Women’s economic empowerment is central to the national priority of inclusive economic growth and is critical for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs offer a historic opportunity to pursue transformational measures to ensure equality for every woman and girl, everywhere. Investing in women’s economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth. The inclusion of women and girls in the economy and the provision of safe working and public spaces must be accompanied by measures to prevent violence against women and girls, and enable them to participate fully in society and contribute to the health and prosperity of their communities.
One in three Indians is a young person, aged 15 to 24 years, and children comprise almost 37% of the country’s population. India has the largest youth population in the world. By 2020, the average age of the country will be 29. India’s economic growth prospects and achievement of the SDGs will depend largely on their skill, energy and drive to succeed, and on the availability of effective mechanisms to nurture youth leadership, participation and volunteerism. Sixty-five out of the 169 targets for the SDGs reference young people explicitly or implicitly, with a focus on empowerment, participation and well being. Encouraged by the right opportunities, young people can transform the social and economic fortunes of their countries. But, delivering this transformation requires sustained investments and partnerships to respond to the health, education, employment concerns of young people comprehensively. Young people must be motivated and allowed to participate in decision-making, especially in areas that have a direct impact on their future.
Women’s economic empowerment is essential to support women in living with dignity in an environment free from violence. The declining child sex ratio (CSR), the practice of gender-biased sex selection, and child marriage all illustrate the extent to which gender discrimination and gender inequality remain significant challenges for India. The incidence of domestic violence against women is also high, with women from specific minority groups being most exposed to violence by their partners. Indeed, domestic violence has been the most reported violent crime against women in the country for the past 10 years, with an incident of domestic violence reported every five minutes.
Young people can develop the attitudes, agency, skills and behaviour to access and demand information and services to be safe, healthy, to end discrimination and violence, especially against girls, and to help create and sustain a civil society with investments that promote an enabling environment. They must be key partners in shaping new gender inclusive policies and behaviour that can challenge gender stereotypes and norms.
Government Programmes and Initiatives
The government has prioritized ending violence against women and introduced special measures to combat trafficking of women and girls, domestic violence, and sexual harassment. It has stepped up efforts to introduce and integrate gender in policy programming. In January 2015, the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save Daughter, Educate Daughter) initiative to save and empower the girl child was introduced and is gathering momentum nationally. Skilling and employment programmes for women, along with microfinance services, are reaching underprivileged rural women in distant corners of the country. Legislation to address sexual harassment, domestic violence and unequal remuneration is also being strengthened.
The Government of India’s vision to empower young people is articulated in the National Youth Policy 2014. The policy identifies five well-defined objectives and 11 priority areas, and suggests policy interventions in each. The priority areas are education, skill development and employment, entrepreneurship, health and healthy lifestyle, sports, promotion of social values, community engagement, participation in politics and governance, youth engagement, inclusion and social justice. The government has undertaken initiatives to enable youth to fully participate in the job market and gain access to employment services. It has launched skill development programmes to build the capacity of rural youth, especially those belonging to the below poverty line (BPL) and scheduled caste and tribe categories. Efforts have been made to address health-related issues, physical development, digital inclusion, juvenile crime and delinquency, drug abuse, discrimination against young women, and other youth-specific themes.
The priority area group on gender equity (convened by UN Women) strengthens the impact of the UN’s work on gender equality by (i) broadening the knowledge base on gender issues; (ii) joint programming, advocacy, research and communications; and (iii) overseeing and supporting the UN’s joint support for gender equality through inter-governmental platforms such as the Post-2015 Agenda, Beijing +20, the Commission on the Status of Women and UN Security Council Resolution 1325.
A sub-group on gender-based sex selection, comprising UN Women, UNICEF, UNDP and UNFPA, aims to support work around the issue of sex selection and prevention of early marriage.
Powerful advocacy campaigns, such as HeForShe and 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence (held each year from 25 November to 10 December), have been undertaken. In March 2016, a joint UN communication and advocacy campaign was launched for International Women’s Day. The UN partnered with NITI Aayog and MyGov to launch the first-ever Women Transforming India campaign in 2016. The online campaign crowdsourced nearly 1000 inspiring stories of change from women across the country, recognizing 12 outstanding women who are transforming the country.
After a consultation organised in partnership with the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation and the Ministry of Women and Child Development, a framework on addressing data gaps in gender statistics was developed to analyse three areas – the use of women’s time, asset ownership, and the prevalence of violence against women.
UN Volunteers, along with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, organised a national consultation to provide inputs into action plans towards the implementation of the National Youth Policy. Young people and technical experts brainstormed on issues related to inclusion, social entrepreneurship, environment and disaster management, gender justice and equality during the consultation.
UNFPA and UNV organised a youth adda for young boys and girls on Republic Day in Delhi to help develop an understanding among young people regarding politics – what it is, how the system works and how they could, as individual citizens, influence the decision-making process.
UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO supported the roll-out of the National Adolescent Health Programme, also known as Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK) by developing a joint communications strategy and products. The RKSK envisions that all adolescents in India will be able to realise their full potential by making informed and responsible decisions related to their health and well being.
The UN in India provided technical support to the Ministry of Youth Affairs for the BRICS Youth Summit in Guwahati and its Call to Action. The theme of the summit was “Youth as Bridge for Intra BRICS Exchanges”. Four thematic sessions focused on Skill development and Entrepreneurship, Social Inclusion, Youth Volunteerism and Youth Participation in Governance.