India and the MDGs: Gender and Development - An Assessment

20 Mar 2015
New Delhi, India

The session, moderated by UNIC Director Kiran Mehra-Kerpelman, shed light on the current status of various women's issues - healthcare, education, water, sanitation, reproductive health and more - and charted action steps at the policy and implementation level to tackle this prevalent issue.

As the deadline for the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) draws closer, the United Nations in India is taking several measures to enable partners, empower civil society and aid activists in meeting these goals whose ultimate aim is to end poverty. One such endeavour is the formulation of policy briefs - created based on UN-ESCAP's recently released 'India and the MDGs' analysis report - which advocate action steps to close the gap and reach the goals.

Dr. Nagesh Kumar, Head UN-ESCAP South and South-West Asia Office presented an overview of the scorecard on gender-related improvements linked to the MDGs. Although India is on track in achieving gender parity levels in primary education, employment and empowerment of women is still a challenge for many who face wage discrimination, no entitlements over land and property and an increase in unregulated domestic services. Representation of women in Parliament was a weak 11%, despite 50% reservation for women at the local level which reflected the need for a deep-seated attitudinal change towards working women.

To place gender equality at the crux of the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), UN Women has called for the integration of a stand-alone goal. Ms. Patricia Barandun, UN Women's Deputy Representative outlined the proposed 3-pronged approach which aimed to eliminate gender-based violence, achieve gender equity in resources and parity in decision-making powers in public/private institutions. "We need to widen spectrum of issues that the SDGs will cover", she noted and added that UN Women's countdown 'Step It Up' campaign asks governments to take "substantive action on gender equality."

Ms. Dipa Sinha from the Right to Food campaign brought in a wealth of perspectives on gender-issues from the grassroots level. She lauded the UN's efforts in improving women's health and education but also expressed concerns that mindsets of both men and women would need to change to create a truly balanced society. She elucidated this with the recent controversy around the Food Security Bill whose 2013 provision stated that new ration cards are to be issued in the name of women. This has been challenged by a fatwa which claims that a man, not a woman, is the head of the household. She stressed on the need to understand budgets and the role of the central government in creating gender-friendly economic policies that would reflect social change as well.

Ms. Subhalakshmi Nandi, Head of the Women's Economic Empowerment unit at UN Women detailed the importance of accounting for low-paid and unpaid work in estimating and assessing the economic contribution of women. She buttressed Ms. Barandun's comments on the SDGs saying, "Women's work and the right to access resources must find a place in post2015 agenda" and asserted the importance of recognizing the rights framework of gender equality. Mrs. Mehra-Kerpelman shared her memorable experience of working on ILO's gender campaign during the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women, whose slogan was 'All women are working women'.

The discussion closed with an interactive Q & A session with the 50-member audience comprising of activists, students, mediapersons and civil society members committed to a free and equal society.

UNIC Delhi is marking March as International Women's month with a series of topical events to raise awareness on the role, status and evolving identities of women in India. Through the month, UNIC has marked 8 March, International Women's Day through a solemn observance with War widows, a photo exhibition with women of substance, panel discussion with activists and survivors of gender abuse and an award ceremony to honour women change makers.