Young women in India are much better off than their mothers, but they fare much worse than their counterparts in many developing countries when it comes to the physical survival rate of women and participation in labour force, says a report by the World Bank.
The World Development Report titled ‘Gender Equality and Development’ looks at gender inequality as not just a moral but also an economic issue.
The report also says it is ‘smart economics’ to have gender equality in a country, and calls for affirmative action in the forms as varied as conditional cash transfers to quotas and pro-women labour laws to reduce and end inequality in education, health care, and access to work of choice. (Click here for graphs)
It cites the conditional cash transfer scheme in India for maternal health care as an example for helping women access care when they need it the most and upholds the quotas provided in the panchayat system to women as well as the all women police stations in Tamil Nadu as examples of proactive actions that can be taken to reduce gender inequality.
The report also says a declining fertility rate is one of the indicators of growing gender equality in India. At the same time, it remains silent on the controversial birth control programmes followed in various states amid illiteracy and poor health care facilities.
It also says India has achieved a decline compared to United States in fertility from six children a women to 2.3 in 35 years, while the US achieved the same decline in a century.
The other glaring evidence of gender inequality cited in the report is the poor workforce participation by women in India (see box: Women in workforce: No change in three decades)
According to the report, Indian women have made rapid progress in improving girls’ education, achieving close to parity on the number of girls and boys in primary, secondary and tertiary schooling. In two-thirds of the developing countries, more women than men were in universities, the report says.
The report recommends subsidising child care and public provision of child care as one of the measures to boost women’s participation in work force. The report also calls for revisiting labour laws and regulations which limit part-time work in many countries and says the entire burden of household and child care is on women across the world and unless this is taken into account in labour policies, women would never get a fair deal in the labour market.
It identifies four key areas for concentrated action domestically and globally — reducing female mortality and closing education gaps, improving access to economic opportunities, increasing women’s voice and agency in the household and society, and limiting the reproduction of gender inequality across generations.
In India, it cites, the poor survival rate of women right from conception to the late middle age as a glaring instance of inequality and attributes it to sexual biases in society as well as poor health care.