The importance of women as equal contributors to the Indian economy in the workforce, and in the society in general, needs to be brought into sharper focus. For too long all matters around women issues have been either brushed under the carpet or trivialised. The economic survey going pink is a step to bring these issues out into the spotlight, and to my mind, is a signal of times to come.

The Economic Survey, in its chapter titled ‘Gender and Son Meta-Preference: Is Development Itself an Antidote?’ talks about the fact that the intrinsic values of gender equality cannot be contested. What makes the argument stronger is the growing evidence that there are significant gains to the economic growth itself when gender equality takes root. As women acquire public status and political power and become equal contributors in the labour market, it is the Indian economy, (and even the men within it!), that stand to gain.

One of the significant conclusions is that India’s score has improved in 82% of the 17 indicators relating to agency, attitude and outcomes.

The Budget will detail out the plans of the government to allocate monies to various programmes/projects that focus on women and related matters. These plans will be drawn up based on the data and analyses presented in the Economic Survey. The Survey has analysed the data thrown up by the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) datasets from 1980 to 2016 to arrive at its conclusions. One of the significant conclusions is that India’s score has improved in 82% of the 17 indicators relating to agency, attitude and outcomes. Further, in 50 percent of the 14 indicators in which the score has improved, the score is better or in line with that of other comparable countries.

While the Survey focuses only on the percentage representation of women in the labour force and points out that it has fallen over time, it is silent on the subject of pay parity between genders for those women who are actually in the labour market.

Some of the significant improvements are around decision-making by women in household purchases and visiting their family and relatives. There has been evidence of a decline in the experience of physical and sexual violence. While education levels of women have improved quite dramatically there is still a lot of work to be done in this area. The other area that requires focus is in the labour market. While the Survey focuses only on the percentage representation of women in the labour force and points out that it has fallen over time, it is silent on the subject of pay parity between genders for those women who are actually in the labour market.

Delving deeper into the matter of women in the labour market, the Survey also points out the fact that improved incomes of men actually make the women withdraw from work. It also points out that higher education enables them to pursue leisure and non-work activities thus taking them away from the employment pool. Clearly, the Survey has assumed that it is only economically better off women who pursue higher education as it is they who can ‘afford’ not to work! In my opinion this data point needs some further analysis.

The Survey is correct when it says that the challenge of gender is long-standing, probably going back millennia, so all stakeholders are collectively responsible for its resolution.

The Survey is correct when it says that the challenge of gender is long-standing, probably going back millennia, so all stakeholders are collectively responsible for its resolution. By dedicating a chapter on gender, it does force people to look at the facts presented.

One Economic Survey in pink to highlight the focus on women may not be the silver bullet we are looking for but it certainly is a start to get people, especially within the politics and bureaucracy, to focus on action points.

Also Read: Family Businesses are the Unsung Heroes of our economy, Sonu Bhasin

Sonu Bhasin is a senior professional and the author of The Inheritors – Stories of Entrepreneurship and Success

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