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India’s Gender Balance in Economic Participation

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Published: Wed, 29 Nov 2017

CHAPTER V: HARNESS POTENTIAL

Hypothesis Validation

There is no doubt about India’s ongoing demographic dividend which is evident in its youth bulge. However to translate this huge potential in to a labour force that will boost the country’s economic growth is a challenge that India’s policy makers face. Our analysis, drawn from facts as presented in the preceding chapters bring out our inability as a nation to tap the potential of almost half of our youth bulge; i.e. our women. The reasons for this failure are manifest in our lackadaisical approach in empowering our women. Women’s empowerment as seen from most developed countries can be achieved by educating them, ensuring their security, and creating an environment wherein they can achieve economic emancipation.

On the other hand, our inability to engage both the halves of our youth bulge into fruitful economic activity will render our demographic dividend baneful. Our neighbouring nation exemplifies this fact wherein its inability to gainfully engage its youth has resulted in the youth falling prey to terrorism and other social evils, significantly degenerating its society apart from other disastrous effects worldwide. In this chapter we shall attempt to recommend a road map to make the most of this ‘Other half of the demographic dividend’.

Women’s empowerment in India is heavily dependent on many different variables that include geographical location (urban/rural), educational status, social status, and age. Policies on women’s empowerment exist at the national, state, and local (Panchayat) levels in many sectors, including health, education, economic opportunities, gender-based violence, and political participation. However, there are significant gaps between policy advancements and actual practice at the community level. We shall therefore discuss certain policy guidelines and implications that would go a long way in enhancing women’s role in India’s development and their participation in the labour force in particular so as to harness the ongoing Demographic dividend.

Policy Implications to Enhance Women’s Role in the Economy

Women’s empowerment and gender equality are all encompassing and would ultimately result in the emancipation and independence of women. The degree of independence that women enjoy in a society can be gauged by the amount of security and decision making power that they have in the prevailing socio cultural milieu. However no independence is consummate without financial independence. This being so, there has to be a concerted effort to get them to participate in the economy in general and labour force in particular.

The United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) organized an Expert Consultation on “Women’s control over economic resources and access to financial resources, including microfinance” in Bangkok from 12 to 14 November, 2008. This forum helped the group of experts to identify the key issues to be addressed in the World Survey so as to focus on emerging development themes impacting the role of women in the economy at the regional, national and international levels. Quite a few recommendations that emerged from the discussions would find resonance in the Indian context and are enumerated in succeeding paragraphs.

Land and Other Resources[1]

`(a)Take measures to usher gender equality in land and property rights and rights to other assets at the macro-level through policies and legislation and at micro level by enforcing the same through greater awareness and other such measures;

(b)Strengthen women’s organizations and involve women in the design of policies in order to guarantee women’s equal access to economic and natural resources; and

Financial Resources[2]

  1. Ensure political commitment to women’s economic empowerment and implement necessary social policies for its achievement;
  1. Adopt gender-responsive budgets in a systematic manner to ensure the adequate allocation of resources for the achievement of commitments on gender equality and the empowerment of women; and
  1. As per Muhammad Yunus, access to financial services is a human right. Studies show that when women manage money, it is more likely to be invested in the education, health and nutrition of children than when men are in charge.[3]

Measuring women’s economic empowerment.[4]Measurement of women’s economic empowerment would help to identify gaps and challenges in formulation of policies and programmes.. As per Mhina, Edward (2008), to improve measurement of women’s empowerment, the following areas need to be focussed on :-

  1. Significant improvement in collection, dissemination and use of sex-disaggregated data;
  1. Development of indicators in a few critical areas where availability of sex-disaggregated data permits;
  1. Effective monitoring and evaluation procedures to ensure full implementation of policies, legislation and other measures, and clear and detailed reporting requirements; and
  1. Effective and methodical use of gender-responsive budgeting processes to gauge progress in allocation of resources and expenditures.

Policies in Support of Higher Female Labour Force Participation (FLFP)

Well-designed, comprehensive policies can boost opportunities available to women and also their economic participation (Revenga and Shetty, 2013; Aguirre and others, 2012; Duflo, 2012). [5] Some of the policies that address fiscal measures, expenditure measures and measures that are known to increase demand for female labour force are as propounded in succeeding paragraphs.

Taxation[6]

(a)Replacing Family Income Taxation with Individual Income Taxation. Empirical studies indicate that the female labour supply responds better to taxes than the male labour supply (IMF, 2012d). Hence, reducing the tax burden for secondary earners, especially women, with individual taxation instead of family taxation can get better aggregate labour market outcomes.

(b)Tax Credits.Such benefits for low-wage earners can be used to stimulate women’s labour force participation. These so called “in-work” tax credits reduce the net tax liability― for low-wage earners―and increase the net income gain from accepting a job.

Expenditure Measures[7]

(a) Well Designed Family Benefits.These can help support female FLFP (Jaumotte, 2003). Parental leave schemes can help parents balance work and family life, and be connected to the labour market through an assured return to their job. Policies that provide for greater parity between paternity and maternity leave can encourage and support a more rapid return to work among mothers and help reduce gender disparity. (World Bank, 2012a).

(b) Child Support and Other Social Benefits.Reform of child support and other social benefits can increase the incentives to take up jobs. Better access to affordable and high-quality child care frees up women’s time for formal employment. Having analyzed data for different countries, Gong, Breunig, and King (2010) and Kalb (2009) found that if the price of childcare was reduced by half, the labour supply of young mothers will rise by almost 6.5 to 10 percent. Reforms could subsidise child care for working mothers, which would boost female labour force participation without distorting labour market incentives.

(c) Education of Women. Expenditure on women’s education and improvements in rural infrastructure can increase FLFP. Studies show that educational attainment correlates positively with FLFP. Apart from increasing overall education expenditure, policymakers should mull over measures that increase the incentives to send girls to school, for instance by making cash transfers to poor families subject to their daughters’ school attendance, as in Bangladesh and Cambodia (World Bank, 2011).

(d) Gender Analysis.[8] As per John Coonrod, Executive Vice President, The Hunger Project, gender is generally an afterthought in project design. Often, it is discovered mid-project that women are not participating. Steps are then taken to encourage women to participate in programs that simply do not work for them. The first step in the design of every project must be to identify the specific gender barriers to women’s participation in the initiative and the most high-leverage actions needed to eliminate them. Project design must start with the reality faced by women. It must also build institutions around women that are within their reach, which work for women and which women control. Programs that work within the extreme constraints faced by women inevitably work for men as well and men can then be included.

(e) Reducing Drudgery.[9] Women, especially in rural India work on an average twice the hours of men, often with the most arduous work like fetching water and firewood, pounding grain, weeding farms with children on their back, carrying produce to market and working as labourers. Investments in day care centres, grain mills, wheeled carts, nearby water supplies etc can help women take time out for training, leadership, jobs and new enterprises.

(f) Awareness of Legal Rights to Equal Treatment. Public awareness of anti discriminatory labour laws is still low in India and needs publicity through an aggressive media campaign.

(g) Empowering National Equality Bodies. Like NCW to conduct formal investigations on their own initiative (without an individual complaint) can raise employers’ awareness of equality issues and help probable victims of discrimination.[10]

Other Policy Measures

Flexible Work Arrangements.Availability of flexible work arrangements helps women balance their jobs with other demands on their time (Aguirre and others, 2012). Policies should encourage a more gender-neutral use of flexible work arrangements to enhance FLFP.

Part-time Employment.This has become an entry point to the labour market for women whose labour supply is restricted due to family responsibilities. Policies should ease the eventual transition from part-time to full-time employment. This may mitigate the lower pay and benefits and limited career opportunities associated with part-time work (ILO, 2010).

Evolution of Social Norms

Acceptance in the labour market and in high-level positions gives an impetus to higher FLFP. Policies that promote women’s economic opportunities have been known to positively correlate with women’s economic success. Properly focussed communication strategies can further reduce biases and stereotypes. Social norms are likely to evolve over time with widespread change in attitudes toward working women. However to get a discernible change in social norms that are more women friendly, we need to look at gender equality as a long term goal. Women’s empowerment and their labour force participation are after all nothing but subsets and indicators of the former.

Gender Equality as a Catalyst for Development

Gender equality is not just a lofty aspiration anymore; it is the crucial missing link for sustainable development. Women, on average, reinvest up to 90% of income into their households. Promoting gender equality gives women more money to spend on food, housing and education – resulting in reducing poverty and sustainable development. Ushering more women into the labour force will cure many economic ills and is imperative to sustainable development.[11] Having discussed policies to get more women to participate in the economy and in the labour force, let us dwell a bit on certain broad aspects to enhance gender equality.

Policy Implications for Gender Equality

To reduce gender inequality, policymakers need to focus on the following.

(a) Reduce Excess Mortality of Girls And Women.It is essential to focus on the underlying causes at each age. Given the higher susceptibility of girls (relative to boys’) in infancy and early childhood to waterborne infectious diseases, improving water supply and sanitation, would greatly reduce female mortality in this age group (World Bank, 2011). Improving health care delivery to expectant mothers, is also important. Sex-selective abortions that lead to fewer female births, needs to be countered by improving the societal value of girls.

(b) Shrink Education Gaps.In places where they persist, barriers like poverty, ethnicity, or geography must be reduced. Interventions such as cash transfers subject to school attendance, would help get girls from poor families to school. Also linking education to economic opportunities will incentivise the former.

(c) Broaden Women’s Access to Economic Opportunity.This will help to reduce male-female disparity in earnings and economic productivity. Freeing up women’s time so they can work outside the home—for example, through subsidized child care, as in Colombia; improving women’s access to credit, as in Bangladesh; and ensuring access to productive resources—especially land—as in Ethiopia, where joint land titles are now granted to wives and husbands are some of the solutions. Generating awareness about women’s productivity in the workplace and eliminating institutional prejudices against women, will also open up economic opportunity to women.

(d) Diminish Gender Differences in Household and Society.Policies should address the combined influence of social norms and beliefs, women’s access to job opportunities, the legal framework, and women’s education. Measures that improve women’s control over household resources and strengthening their property rights so as to facilitate their ability to accumulate assets, are important. Women need to be given a greater voice in society by means of higher political representation, training future women leaders, and expanding women’s role in trade unions and professional associations.

(e) Limit Gender Inequality Over Time.Creating awareness amongst adolescents and young adults is the key as, decisions made during this stage of life determine skills, health, economic opportunities, and aspirations in adulthood. To eliminate gender gaps over time, policies must lay emphasis on building human and social capital; enabling transition from school to work with jobs and vocational training programs for women; and lifting aspirations by exposing girls to role models such as women political leaders, sportswomen etc.[12]

Rights Awareness. Many of the India’s most penurious women are confined to their households. Lacking mobility and freedom of association, they are unaware of their rights and cannot take action to improve their lives and those of their family members. The Hunger Project has implemented a successful strategy in Bangladesh – “court yard meetings” led by “Barefoot Lawyers.” In this program, at least two of the most dynamic women volunteers from each village receive intensive training in the legal and reproductive rights of women. Being trustworthy and well respected in the village, they bring rights awareness to the doorstep of women currently confined to their homes. These Barefoot Lawyers become the link that impoverished women have to the worldwide movement for social justice, as well as to resources and educational opportunities.[13]

Conclusion

Economic growth and development depend upon successful utilization of the entire workforce, both male and female, which means harnessing the demographic dividend in its true sense. Despite its recent economic advances, India’s gender balance in economic participation remains among the lowest in the world. To encourage more equitable economic participation and growth, India needs to review its policies. While achieving economic equality sometimes requires tough choices, the opposite is true in the case of gender. Unlocking female empowerment or ‘The Other Half of the Demographic Dividend’ is a direct path to shared prosperity and a more dynamic and sustainable growth.[14] On the contrary, a status quo in this regards would definitely spell doom for India and the Demographic dividend would soon turn baneful.


[1] EC/WSWRD/2008/REPORT, 2009 World Survey on the Role of Women in Development: “Women’s control over economic resources and access to financial resources, including microfinance” Report of the Expert Consultation.

[2] Ibid.

[3] John Coonrod, The Hunger Project. Proven ways to make programs work and empower women.

[4] EC/WSWRD/2008/REPORT. Op Cit Pp 22, 23

[5] WOMEN, WORK, AND THE ECONOMY: MACROECONOMIC GAINS FROM GENDER EQUITY, September 2013.

[6] Ibid Pp 13.

[7] Ibid Pp 13.

[8] Coonrod. Op cit.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Latest news report.

[11] Katie M. Scholz. The role of women in sustainable economic development.

[12] Ana Revenga and Sudhir Shetty. Empowering Women Is Smart Economics, FINANCE & DEVELOPMENT, March 2012, Vol. 49, No. 1

[13] Coonrod, Op Cit.

[14] Ejaz Ghani, William Kerr, and Stephen D. O’Connell. Promoting Women’s Economic Participation in India accessed from www.worldbank.org/economicpremise on 25 Jun 2014


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