The Pink-color Economic Survey 2017-18 tabled in Parliament on 29th January 2018 by the Union Minister for Finance and Corporate Affairs, Arun Jaitley lays special emphasis on Gender and Son meta-preference, while providing an assessment of India’s performance on gender outcomes relative to other economies.
The Survey takes into account that Gender equality is an inherently multi-dimensional issue. Accordingly, assessments have been made based on three specific dimensions of gender, ie Agency (relates to women’s ability to make decisions on reproduction, spending on themselves, spending on their households and their own mobility and health), Attitudes (relate to attitudes about violence against women/wives, and the ideal number of daughters preferred relative to the ideal number of sons) and Outcomes (relate to ‘son preference’ measured by sex ratio of last child, female employment, choice of contraception, education level, age at marriage, age at first birth and physical or sexual violence experienced by women) which aim to reflect the status, role and empowerment of women in the society.
The key findings of the assessment made in the Survey include: Over the last 10-15 years, India’s performance improved on 14 out of 17 indicators of women’s agency, attitudes, and outcomes. On seven of them, the improvement has been such that India’s situation is comparable to that of a cohort of countries after accounting for levels of development.
The Survey encouragingly notes that gender outcomes exhibit a convergence pattern, improving with wealth to a greater extent in India than in similar countries so that even where it is lagging, it can expect to catch up over time. The Survey, however, cautions that on several other indicators, notably employment, use of reversible contraception, and son preference, India has some distance to traverse because development has not proved to be an antidote.
Economic Survey 2017-18 states that within India, there is significant heterogeneity, with the North-Eastern states (a model for the rest of the country) consistently out-performing others and not because they are richer; hinterland states are lagging behind but the surprise is that some southern states do less well than their development levels would suggest.
The Economic Survey 2017-18 notes the challenge of gender is long-standing, probably going back millennia, so all stakeholders are collectively responsible for its resolution.
The Survey thus recommends that India must confront the societal preference, even meta-preference for a son, which appears inoculated to development. The skewed sex ratio in favor of males led to the identification of “missing” women. But there may be a meta-preference manifesting itself in fertility stopping rules contingent on the sex of the last child, which notionally creates “unwanted” girls, estimated at about 21 million, adds the Survey. Consigning these odious categories to history soon should be society’s objective, opines the Survey.
The survey acknowledges that government’s Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao and Sukanya Samridhi Yojanaschemes, and mandatory maternity leave rules are all steps in the right direction. The Survey states that just as India has committed to moving up the ranks in Ease of Doing Business indicators, a similar commitment should be endeavored on the gender front.