Achieving the SDGs is impossible without empowering Indian women

Achieving the SDGs is impossible without empowering Indian women

There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals that the world has agreed on, but at face value it would seem like only 1 goal is dedicated to the empowerment of women. Goal 5, which calls for Gender Equality, has within it 9 specific targets namely


1. Ending all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere
2. Eliminating all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation
3. Eliminating all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation
4. Recognizing and valuing unpaid care and domestic work as nationally appropriate
5. Ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life
6. Ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights
7.  Undertaking reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources
8. Enhancing the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women
9. Adopting enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels
Though it is honestly quite appalling such a list, (demanding the bare minimum) is even required, when seen through Indian eyes, it may seem like a laundry list of demands that ask too much of a male dominated, patriarchal society like what we have back home. However, all said and done, it might be near impossible to achieve some of the most critical remaining goals without achieving the 5th.


Eradicating Poverty
Perhaps the least contentious goal (and one that even our most notorious patriarchs can get behind) is that of eradicating poverty; a reality that has clung tightly to India alongside its glaring income and wealth inequalities. While being the least contentious however, this goal is also one of the most difficult to achieve without the active participation of women in all sectors of the Indian economy.
Social stigma and unfounded biases about women have prevented women’s participation in the workforce, leading to a collapse in their share as a total India’s workforce. From 35% in 2004 to just 25% now, women’s share of total workforce participation has taken a severe hit with their being a glaring mismatch in the total population composition and share in workforce participation.

women empowerment


This is not to say India as a whole hasn’t been trying. 
• Between 1994 and 2012, India has lifted nearly 144 million people out of abject poverty
• 50% of the workers in the worlds largest employment guarantee scheme (MGNREGS), are women
• Landmark legislation in 2016, guaranteed 26 weeks of paid maternity leave, to encourage women to remain in the workforce
• Programmes such as the Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan and legislation such as the Right to Education, 2009 have helped in driving up the Gross Enrolment Rate for girls
a) At Secondary School from 55.5% in 2008 to 78.9% in 2014-15
b)At Higher Secondary School  from 31.6% in 2008 to 53.8% in 2014-15

women empowerment education

Not enough
These efforts have not been enough. While India still looks in the right directions policy wise, in terms of social stigmas and cultural constructions we still lag behind. Research by Oxfam, has captured stigma about working women in agriculture, while data has also pointed towards educated women marrying into higher income categories and then leaving the workforce.
The result is that while the global average of women’s contribution to GDP hovers above 35%, India has a rate of less than half of that at 17%. It also means that when ranked on Labour Force Participation, India ranks 120th among 131 countries, despite having 42% of women who are graduates

women empowerment

Between 2005 and 2012, almost 20 million women dropped out of the Indian workforce (the equivalent of the entire population of Sri Lanka).Each of these women is a lost opportunity, not only for their own economic empowerment, but also that of their families and their countries. Constructing the discussion of women’s empowerment as essential to the country achieving any of its other Sustainable Development Goals, is an important first step in redirecting the national development agenda and this extract from the World Bank South Asia Vice President, might provide instructive-

Let’s spark the interest of young girls in subjects like science and mathematics, and convince them that they are just as capable as boys; that they too can build on careers in engineering, scientific research, IT, and fields that are in demand with prospective employers. We must also raise our sons to respect girls and women, and make it clear that there is zero-tolerance for gender-based violence.
In the home, we need families to see their girls as capable future professionals. Household responsibilities can be equitably divided between men and women.
It is an opportune time to revisit and reform outdated legislation and policies that act as deterrents to women entering or staying in the labor market. Fostering the creation of better jobs, providing support for child and elder care, and ensuring mobility to and from work can remove significant structural barriers for women to access employment.
Employers need to walk the talk and commit to supporting diversity in the workplace by hiring women and paying them the same wages as men for similar jobs. We need safe transportation and zero tolerance of sexual harassment in the office. The private sector should take a leading role in expanding women’s share of employment and firm ownership in emerging industries.
We can accelerate progress only by working together

Read Oxfam India's Working Paper on Transition from MDGs to SDGs: Addressing Gender Inequality through ensuring Fiscal Justice for Women here.

Help us empower women today. Donate now and bring a meaningful change in the life of India's women.

By Vineet J Samuel, Oxfam India research intern
The author is a public policy commentator who writes for a clutch of publications, with a special focus on social policy and development in the South Asian subcontinent.


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