The Millennium Development Goals—eight international goals established in the UN Millennium Summit—are set to expire in 2015. The goals were set to achieve development targets across the world on issues like health, primary education and gender equality and empowerment of women.

While India has made progress on issues like combating hunger and poverty and primary education, its performance in meeting the third goal, on gender equality and empowerment, has been mixed. Indian women’s labour force participation is 33% compared with the global average of 50%.

Only 10% of women in rural areas have some ownership entitlements over agricultural land; 83% of them, however, depend on agriculture. While India has eliminated gender disparity in primary education, gender budgeting has taken a hit. This in spite of ambitious schemes in pursuit of the goal.

These issues and others were the subject of a round table discussion on “India and the MDG’s gender and Development—An Assessment’ organized by UN Women and the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in New Delhi on Friday.

According to Dipi Sinha of the Right to Food campaign, some of India’s biggest challenges are both institutional and social.

The women and child development ministry has seen its budgetary allocation cut by almost 50% as has the rural jobs scheme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).

“For a lot of women, MNREGA is considered to be a good working option but they have not been provided work for over a year now. Where do they find work?" asked Sinha. “While parents are willing to invest in education, the pathways to convert education into employment are limited. Women’s work force participation as paid employees is not improving."

Jobless growth, according to her, is a pressing concern.

“We have to be more demanding in commitments to close the gender equality gap," said Patricia Barandun, deputy representative, UN Women multi-country office, who believes that more and more women are needed in a position of power and decision-making.

Internationally only 22% of all national parliamentarians are women. India might not have been able to bring about 33% reservation for women in Parliament but in 2009 a proposal to increase reservation for women in Ranchayati Raj institutions to 50% was cleared.

But ordinances like the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj (Second Amendment) Ordinance 2014, if passed, will only serve to de-rail such initiatives. The ordinance seeks to introduce a set of educational qualifications of secondary education for candidates to contest panchayat elections. Class VIII has been introduced as the minimum qualification for the post of sarpanch while Class X is the minimum for a post in the zilla parishad.

“This will lead to the disenfranchisement of nearly 85% women," said Sinha.

Post 2015, UN Women is advocating a standalone goal to achieve gender equality. The standalone goal rests on three pillars: freedom from violence, access to opportunities and ensuring women have a voice within households and in public and private decision-making spheres.

“We need representation of women in different domains. It is not only about women in politics but standing up to other challenges," said Subhalakshmi Nandi, head of the women’s economic empowerment unit at UN Women.

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