Nikita is Assistant Programme Coordinator for Restless Development India. Ahead of International Women’s Day, she talks about the importance of leaving no woman behind as India’s economy continues to grow.
One is fortunate if they can meet at least one person, whose story inspire and motivates you. I had the pleasure to engage, interact and learn from not one woman, but a collective of forty women living in a small tribal village in Odisha, a state in the Eastern part of India.
Their experiences of ‘singleness’ and the anguish and trauma they faced on a daily basis because of the absence of a male partner- they are either widowed, never married or separated; brought them together to form a collective called Eka Nari Sangathan (Single Women’s Collective). The collective, which started out as a way to find hope in their shared despair, is now doing farming on a piece of land which forms the backbone of their livelihood as well as transforming the self, social and the political through their negotiations with local leaders and decision makers.
This collective of women who have found strength in each other has taught me a lot about what the term empowerment means.
However, a questions begs our attention – do we have spaces where these forty women and by extension the hundreds of thousands of similar women can realize the opportunities that the country is being presented with?
In the closely interconnected and integrated world that we live in today, countries are being judged constantly by the global public thanks to social media, digital news and televised images. In a time like this, the government’s policies are mostly made in sync with international commitments and geared towards improving India’s international standing. India seems to tick all the right boxes that are instrumental in creating opportunities for achieving gender equality despite constraints.
India is poised to become the fifth largest economy in 2019 as per the IMF projection and is expected to grow at a steady 7.5% as the economy moves towards terms of trade that are favourable.
In addition to this, investments in science and technology are gathering momentum, escalating India to be the third most attractive investment destination. Its rising position on the Global Innovation Index, the push from the government for research parks and business incubators coupled with a huge percentage of the population between the ages of 10-24 means that the time seems right for women to capitalize on these available opportunities.
The legal environment in the past year has also been conducive for women, their rights and gender equality: the government banned Triple Talaq, which prohibits any Muslim man from verbally divorcing his wife; female genital mutilation became punishable by law; eliminating the criminality from adultery created a recognition for women sexual freedom, and polygamy was banned. In a nutshell, it seems that India is a mecca of opportunity for women.
However, the opportunities present do not translate into opportunities realised. The access to such opportunities is governed by the socio-economic standing and access that it presents to certain sections of women. Things that seem to be going right for India by international standards in terms of human, financial and technical resources – the numbers are a testament to that. But it is important to look beyond the rosy picture promised by numbers and percentages and understand that our policies and programmes need to be more reflective of the needs of women who have been excluded from them.
It is important to reach out to women in rural spaces, tribal regions, disadvantaged and marginalised populations if we are to eliminate the gap that exists between what is available and being able to make a rightful claim on the same.
Equality of opportunities, unless accompanied by equality of access to those opportunities would be a step back as India tries to realise its dream of leaving no one behind.