Gender equality and empowerment of women is one of the foremost concerns of the Indian Government: D. K. Sikri, Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development

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Shri D. K. Sikri, Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development is leading an Indian delegation to represent at the seventh South Asian ministerial conference, commemorating Beijing, being held from 3-5 October, 2010, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The United Nations development Fund for Women (UNIFEM-Part of UN Women) has organized this conference to focus on two critical challenges to Gender Equality in the region- The Economic Security and Rights of Women and Violence against Women. Smt. Sangeeta Verma, Economic Adviser of the Ministry of Women and Child Development is also a member of the Indian delegation. In his presentation on the status of the implementation of the India Forward Moving Strategies for Gender Equality 2008, Shri D. K. Sikri, is going to present the Country Report of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India at the Seventh South Asian Ministerial Conference, Commemorating Beijing, at the Dhaka Conference In Bangladesh.


I. Introduction

The promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women is one of the foremost concerns of the Government of India.  Translating constitutional provisions, and commitments reflected in the acceptance of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, has been a constant endeavour and is reflected in national developmental policies, plans and programmes. Over time, the Government of India has moved from a welfare approach to an entitlement based approach which recognises women’s centrality to development. The protection and promotion of rights, including the right to education, information, protection from violence, food security, participation of rights holders and attention to vulnerable groups have been at the centre of Government action.

Inclusive growth in the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2007-2012) envisions respect for the differential needs of all women, with targeted interventions to meet special needs of different groups. The Government has also decided to implement a number of programmes in Mission mode, with clear objectives to be achieved in a set time frame through provision of adequate resources and institutional structures for effective implementation. The strategies adopted have addressed women’s access to resources, choices, opportunities and decision making.  The progress made in achieving goals and commitments, as well as the difficulties faced and the challenges, are reflected in the following sections.

Participation in leadership and decision making

Government of India’s commitment to women’s political empowerment in local governance has brought women to the centre stage of the development process.  The 73rd & 74th Amendments to India’s Constitution have strengthened women’s participation in decision making at all levels, in harmony with the concept of substantive equality.  A country-wide study commissioned in 2008 concluded that a large proportion of the elected women representatives are from the disadvantaged section of society (SC:26%, ST: 13%).  Educational attainment of middle school and above is 48%.  Significantly, as many as four- fifths of the elected representatives did not have anyone in their family affiliated with politics and around 86% were first timers in politics.  A large proportion (72%) reported having been actively involved in providing civic amenities, while 62% said they made efforts in increasing enrolment and mitigating domestic violence.

A sizeable proportion of elected women representatives perceive enhancement in their self-esteem, confidence and decision making ability.  To consolidate the gains made and to make local Government more inclusive, Government of India now proposes to move a Constitutional Amendment for enhancing reservation of women in all tiers of local government from 33% to 50% in the total number of seats.

At the national level, the reservation Bill for 33% women in Parliament and state legislatures was passed by the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) in March, 2010. The Government of India is proud to have the first woman President and woman Speaker of the Indian Parliament.  They have been vigorously pursuing the women’s agenda, guiding initiatives and decision making for speedier socio-economic development of women.

II.     Promotion of Women’s Socio-economic Empowerment

On International Women’s Day, 2010, Government of India launched an innovative initiative aimed at bringing about and sustaining the socio-economic and legal empowerment of women.  The National Mission for Empowerment of Women seeks to do this by ensuring convergence of the women centric programmes being implemented by different Ministries and departments of the Government.  The Mission is aimed at achieving coordinated delivery of these programmes so that benefits of all these schemes/programmes of the Central and State Governments reach their intended beneficiaries and also help them to demand these benefits.

Similar Missions are envisaged at the state level and Government of India has directed the States to put these structures in place.  The Mission also aims to facilitate intensive research on women’s issues and identify gaps in existing schemes/programmes and recommend measures for effective implementation.

Provision of accessible, affordable, accountable, effective and reliable primary health care facilities is the focus of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). Though still a major area of challenge in India, the reductions achieved in MMR in recent years, from 301 per 100,000 live births in 2001-2003 to 254 in 2004-06, has to a large extent been the result of the second phase of Reproductive and Child Health (RCH-II) Programme implemented under the NRHM.  Government of India proposes to complement this with a Conditional Maternity Benefit Scheme, to compensate for wage loss and meet nutrition needs of pregnant and lactating women.  Another scheme on the anvil will address the nutrition and health care needs of adolescent girls to break the inter-generational cycle of under nutrition and prepare adolescent girls to become empowered women.  The proposed Food Security Act, with focus on provision of food security at the household level, also has a component on nutrition, and will go a long way to mitigate the hardships faced by women and girls.

The Education for All Campaign (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan) with special focus on girls’ education, aiming to target the ‘hardest to reach’ girls through residential schools, mid-day meals and other incentives is set to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education.  This programme is being implemented in partnership with the State Governments to cover the entire country and address the needs of 192 million children in 1.1 million habitations.  The interventions include gender sensitive pedagogy, separate toilets for girls, bridge course for older girls, recruitment of 50% women teachers and an innovation fund per district for need based interventions for ensuring girls’ attendance and retention.  The coming into force of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act from 1st April, 2010, with budgetary commitment of 50 billion dollars, has special relevance for out of school girl children including child labour, migrant children and children with special needs.

The National Literacy Mission (Sakshar Bharat) has been recast as the Female Literacy Mission and aims to target 70 million adults in the next five years, out of which 60 million will be women.

Recognizing that women can leverage their strength, increase bargaining power and enhance capacities and skills through joint action, the approach of the Government has been to encourage organization of women into Self Help Groups (SHGs) and to channel resources to these groups.  There are around six million SHGs of which 80% are women’s groups.  The SHG movement has been supported through schemes of a large number of Ministries/Departments, including Women & Child Development, Rural Development, Urban Development, Agriculture, etc. at the national and state level.  SHGs have also been instrumental in empowerment by enabling women to work together as a collective agency where women learn to work together for a common purpose.  Therefore, it is quite common to find women SHGs implementing a large number of development initiatives including watershed development, social forestry and other employment oriented programmes through training, credit, technology infrastructure and marketing, such as Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY), Swarna Jayanti Shahari Rojgar Yojana (SJSRY) and Support to Training and Employment Programme (STEP).

The  National Rural Livelihood Mission aims to reduce poverty among rural below poverty line (BPL) households by promoting gainful and diversified rural employment on a sustainable basis and to consolidate the achievements made under the SGSY programme.

Among the poverty focused programmes, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) enacted in 2005 has come at a time when a decline in agriculture, lack of gainful paid employment, distress migration, and indebtedness had forced many small farmers to sell their land and join the landless population. In this context, NREGA has heralded a new beginning in addressing the unemployment crisis.  This is a nationwide employment scheme that guarantees 100 days of unskilled work for every household in every year. While providing employment, it has to ensure that at least one-third of the beneficiaries are women.  The Act is sensitive to working conditions of women workers as it advocates providing accessible worksite (within 5 kms of workers’ residence), crèches for women with children below six and, above all, gender parity of wages.  So far, total employment of nearly 1 billion person days has been generated and more than 50% of them are for women.  Given the active interest and participation of women in NREGA, the scheme has undoubtedly the potential to be a major instrument in facilitating economic and social transformation.

Recognizing that access to micro-finance is integral to actualizing self-employment, the SHG –Bank linkage programme has reached over 6 million SHGs, out of which 80% are women SHGs, with loans of almost 276 billion having been disbursed.  The National Credit Fund for women (Rashtriya Mahila Kosh), a fund exclusively meant for poor, asset less women, is being restructured to increase its outreach to uncovered areas and larger numbers of women, with a commitment to increase its corpus to5 billion.

A significant milestone has been the passage of the Unorganized Sector Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008 by the Parliament. This legislation facilitates formulation of policies and welfare programmes for the vast majority of workforce in the informal sector, which includes a large percentage of the female workforce.

The National Health Insurance Scheme (Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana), a smart card based cashless health insurance scheme for the poor and marginalised workers in the unorganized sector, was launched in 2008. Of the seventy million plus beneficiaries covered since its inception, approximately 40% are women. Initial studies have shown that RSBY is able to empower women in terms of enabling them to visit hospital without worrying about the cost implications for the family.  Recognizing the need to extend social security to other vulnerable groups, the Scheme is proposed to be extended to cover domestic workers and street vendors, most of whom are women.

III. Gender Budgeting

Gender Budgeting is a strategy of the Government to mainstream gender across all sectors. It paves the way for gender mainstreaming in the development process and in understanding how the needs of women can be addressed in not only traditional areas like agriculture, health, education but also in so called gender neutral areas like Power, Defence, Chemicals, Commerce and Bio Technology, where in the first instance, the gender implications do not seem apparent.

Government of India has adopted Gender Budgeting as a tool for women’s empowerment. Initiatives range from advocacy, training and capacity building to strengthening partnership and strategy sessions. As a result, 56 Ministries/Departments have set up their Gender Budget Cells. The number of Ministries reflecting their schemes and programmes in the Gender Budget Statement has increased from 9 in 2005-06 to 28 in 2010-11.

For governments and concerned citizens seeking to redress inequalities, gender disaggregated data and indices are a means of determining the issues that they must address and monitor to determine the effectiveness of their action. UNDP’s human and gender development and empowerment indices had shifted the attention from Gross Domestic Product to multi dimensional variables in measurement of development. However, it was felt that the Gender related Development Index (GDI) and the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) developed by UNDP had to be recast to reflect Indian realities through inclusion of additional indicators.

This initiative has culminated in the First GDI and GEM report titled Gendering Human Development Indices: recasting the Gender Development Index and Gender Empowerment Measures. This report compiles and presents GDI and GEM for India and the States/ UTs for the years 1996 and 2006. 

The HDI, GDI and GEM scores attained by the 35 States/UTs and changes in them over time show us the extent to which a State/UT has progressed in translating its growth into a better quality of life for both women and men. Gaps between HDI and GDI reflect the existence of gender disparities in translating development into equitable outcomes. Together with Gender Budgeting, HDI, GDI and GEM are tools that can be used to achieve gender justice and equitable outcome.

IV.  Elimination of Violence Against Women

Violence against women is complex, takes many forms and intersects with many issues. It is ingrained in the structure of power relations and functions as a mechanism for reinforcing gender inequality. Moreover, women living in poverty are most vulnerable to violence and often are the least able to access formal institutions that might provide support.

The Government of India is engaged in stimulating policy response for reducing women’s vulnerability to violence, both domestic and public, by reviewing laws to remove gender bias, bringing new legal measures aimed at gender justice and implementing schemes/programmes for protection of women.

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 provides civil remedies to prevent domestic violence and also protects against such violence by providing immediate and emergency relief to women facing domestic violence. It also provides for a coordinated implementation mechanism consisting of Protection Officer, Service Provider, Medical Facilities and Shelter Homes which are required to work together to provide better access to justice and other support services.

The legal framework relating to rape is provided under Sections 375 to 376D of the Indian Penal Code. Keeping in view the limitations of the existing definition of rape under the law and the paradigm shift in understanding of sexuality and violence, the Government is actively considering a proposal to replace the existing provisions with a comprehensive law on sexual assault, which takes into account various forms of sexual assault that violate the bodily integrity and sexual autonomy of a woman.  In addition, a scheme for financial assistance and support services to victims of rape is under consideration which seeks to provide restorative justice.

In view of the large number of women entering the workforce, it has become imperative for India to consider legislation to ensure protection of women against sexual harassment at workplace. Such protection was so far afforded under guidelines issued by Hon’ble Supreme Court through an order in 1997. The proposed Bill has been finalized after a process of extensive consultations and is currently under the consideration of the Government.

The Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Act, 2008, which came into effect on 31st December, 2009 provides for crucial reforms in the criminal justice system by providing better protection to victims of crimes. In particular, the amended law strengthens the procedural safeguards guaranteed to victims of rape and other crimes against women. In a significant change from the existing law, a victim of rape has been statutorily empowered, with the permission of the court, to engage an advocate of her own choice to assist the prosecution initiated by the State and at the same time, ensure that her interests are protected. The Amendment Act also provides for safeguards relating to recording of statements of women victims, in camera trials and protection of her identity. Trial for offence of rape and aggravated rape is required to be conducted as far as practicable by women judges. The Act of 2008 also mandates a three-month time limit for the completion of investigation of cases of rape and child sexual abuse.

With this, the constitutional mandate of gender equality and due process for enforcement of rights, both substantive and procedural, in favour of women facing violence has been upheld. Further, through the Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Act, 2008, several safeguards that were already being implemented through Government/Executive guidelines have now obtained statutory recognition.

V. Way Forward

Significant strides have been made towards the goal of achieving gender equity. Revamping existing schemes and formulating new ones, strengthening programme delivery, fund utilisation, monitoring and evaluation, reviewing policies and plans of actions, amending existing Acts and enacting new legislations constitutes some of the more important achievements.

Women’s right to ancestral property and ownership of assets have been recognized; however, realizing these rights continues to be a challenge. Women’s voices in decision making within the family, the community and beyond, are further needed to be secured. While participation of women in political processes has increased at the local level, these gains have to be consolidated and replicated at other levels.

Smt. Krishna Tirath, Minister of State for Women and Child Development in her message said that the agenda for inclusive growth is not yet finished and a lot of work remains to be done to realize the vision for ending the multifaceted exclusions and discriminations faced by women, particularly women belonging to the deprived and marginalized groups, and to ensure that every woman is able to develop to her full potential and share the benefits of economic growth and prosperity.


SI. No. Indicator Female Male Total Female Male Total
Demography and Vital Statistics
1 Population (in million 1991 & 2001) 407.1 439.3 846.3 496.5 532.2 1028.7
2 Decennial  Growth (1981 & 2001) 23.37 24.30 23.85 21.96 21.16 21.54
3 Sex Ratio (1991 & 2001) 927     933    
4 Juvenile Sex Ratio (1991 & 2001) 945     927    
5 Life Expectancy at Birth (in years in 1991 & 2001) 58.1 57.1   65.3 62.3  
6 Mean Age at marriage 1992 & 2007 19.5     20.6    
Health and Family Welfare
7 Birth Rate (per 1000 in 1981 & 1999) (SRS)     35.6     26.4
8 Death rate (per 1000 in 1981 & 1999) (SRS) 12.7 12.4 12.5 7.2 9.2 8.2
9 Infant Mortality Rate (per 1000 live births in 1990 & 2008) 81 78 80 55 52 53
10 Child Mortality Rate (per 1000 live births under 5 yrs of age in 1985 & 2001 (SRS) 40.4 36.6 38.4 71.6 70.5 71.1
11 Maternal Mortality Ratio (per 100000 live births in 1998 & 2004-06 407     254    
Literacy and Education
12 Literacy Rate (1991 & 2001) in percentage 39.29 64.13 52.21 54.16 75.85 65.38
  Literacy Rate  in percentage 2004-05       57.00 77.00 67.30
13 Gross Enrolment ratio (1991 & 2006-07)            
  Classes I-V (6-11 years) 85.50 113.90 100.10 107.84 114.42 111.24
  Classes VI-VIII (11-14 years) 47.00 76.60 62.10 69.51 77.41 71.00
  Classes IX-XII(14-18years) 10.30 33.90 19.30 36.41 44.42 40.62
14 Dropout rate (1990-91 & 2004-05) (P) in %            
  Classes I-V 46.00 40.10   25.42 31.81  
  Classes I-VIII 65.13 59.12   51.28 50.49  
  Classes I-X 76.96 67.50   63.88 60.41  
Work and Employment
15 Work Force Participation rate – Rural & Urban ( 1990 – 00 & 2005-06 in percentage) 29.9 R

13.9 U

53.1 R

51.8 U

  31 R

14.3 U

54.9 R

54 U

16 Share of women employment in Organised Sector (number in Millions in 1992 & 2007) 3.89


23.16 27.05 5.31


21.97 27.28
17 Public  sector (number in millions in 1992 & 2007 2.47


16.74 19.21 3.02


14.98 18.00


18 Central Government (number in millions in 1990 & 2007 0.28


3.49 3.77 0.24


2.56 2.8


Decision Making
19 Administration (no in IAS & IPS in 1997 & 2000) 608


7347 7955 645


7860 8505
20 PRIs (figures in lakh  in 2007)       10.48


18.23 28.71
21 Parliament (no in 1991 & 2009) 77


712 789 86


704 790
22 Central Council of Minister ( no in 1985 & 2009 (as on 14.06.09) 4


36 40 7


71 78

Source: Women and Men in India, 2010, Central Statistical Organisation, Government of India


Release ID :66147)


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