A long road to gender equality?

The pace required to achieve the desired goals is going to require close collaboration between the official machinery and civil society groups
Last Updated 14 March 2021, 19:00 IST

Amid the crises created by unusual events like the Covid-19 pandemic, the farmers’ struggle and the drama of state elections, we celebrated yet another International Women’s Day on March 8. Taking this forward, the India report will be presented at the 65th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meeting to be held in New York from March 15 to 26.

The CSW, the main global inter-governmental body dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, is instrumental in promoting women’s rights and documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world.

How does India fare on the Sustainable Development Goal-5 (SDG) on Gender Equality? NITI Aayog’s last Voluntary National Review (VNR) report (2020) can shed some light on India’s progress towards gender equality goals. The VNR, well-produced and substantive, while celebrating achievements, also reflects on the challenges facing India as the country seeks to fulfil its commitment towards the SDGs.

An unprecedented feature of the VNR is the consultative process through which it was produced and the chapter on ‘Leaving No One Behind: Voices from the Community’ symbolising the government’s maxim of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka vikaas’. The report notes the progress that the country has made, based on the NITI Aayog SDG India Index - from 57 in 2018 to 60 in 2019, on a scale of 0 to 100. This score of 60 indicates that India must accelerate its programmes across all 17 SDGs to achieve a score of 100 by 2030.

The SDG India Index Score in 2019 for SDG 5 (with eight indicators) for the country is 42, much lower than the overall SDG Index score of 60. Himachal Pradesh and Kerala are the states with the highest scores (52 and 51), and Telangana and Tripura are the lowest-performing on Gender Equality (26 and 32 respectively). Among the UTs, quite ironically, Jammu and Kashmir is the best (53) and Delhi, the capital of India and therefore what should be a role model, the worst (27).

Global perspective

Equal Measures 2030’s SDG Gender Index - considering gender across all SDGs and using 51 indicators - gives a global perspective on India’s performance, ranking India 95 out of 129 countries with a score of 56. This is much below its BRICS friends - Brazil with a score of 63, Russia 68, China and South Africa with 65. Further analysis by Equal Measures 2030 in its Bending the Curve Report (2020) finds that half of the countries studied (67 out of 129) will not achieve any of the five key gender equality targets by 2030, at their current pace. The five targets covered in the report are: access to contraception, girls’ education, political leadership, workplace equality laws, and women’s perception of safety.

An analysis of each of these five dimensions shows that at the current rate of change, India will be able to achieve its desired goal of universal access to contraception only by 2086. We will achieve our target of all girls completing secondary education by 2047. With respect to the goal of political leadership, though there has been significant improvement in India’s score, we will reach the target value only by 2044.

The rate of change for the composite indicator based on laws for workplace equality shows that this target will be achieved by 2037. However, true equality in work could take even longer given the high number of workers in the informal sector to whom this indicator does not apply. The analysis on the dimension of women’s perception of safety indicates that progress on this indicator is incredibly slow and suggests that, by the SDG deadline of 2030, almost 200 million women in India will still feel unsafe walking alone at night. These trends show that there is a need to improve the trajectories of these indicators through urgent measures.

Building on the Bending the Curve analysis for India, we in SAHAJ (as EM 2030’s national partner), note that gender equality indicators across several domains in the National Indicator Framework need to be refined further. In addition to more nuanced gender indicators, there is urgent need for disaggregated data to realise the SDG principle of ‘Leave No One Behind’. Differential access to services, schemes and benefits, across sectors, should be tracked across gender, caste, economic class and other dimensions of vulnerability and marginalisation. This need for the generation of disaggregated data has also found mention in several sections of the VNR.

And finally, the consultative process adopted by the NITI Aayog in preparation for this VNR should, in fact, be strengthened at the district and state levels. The pace required to achieve the desired goals is going to require close collaboration between the official machinery and civil society groups, including a place at the table for those who have been ‘left behind’.

(The writer is co-founder of SAHAJ Vadodara, Joint National Convenor, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan and co-founder, Commonhealth - a coalition on maternal neonatal health and safe abortion)

(Published 14 March 2021, 17:50 IST)

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