Empowering women through policy
Smriti Zubin Irani
The Indian government has catapulted the maxim of sarvajanahitaya, sarvajanasukhaya (for the good of all, for the happiness of all) into a palpable reality in the past decade. The extant essence of janhit (public interest) has been reinvented to “mainstream” gendered experiences. Gender mainstreaming has seamlessly pervaded every sphere of statecraft, ensuring it is not reduced to the ranks of an artificial add-on.
The incumbent government adopts a system-wide gendered lens to inform policy praxis. Women have been mandatorily recognised as the head of the household for the issuance of ration cards, under the auspices of The National Food Security Act, 2013. Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) and Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) accord benefits — homeownership and LPG connections, respectively — to women beneficiaries. Such interventions have unequivocally fortified women’s access to economic resources, elevating inter alia their social status.
Earlier schemes like the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) that inadvertently exempted women from seeking health services have been re-engineered and conclusively replaced. In its place, the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY) not only renders households without any adult male members eligible for the scheme, but also dismisses the off-colour cap of five beneficiaries per family that would penalise women in larger families, owing to male preference. Additionally, PM-JAY supports a substantial number of health benefits packages that are either women-centric in nature or are overwhelmingly common to both men and women. Under the aegis of the scheme, more women than men have availed of oncology services.
A barely decade-old government is doing what other sattadharis who held the reins of the nation for the better part of the century could not: It is visibilising women, it is nurturing nari shakti. By placing assets such as houses and LPGs in the hands of women, it is challenging the unequal status quo. It is doing so not only through policies but by bridging gendered data deficits.
The first nationwide Time Use Survey was carried out in 2019 shepherded by the National Statistical Office under the stewardship of the incumbent government. The Survey has finally put a number to the unpaid, unacknowledged sweat and toil of our jananis — 7.2 hours a day, that is approximately how much the average Indian woman devotes to caregiving and domestic services against the average Indian man’s 2.8 hours. The investigation of the implications and consequent policy corrections for the same has only been made possible by this Survey.
It is worthy to note that it was in 1998, conterminously with the farsighted Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance, that the TUS was first piloted across six Indian states; now, Time Use Surveys have found a prominent place in policy discourse and find mention in the global indicator framework of the United Nations-Sustainable Development Goals (UN-SDGs).
As a routine source of crucial information on nutrition, fertility, family planning, reproductive, maternal and child health and mortality, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) is a barometer of India’s performance in securing equitable health outcomes, especially for women. The sampling strategy of NFHS-4 (2015-16) underwent a comprehensive, methodological renovation, statistically accounting for all districts in the nation, proving to be a colossal improvement over its predecessor NFHS-3’s (2005-06) nationally representative sample. Sub-national and district-level representativeness has prompted prioritised, targeted interventions to address healthcare challenges.
NFHS-4 for the first time recorded gender-disaggregated cancer prevalence. NFHS-5 for the first time recorded information on whether women had ever undergone a screening test for cancer of the oral cavity, breast, and cervix. Together, NFHS-4 and 5 provide a tour d’horizon of the health of the Indian woman and serve as an incomparable mine of data.
The statistical architecture of the nation as we knew it has been rebuilt to count women. The popular academic adage holds that “what gets counted counts”. This provides a scaffolding for resource allocation for policy-making. Recognising the same, quinquennial employment and unemployment data collected erstwhile by the National Sample Survey (NSS) were supplanted by quarterly and annual Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) for timely gender-disaggregated labour force statistics. The PLFS now boasts of gender-disaggregated data such as Female Worker Population Ratio, Female Labour Force Participation Rate and Female Unemployment Rate.
Under the stewardship of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) initiated the collection of data on female foeticide in 2014. Such despondent data points are bitter pills to swallow but in the spirit of quantification, the incumbent government has facilitated its collection and has swiftly acted upon its implications through the BetiBachao, BetiPadhao campaign.
Quantification is a step towards resolution and rectification. The government is generating a plethora of gender-disaggregated data through either implementation-related statistics or through surveys and using them to inform or reform schemes, thus perpetuating a virtuous cycle. It is now the onus of individuals and groups in academia, research and evaluation consultancies to conduct audits and third-party assessments of such data to further mainstream gender in public policy for janhit (public interest).
(The author is the Union Minister for Women and Child Development)