuing development tradition of the man as the head of the household with his determining power, ownership and decision-making, women’s low level of awareness of legal policies and general relevance to assert their inheritance and ownership rights and women’s lack of economic power that leads to their silence and lack of bargaining power both within the home and outside have contributed to the failure of land governance to become more equitable in India. 

Economic justice comes from the spread of knowledge and awareness, official acknowledgement of women’s agricultural work, demand by women’s movements, representation in political institutions and building gender-responsive attitudes.

Policy and Identity

Dr Virginius Xaxa, Professor at Tezpur University, Assam, spoke of the need to focus on micro conditions because macro conditions make things seem easy. Macro understanding doesn’t encapsulate the complexity of the issue. The family, market, state and laws play together.

The micro-macro dilemma will always continue. Other than dispossession, there is also the transfer of land from tribals to other forms of ownership through institutional loopholes.

One needs to be careful that in demolishing one form of inequality, we don’t create another. Multiculturalism and sociology forces us to evaluate the relationship between individual and collective, the individual collectivity and society, the particular society and the whole.

Can we have one policy that fits all for women’s concerns and their competing identities? 

Prof Indu Agnihotri, Former Director of Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi, stated that inequality was historical through its embeddedness in policies. This bias was embedded from the colonial era where women were not seen as productive beings.

The non-homogeneity of women’s identity complexes the issue of policy-making which must remember to engage with different rights, roles and duties these competing identities place on women. Women’s movement has progressed first from recognition, second from awareness about physical violence and finally, land rights. Though, the discussion on land rights forgets to engage with the area of productive agriculture labour and the disproportionate impact due to mechanisation and technology. 

Dr Francis Raj, Chief Research Advisor, Centre for Human Security Studies, Hyderabad, spoke about the current political climate’s impact in forcing women’s right and inadvertently women themselves taking a backseat. Men need to move aside and create space for women. This is not accepted by political elites manifested best with the delay about the women’s reservation bill.

Prof G Sridevi, School of Economics, University of Hyderabad, problematised the concern of accessing the commons by Dalit women has been even more difficult. The complex interplay of the two identities resulted in Dalit women being more disadvantaged, facing greater systemic violence.

Contrary to certain studies pointing that caste and class have a similar effect on women, caste privileges in India cannot be whitewashed. Without engaging with social equality, economic equality will not be possible. 

Acknowledgement: Sakshi Sharda, M Phil student JNU and Research Intern at IMPRI.

Dr Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta, IMPRI

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