Thoughts on the Women’s Day

Professor Satya Narayan Misra & Divya Bharti

This year’s theme for the women’s day is to “invest in women, accelerate progress and inspire inclusion”. The Indian Constitution guarantees prohibition of discrimination on grounds of sex, special provision for women, equal pay for equal work, provision for maternity relief and raise the level of nutrition. Panchayats, as the third tier of democracy ensures, reservation of seats in panchayats for women and also to head such panchayats. The government of India has a slew of marquee programs like ICDS, POSHAN, Mission Shakti, MAMTA, dovetailed to such constitutional expectations. The MGNREGA program ensures that almost 50% of rural women who are unskilled get 100 days of work. This year’s theme is therefore largely in sync with many of the important welfare programs which are underway and aim at accelerating inclusion of women in the national mainstream.

Against this backdrop, an understanding of the realities on ground, particularly in respect of women’s economic engagement, nutrition and healthcare would be in order. The Gender Inequality Index (2023) brought out by UNDP, shows that almost 50% women are unequal compared to men as against 19% in China and only 2.3% in Sweden. The Maternal Mortality Rates per lakh is a shocking 133 as against 29 in China and 7 in Japan. While in case of Kerala it is 36.3%, in infrastructurally developed state like Gujrat, the anemia % is as high as 65% for women. Particularly, disturbing is the very high-level anaemia among children which is as high as 79.7% in Gujrat and about 39% in Kerala. Quite clearly, programs like ICDS and POSHAN program (2018) are not impacting enough to bring down the levels of malnutrition and anaemia amongst women and children. One of the leading programs launched by government Anemia Mukt Bharat, targeted to reduce the anemia level among 6 groups in the span of 5 years. In case of women, the shortfall between the target and recent data is 64%, which was targeted to be reduced to 33% from 51% of 2005-06. Instead of deceasing, it has increased to 64.3% in the years 2019-21.

Some analyst points out that KAP (Knowledge, attitude and practices) amongst women is the major problems leading to continued proliferation of anemia. However, discerning researchers point out that the areas that need improvement for effective result towards providing nutritional security to women could be better use of technology for tracking the progress of benefit dissemination and providing information regarding nutritional education, its adverse effect and improving the supply chain management which critically hinges on dissemination of information on a timely basis. Further, since the present official machinery is not accountable for such slippages in supply therefore there is always a huge gap between targets and achievements.

The finance minister drew reference to the significant improvement in female workforce participation from 20.5% during the congress regime to 37% in 2022-23 as per the latest PLFP survey. A closer look at the LFPR report would show that a significant improvement has been achieved in case of female labour-force participation in the rural areas from 24.6% in 2017-18 to 41.5% as against a marginal increase in the urban areas. Low female workforce participation is largely driven by poor economic

development, low level of education, high fertility rate and medieval social norms (patriarchy) in which women operate in India. The report brings out that almost 44.5% women are not able to participate in the labour force due to childcare and homemaking. The spurt in female workforce participation in rural areas is largely due to increased engagement of women in MANREGA program and increase in the share of self-employed women. This has also resulted in decline in the proportion of women workers who were earlier casual workers in agriculture. It is quite likely that such increase in the female workforce participation has improved their earnings marginally. However, its impact on bringing down nutrition is not in evidence.

In this context our research of Mission Shakti program in Odisha has revealed that the districts with more Self-Help Groups (SHG), have fewer anaemic women, ranging between 35 to 45%, whereas districts where a smaller number of self-help groups are showing anemia percentage ranging as high as 55% to 75%. This clearly shows that programs like Poshan which believe in giving nutrition as doles are far less effective in improving nutritional status of women rather than self help group which help real economic empowerment and freedom of women in terms of choice of nutrition.

The government of India launched the gender budget in 2005-06, to apply gender lens to processes, resources and mechanism. As a percentage of gender budget, it has dipped from 5.8% in 2011-12 to around 4.5% now. However, its impact on bridging gender gap in terms of education, nutrition, healthcare and skilling for women remain unsatisfactory. In several countries like Italy, the gender budget includes voices of women civil society who are part of planning, unlike India. In Mexico cervical, ovarian and breast cancer are given priority. In Japan, Gender Budget is used for reducing female harassment at workplace. It is therefore heartening to find in the recent budget that an attempt has been made to boost vaccination against cervical cancer, which Is 4th major cancer among women globally.

Esther Dufflo, the Nobel laureate has suggested to integrate the gender budget to outcome budget and build gender disaggregated data. Prof. Lekha Chakraborty of NIFP, has demonstrated how higher female labour force participation improves child survival. She has also demonstrated that estimated coefficient of least square per capita spending on education is stronger than growth in per capita income per say. This essentially is the theme of the International Women’s Day this year which calls upon countries to invest in women’s education more than clamouring for higher GDP growth. As Prof. Jeffery Sachs, the architect of Millennium Development Goals writes, “Our greatest illusion is that a healthy society can be built around mindless pursuit of wealth”.

India, like many countries, after the disintegration of USSR has opted for free market economy where the private enterprises builds the economic sinews while the government should provide enabling environment. While such dictum is helpful in the infrastructural sector, social sectors like providing quality education, skilling basic healthcare and minimum nutritional needs, need greater government attention in a collaborative mode with local communities, duly abetted by technology. As research has also clearly demonstrated, bereft of a credible nutritional program and employment generation for women either through Self Help Groups or through government and private sector employment, the condition of the most vulnerable section of women can never be improved. The hype about higher female workforce participation hides the nutritional deficiencies, low economic engagement and a tendency to confuse doles with long term development. The gap between the hype of Nari Shakti and reality on ground needs to be bridged.

Satya Narayan Misra: Prof. Emeritus, KIIT University, Bubaneswar

Divya Bharti: Research Scholar with Prof. S. N. Misra.

Subscribe to our newsletter
Sign up here to get the latest news, updates and special offers delivered directly to your inbox.
You can unsubscribe at any time
Subscribe to our newsletter
Sign up here to get the latest news, updates and special offers delivered directly to your inbox.
You can unsubscribe at any time
Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.