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Business News/ News / India/  Women's Day 2023: The hidden gender biases in social sector at leadership roles

This year union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman hiked the Gender Budget by 30% compared to last year's budget estimate on 1 February. FM Sitharaman allocated 2.23 lakh crore for schemes aiming to empower Indian women in this year's budget.

While the Centre has introduced a slew of schemes aiming to address concerns of gender discrimination at ground-level, India's social sector witnessing unexposed biases in the leadership roles, according to the experts.

A survey, conducted by India Leaders for Social Sector (ILSS) revealed that, 73% of emerging women leaders in the social sector said there are lack of women leaders at senior-level management in the sector, relative to the number of women in entry-to-mid level roles. Similarly, there is a predominance of women in ‘Program specific’ roles, as opposed to strategic, organisation building roles.

Devyani Chaturvedi, Executive Director, Development Association for Human Advancement (DEHAT) said that social sector is enshrouded with gender biases. "When I took over the leadership of an organization, I faced a major challenges because of my age, appearance and of course, being a woman. The leadership shift was difficult to adapt for the people working with that organisation because I believed in feminist approach".

Neera Nundy said that when someone starts a new venture in India, it is affected by patriarchal culture and deep-rooted traditions. "Staying motivated and focused on the goal, despite the slow pace of change is a challenge for myself and for the sector at large," she added.


Gauri Bhopatkar, Chief Executive Officer, Econet told Mint post Covid-19 pandemic small, medium or large all NGOs are competing for funds for identical donors and for probably identical issues.

According to Sanjina Gupta, Founder & Executive Director, Rangeen Khidki, education is the most funded sector followed by livelihood/skill development. "Health in general is well funded, but owing to the taboo and stigma around sexual and reproductive health and rights, coupled with different regulations, the funding pool is extremely limited and competitive instead of being collaborative," Gupta added.

Nundy said social sector funding in India has grown by about 12% in the last five years, but there are still gaps that need to be filled in order to achieve the United Nations sustainable development goals by 2030. "NITI Aayog suggests that India needs to allocate around 13% of its GDP to social causes, whereas the current average is only about 7%," she said.


Citing 2015 whitepaper- In Sight, Nundy said women account for over 50% of the workforce in the social sector, but hold less than 35% women in managerial positions.

Nundy has launched a “Women on Boards" program in collaboration with the Indian School of Development Management (ISDM) and Governance Counts, to provide opportunities for women professionals to become a part of the transformation by taking up board roles in Social Impact Organisations (SIOs).

On increasing the women's participation in the social sector, Rukmini Banerji, CEO Pratham Foundation said, "The participation of women in field based programs would be greatly enhanced by enabling them to have mobility, some reasonable flexibility in working hours when children are very young. For working women, these "learning" opportunities need to be affordable and accessible and taught by those who have a good understanding of field realities," she added.

Deepa Pawar, Managing Trustee & Founder Director, Anubhuti Trust said that women get opportunities in social sector but in a manner that there is only space for stories of the women's vulnerability to be shared, but not her intellectual capacities. "The social sector needs to create an environment where the intellectual capacities of marginalised women is protected and kept safe," she emphasised.

According to Bhopatkar's experience, social sector compared to the other sectors has always welcomed women. However, top management and strategic roles/positions are still held by men or by women backed by the powerful men within the sector comes with a high class sophisticated foreign educated background. She said that, "Substantive equality must become the moto of all the actors in the sector".


Anu Prasad, founder and CEO at ILSS said there's an interesting relationship between the Central government and the social sector.She said, "We are one of the few countries where the government has mandated 2% of corporate profits to social impact, which has enabled the sector in more ways than one, especially for a steady flow of domestic grants/capital for the sector".

Prasad lauded the collaboration of the governemnt with NGOs to solve some critical issues like education, especially K12 education. She added that most large-scale NGOs work closely with several state governments to roll out innovative interventions to solve specific challenges like drop-out or getting more girls into the school system.

Many social sector organisations have been in the service delivery space, working with the government to increase reach and awareness of social welfare schemes of the government, like Akshaya Patra, which closely works with several state governments for mid-day meal scheme delivery via government school, she added.

On sharing advice for women who wants to enter the social sector, Pawar from Anubhuti Trust said that women in India should take motivation from our brave leaders who have brought about great change in face of immense opposition - such as Savitribai Phule, Mukta Salve, Fatima, Jijabai and so on. "We should confidently look to our powerful histories and our rich experiences to research, write, publish, speak, present, represent, lead, and give direction," she concluded.

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Mansi Jaswal
I write about gender-related issues, women's rights, women empowerment, gender equality, women's health topics, and their wealth management. Also, profiling women who have fought all odds to make their own identities in their own rights. Before Mint, I worked at Business Today and Business Standard. I studied journalism at IIMC, Delhi. Got a story idea? Email me at
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Updated: 08 Mar 2023, 07:36 AM IST
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