Indian Gov’t To Create A ‘Women Empowerment Index’ Ranking States According To Equality Measures

No one likes to be ranked last in anything, but when it comes to India, the country boasting the second highest population in the world (which is predicted to overtake number 1 China by the year 2050) being ranked 135 out of 147 countries on women’s empowerment isn’t exactly great. That figure comes from the 2015 United Nations Human Development Index which looks at three key indices to determine quality of life: health, knowledge, and standard of living.

The health dimension is assessed by life expectancy at birth, the education dimension is measured by mean of years of schooling for adults aged 25 years and more and expected years of schooling for children of school entering age. The standard of living dimension is measured by gross national income per capita.

In a bid to improve its low ranking, the Indian government is set to create its own Women Empowerment Index which will look at key indices to determine equality across all its states and territories. According to an article in the Economic Times, parameters will include women participation in household decisions, working women in the state, women having bank accounts and the proportion of women who experience spousal violence.

A government think-tank called National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), will assess these parameters across sectors such as health, education, water management, agriculture, energy efficiency and digital drive, working specifically with the ministry of women and child development, health ministry and the ministry of statistics. Data already available from the National Family Health Survey will also form part of the foundation to this index, which is set to release its first round of findings by the end of 2017.

India’s push to improve its ranking for women is a welcome move, one we hope will not just be lip service. According to a 2005 National Family Health Survey, nearly 40% of married women faced domestic abuse or violence from their spouse, yet only 2% ever reported these incidents to the police. As a 2016 Al Jazeera report points out, that huge gap is due to gender violence becoming a socialized norm in parts of India, especially in rural areas and places where women are less likely to be educated and know their rights.

Economic abuse also plays a role in preventing women from becoming independent or empowered, especially when women have no means to an income and rely on their spouse to provide for them. While reporting gender-based violence as a whole is seen as a cultural and social taboo in a number of respects in India, trends are starting to change and more and more women are fighting back.

With the horrific news of the Nirbhaya Delhi gang rape in 2012 playing a pivotal role in India’s rape crisis being recognized on a global scale due to the mass protests which broke out across the country, there has been an increase in women reporting similar crimes. But there is still a long way to go in terms of breaking down decades of cultural taboo and influence which leaves many women without equal footing in society alongside men.

India is committed to playing its part in seeing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals implemented, one of which is of course gender equality. But given its diverse demographics across the nation, it will take dedicated, persistent and localized approaches to combating the foundation of what leads women to be considered less than equal.

Earlier this year, the Hindustan Times released a comprehensive report on the state of female empowerment based on data from the 2015-16 National Family Health Survey, providing data for eight indicators under the category ‘Women’s Empowerment and Gender-Based Violence’.

Some trends found that certain areas of the country reported higher rates of spousal abuse and domestic violence, and the states with these numbers had clear links to a woman’s ability to earn her own money or work outside the home. Other parameters which were considered include participation of women in household decisions, ownership of land, cell phones and bank account.

Figures also showed the number of women working outside the home over the past 12 months was actually lower than reported a decade ago, especially in the north. In capital city Delhi, the number of women making key decisions was also lower than a decade ago, showing gender inequality is not just a problem occurring in rural areas.

The conclusion for the Hindustan Times analysis was that governments should keep women at the center of development agendas in order to improve the numbers overall. It should be noted that India’s constitution outlines equal rights for women, where as the US constitution has never ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. India has also seen a woman become elected as the head of state, whereas the US is yet to see this happen. But while these are certainly monumental gains, they need to be more widespread to truly be seen as any sort of female empowerment “win”.

We have seen certain initiatives in parts of India which lead us to think this is slowly happening. The launch of the first National Women’s Parliament was created to inspire young women in political leadership roles and elect more women to state and federal government positions.

An innovative “school for grannies” opened in 2016 in Maharashtra was created to educate older women and help them become independent in a way society did not allow many years ago. And a handful of activists and organizations breaking taboos about sexual health and women’s bodies are helping to liberate women away from conservative policies and ideals that restrict freedom and autonomy in a very personal way.

Gender equality measures must be comprehensive and address the foundational problems that lead to women being considered second-class citizens in the first place. We hope the Indian government’s commitment to its Women Empowerment Index will only be the start of a major shift in culture, policy and attitudes toward women and girls.



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