As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) approach their December 2015 deadline, UN Women, along with the UN-ESCAP Sub-regional office for South and South West Asia and the UN Information Centre organized a panel discussion on 20 March, aimed at assessing the MDGs in India through a gender lens.
The panelists included Dr. Nagesh Kumar, Head, ESCAP South and South-West Asia; Patricia Barandun, Deputy Representative, UN Women MCO; Dr. Dipa Sinha, Right to Food Campaign; Subhalakshmi Nandi, Women’s Economic Empowerment Specialist, UN Women.
The panelists observed that the goals of gender equality and women empowerment are not only desirable in themselves but are also critical for achieving the other MDGs.
“India is on track to achieve gender parity at all education levels, having achieved it at the primary level already,” Dr. Kumar said. Women’s literacy rates, however, lag behind that of men, indicating poorer learning outcomes and opportunities. He recommended some key actions for improving gender equality and women’s empowerment indices in India. These include 33 percent reservation for women in local bodies, state legislatures and Parliament; elimination of all forms of violence against women; skill development for women; making women’s participation in education safe and secure; elimination of sex selection before birth; and universal access to sexual and reproductive health.
In her remarks, Ms. Barandun emphasized that it is crucial to ensure that the gains of the MDGs are sustained. The gaps must also be “integrated in the post-2015 development agenda and in the Sustainable Development Goals,” she added. She also spoke about the stand-alone goals proposed by UN Women for integration in the post-2015 development framework on achieving gender equality. This proposal addresses three target areas: freedom from violence against women and girls; gender equality in the distribution of capabilities; and gender equality in decision-making power in public and private institutions. In her concluding remarks, Ms. Barandun referred to UN Women’s ‘Step It Up’ campaign which asks government to make national commitments to close the gender equality gap.
Dr. Sinha spoke about discriminatory social norms and behaviours against women. The empowerment of women requires a change in the attitudes of men and women, boys and girls, she observed. She also affirmed the importance of including maternal health in the Food Security Act, 2011, pointing out that there is no universal scheme announced for this programme. “The key to achieving gender parity is resources. There’s a great need for gender responsive budgeting, and money needs to be allocated and spent effectively to achieve these goals,” she said.
Ms. Nandi focused on the economic aspect of empowering women. She said that substantive steps need to be taken to recognize women workers in the unorganized sector where women may suffer abuse and exploitation. “The post-2015 development agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals for gender equality must address issues of violence against women and discriminatory attitudes and norms on multiple fronts,” she said. She also spoke about the need for equitable participation of women in decision making processes.
All panelists asserted that empowering women remains a major development challenge for India. The discussion also underscored the fact that any breakthrough on gender equality requires changes in social attitudes. And, to meaningfully achieve this goal, every social, economic and political issue must be gender sensitive and should be addressed in the post-2015 development agenda.