The role of women in India’s economic growth

The critical role of women in India’s Amritkaal

Recently, we have discussed not being satisfied with being in the top 5 global economies since quantity alone is insufficient; we need quality (recall we are below 120 per capita GDP). We also talked about the low participation of women in the Indian economy. All of us should understand why, without the active participation of women, India cannot even dream of being a top economy on a per capita and size basis.

Let’s understand four core areas where women must play a very important role. Women in India need to come at par or be ahead of men in (a) health, (b) education, (c) economic participation, and finally, (d) participation across the fields (be it medical science, economics, mathematics, politics).  For records, the World Economic Forum conducted a global survey in 2022 on similar areas, and India received an abysmal ranking. While we always want to question the global rankings, we can’t hide away from the fact that we are much closer to the bottom of the list!  We must stop boasting about the role of women in ancient India, and stop taking false pride in the fact that women in ancient India had equal rights and respect and were provided quality education, irrespective of varna. The areas needing attention for women enrolment and excellence are highlighted below.

  1. Health – Indian women’s health is still a major issue despite the progress over the last few decades. For example, the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) decreased from 556 per 100,000 in 1990 to 122 in 2017; it is still higher than the global target of <70!More than 50% of the women in the age group 15-49 are anaemic, and unfortunately, only 1 in 3 pregnant women (urban, rural included) end up taking prescribed iron tablets! We have limited quality data on mental health of women.  How can women struggling with health and life adjustments (marriage, pregnancy, etc) be expected to manage the family and work both?
  2. Education—Literacy rates at every stage of education (Primary, Secondary) for girls are at least 10% lower than for boys. As the African proverb says, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman,you educate a family (nation).”  Do I need to say more?  (Do you know the primary cause of death of young women in India? I will give you the answer in the next article!)
  3. Economic participation – I have presented the data before.  India needs to do much more than the average participation of about 30% of women. In developed countries, >60% women participate in the economy. It is important to note that we don’t need more women. We need women (and men) who can deliver more quality output (higher per capita) for the economy, which requires both health and quality education and family support for women to participate in the economy.
  4. Leadership positions—I recall a time when we had a woman leader for the men’s shaving business, and that provided a unique perspective that perhaps the men may not be able to identify. We need women leaders across the board, from participation in Loksabha to leading educational institutions and making policies for women!

The above ideas do not cover everything, but they get us started. Additionally, we need support from both men and women in their roles as parents, mentors, managers, and policymakers. We need to shift the focus by having everyone in society take up this work rather than letting the activists (આંદોલનકારી?) manage it.  Let me repeat: without all of the above, India’s dream of becoming a developed country won’t happen!