BRIDGE Report 32: Background Report on Gender Issues in India: Key Findings and Recommendations

Author: M. John, K. Lalita
Publisher: Institute of Development Studies UK
Publication Date: Feb 1995
How are gender relations evolving in India' Awareness of gender issues in India has increased due to the influence of the women's movement, feminist debates and donor advocacy. However this awareness has yet to be translated into policy and practice that significantly improves gender equality in the family, government, social services, economic activities and political participation. Gender bias prevails in poverty, and women from minority religious groups, tribal minorities and lower castes are particularly vulnerable. This report argues that future policy should concentrate on expanding women's economic opportunities, political representation and community-based social services, with special attention given to women of marginalised groups. This report contains the key findings and recommendations, shortened from a longer version of this report.

The Indian government has introduced many measures to give special attention to women's issues, but co-ordination, resources and an overall policy framework is lacking. Recent changes have brought relatively fewer benefits to women, such as the New Economic Policy and the effects of globalisation on employment security. Gender issues are vital to address in this context, so as to avoid growing inequality between men and women and deepening gaps between women of different castes, religion, and race. Gender analysis of contemporary India shows that:
- Employment prospects arising out of the liberalising New Economic Policy are mixed for women, but look bleak for older and less educated women.
- Although it is hoped that increased agricultural prices will improve employment opportunities for the rural poor, some fear that a corresponding decline in public expenditure on rural infrastructure will actually counteract this, and result in fewer jobs overall, especially for women.
- Women and girls are disadvantaged in access to social services such as health care, education and housing, by intrahousehold inequalities in food allocation and spending, and by clear gender biases in service provision.
- Reductions in public expenditure on social services and increasing use of private services have dramatically increased the economic burden on poorer households, and increased female workloads. . Women's heavy workloads and resulting limited free time, restricts their effective participation in expanding areas of community-based service provision.
- Conflict between different groups of women, particularly along caste and communal lines has heightened in national political life over recent years.

Key recommendations for development assistance include:
- Give special consideration to the influence of caste, religion and race on how women experience discrimination differently.
- Consciously take into account needs, flexibility and mobility of different groups of women in planning and locating social and economic facilities.
- Introduce measures to reduce, rather than accommodate, women and girls' workloads in order to improve their access to education and training. For example, the provision of childcare services should be co-ordinated with workplace and school locations and timings.
- Provide clear incentives, training and rewards to women in order to increase their participation in decentralised community-based service provision, and compensate them for their time.
- Encourage female participation in all levels of governance through training for women candidates, particularly Dalit, tribal and Muslim women, who are the least represented.
- Integrate systematic gender training into mainstream training government and donor programmes, which also addresses other determinants of inequality, to promote long-term institutional change.