Gender Policies – Contemporary Issues

December 23rd, 2008

Round Table Discussion on ‘Gender Policies in India – Contemporary Issues’ by Dr. Vasantha Bharucha – Former Economic Adviser, Ministry of Commerce, GOI; Ms. Benita Sharma – Master trainer for MWCd on Gender budgeting & Visiting Faculty at International Training Centre; Dr. Reena Ramachandran – Director General J.K. Business School & Former Chairman Hindustan Organic Chemicals and Mr. Virendra (Sam ) Singh – Former President & MD of South Asia Dupont and Chairman of NGO – Pardada Pardadi in Espire, Rai Foundation, A41, MCIE, Mathura Road, New Delhi – 44.


  • As per the World Bank report, the economies that narrow the gender gap and improve the status of women grow faster while societies that discriminate on the basis of gender pay a significant price in the form of greater poverty, slower economic growth, weaker governance and a lower quality of life.
  • Though consideration and discussion of gender issues is now a common currency in govt, NGOs, the private sector and of course the mainstream politics, but it is a pity that very often such discussions and analysis on gender issues get separated from broader social, political and economic developments.
  • We have a deficit of 3.5 crore women – females as compared to the number of males. There are 933 women for every 1,000 men.
  • As an economist, because we would have thought that when the demand is more and the supply is less, the commodity has a greater price. In other words, it should command premium or value. In this particular aspect, we see the reverse in India or around the globe, where we find that in spite of this clear imbalance, there is a certain social, economic or political bias, which is causing so many other problems, including legal issues.
  • We also find that there is an index of son preference, which is available in India. It was very interesting to know that there is an index for this too. This index reveals that what we generally call BIMARU states are at the top of the ranks, when it comes to son preference.
  • The social discrimination against women results in poor healthcare or lack of medical attention because one considers expenditure on the female child as not rewarding. It is not looked upon as an investment, as an expenditure on a male child is considered.
  • It also results in terms of lack of medical care and education. We have other problems too, like sexual abuse, physical violence and so on.
  • In India we have had legislations to address issues relating to gender. These legislations form two major parts; one is legislation in terms of crime against women, which are covered under the Indian Penal Code. There are certain provisions regarding what are covered under the Indian Penal Code.
  • We also have special laws, which take care of gender issues. These relate to the Commission of Sati Act.
  • Under gender budgeting, we aim at least 30% of all budgets to pertain to women-related sectors, be it education, health or other heads.
  • Invariably, we find those who have programmes will not get the money, while those who do not have any worthwhile programmes siphon off the money.
  • We also have monitoring and overseeing government action. We have enough committees and enough commissions, which handle implementation of programmes, policies, identifying projects and so on. But as it happens in all cases, the implementation is always weak and monitoring is hardly existent.
  • Other issues are economic issues, poverty reduction, gainful employment for women, equal pay for equal work, equal opportunities for women to progress even in other aspects such as science and technology and so on.
  • If we come to political empowerment for women in India, we already have good legislations in place and very fortunately, this is something that has been implemented very well in India. The 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution in terms of strengthening grassroots governments through the Panchayat Raj institutions are milestone legislative initiatives.
  • Most of us are aware of the efforts being made to give one-third or 30% reservation for women in parliament. Though we succeeded at the panchayat raj level as I’d mentioned earlier, we don’t seem to be seeing eye-to-eye with regard to even 30% reservation for women in parliament. Currently, we have less than 10% reservation for women in our political system at the national level.
  • There is also a corollary to women’s empowerment. That is in urban areas, it is normally said that if it is to be empowerment then the men need to be empowered because the women are already empowered. Now the reverse is going on. Earlier it used to be said that behind every successful man there is a woman but now the reverse is also true, that behind every successful woman there is also a man who is supportive, otherwise the woman could not have been successful.
  • We need to introduce new models for development to substitute the existing systems, because whatever existing systems are in position are not addressing the need as well as the urgency of the issue. We, therefore, need to think totally drastically in a different way, in order to have new role models, or newer models for development, addressing general issues.
  • Gender is socially constructed roles, which the society expects both man and woman to enact. While gender roles are something that can be changed over time and space, sex is biological, one is born with it. While we talk about gender, we are so conditioned into thinking that the gender role is the right way that we tend to make women subservient.Unless we understand the difference between gender and sex, the policies of the government will continue to perpetuate the gender stereotypes.
  • When we talk about gender budgeting, we are not talking about schemes only for women. What we are actually talking about is looking at the entire budget of the country. Thus, when we talk about gender budgeting, we are talking about the entire budget of the country and how it impacts men, women, boys and girls differently. Sex is different. We cannot take them as one category.
  • Gender cannot be mainstreamed. If those responsible for mainstreaming gender are not given allocations, we know that no programme can function unless you have money to make it work.
  • Therefore, when we are talking about gender budgeting, we are not talking about a separate budget for women. We are talking about analysing the entire budget from a gender perspective. It is the analysis of actual government expenditure and revenue on women and girls as compared to men and boys. It is the process of conceiving, planning, approving, executing, monitoring, analysing and auditing budgets in a gender-sensitive way.
  • We talk about gender budgeting, we must lay stress on women’s priorities being reflected in the budget. Decision-making has to be there; without it there is no point in having women anywhere.
  • Once we analyse where the money is going, when we do an analysis of the budget, we find out where the money is going. It helps governments to target the available money to those most in need.
  • Women’s needs are different from men. and when we do gender budgeting, we are actually identifying those needs.
  • Gender budgeting is not merely an accounting exercise. We will have to go much beyond. It is an ongoing process of keeping a gender perspective in the formulation of policies, programmes, implementation and review. Even activities have to be gender-sensitive.
  • Beijing Platform for Action in 1995. Point 345 of this Action Plan says that for all financial arrangements, the integration of a gender perspective and adequate financing of specific programmes should be guaranteed. India has also signed on to this. Point 346 says that government should make efforts to systematically review how women benefit from public sector expenditures, adjust budgets to ensure quality of access to public sector expenditures both for enhancing productive capacity and for meeting social needs. They should allocate sufficient resources including resources for undertaking gender impact analysis.
  • Also in gender budgeting, we pay a lot of attention to the care economy. The care economy is the unpaid household and community activities, which sustain rural life. It provides a labour force for both the public and the private sectors. The UNDP did an analysis; they said there were three sectors, the private sector, the public sector and the unpaid care economy. And the unpaid care economy was worth 13 trillion dollars. It was equal to that of what the public sector and the private sector generates.
  • Traditionally, economics looks only at that work for which one is paid. Unpaid work is not given any importance. But policy must look at different types of unpaid work.
  • In policies, whenever the government is short of money, the first thing to be cut is the public sector health, education etc. These are considered the soft sectors. Who is affected most? Women and children.
  • Speaking of laws, we have a Domestic Violence Act. But for that Act to work, we need shelter homes so that women who are abused and have no place to go can go there with their children. They need police personnel who are sensitised, doctors who would testify that she has been assaulted and has not simply fallen down.
  • The need of the government is that when you pay, you will get better service, and the doctors will be accountable. In addition, the government has the funds that will look after the running of the hospital. But in actuality, there is an increase in women’s time burden, they have to queue in clinics and have to provide substitute care for their children.
  • We found that lot of children, because of complete lack of supervision, take to a life of crime. Eventually, the state ends up paying much more in terms of the criminal justice system. So we are not really saving money.
  • What we really need to understand that women’s work is invaluable, even if she doesn’t receive cash in hand. If the husband has to pay the wife for all the work she does at home, he would not be able to afford it. This is what we forget and this is what gender budgeting is trying to address.
  • When the authorities design an airport, do they think about what women need? For example, in Delhi, because of fog, flights are sometimes delayed for hours. Suppose there is a woman with two small children and she has to visit the toilet, where does she leave her children? Or, if she needs to buy baby milk and it is not available. What we really ask is identifying what a woman needs. That’s all we need to do in gender budgeting.
  • All women basically encounter three different components in which they need to deal with the men in their life. One is at home; the second at the workplace and the third is the time and space for herself as an individual.
  • Policies apart, it is about how we make them work. That will not happen unless we have people in decision-making positions. Education, lower fertility rates, economic growth and changing social dynamics are associated with more women entering the work force. These are known facts.
  • We see a five-fold gain in the numbers of women, which have gone up in fifty years. This is the most important horizontal segregation, which you spoke about which happens at this level itself; the choice of subjects, which they have.
  • We have analysed industry and have found that there are some major barriers to women’s advancement to the leadership positions. Stereotypes still exist, as do preconceptions. Of course, we do have a few role models but either they are inadequate or are not adequately presented. There are no media stories to the extent required in highlighting them, their case studies etc. This is where the media should be playing a major role in sharing information.
  • Coming to commitment to family and personal responsibility and lack of mentoring; I think the most important part is inadequate networking, mentoring and visibility. The reason why we highlighted these is the major reason why the existing people are unable to move up and advance. Unless we advance and attain a critical mass, the question of going up the ladder does not arise. We therefore need to create the critical mass. Gender budgeting is a very valuable contribution to work in that direction.
  • The second point is about the same vocational training and whether it can be made nationally interchanging and interlinking. In the matter of crafts, the examples of work done by artisans and craftsmen of Uttar Pradesh on cushion covers, quilts and bed covers and even on garments can be cited. This is special to UP. Similarly, if other crafts and embroidery elsewhere in India, like the embroidery in Jammu and Kashmir, different kinds of embroidery in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, zari embroidery in Gujarat can be mentioned; if these skills can be merged and made to spread around in terms of vocational training, we can, in a very short span of time, have multiple centres with skills, which can carry out these vocational programmes and also add to the marketing of the products and the economy can flourish. First comes education, skill impartment and training ad then creating products with training and reaching that product to the ultimate consumer through a marketing outlet and a showroom.


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