Gender in India

September 22, 2011


In the Indian context, concern for gender equality almost always focuses on the need to address the greater disadvantages faced by women and girls, compared with men and boys. Female disadvantage pervades the social and economic spheres, beginning with a preference for male children and, hence, pre-natal sex-selection to abort female fetuses, and ending with inadequate social security for widows.

En route, intra-household differences persist between girls and boys in investments in nutrition, health and education, and societal proscriptions that constrain women’s mobility, access to economic inputs, and participation in the labor force abound. Although women enjoy equal civil and legal rights in most matters in India, the laws and practices in some communities remain unequal, including provisions related to inheritance, divorce, adoption and other family matters.


The key challenges to achieve gender equality lie in closing the gaps between the education of girls and boys, particularly among disadvantaged groups such as Dalits, Adivasis and some religious minorities, health and nutrition, access to inputs (including land, credit and skills), work-force participation (in both the informal and formal sectors and important areas such as agriculture), gender-based violence in the domestic and public spheres, the enforcement of legal rights, and political participation, including local government and state and national assemblies.

Government Priorities

During the Eleventh Five Year Plan (XI FYP), the Government of India (GOI) espoused a vision of an ‘Inclusive and integrated policy and strategy for economic, social and political empowerment of women.’ It had the following areas of focus: nutrition, health, microcredit, agriculture, ‘women in difficult circumstances,’ adolescents, local government, institutional issues, legal issues, gender-disaggregated data, and gender budgeting.

Significant recommendations of the working group report on women’s empowerment for the XI FYP dwelt on enhancing women’s work participation (including improving transport, energy, ICTs, land rights, policies surrounding home-based work, self-help group and wage employment schemes); addressing gender-based violence, crime and discrimination, and strengthening laws, work-place rights, and access to legal services; reducing the difficulties faced by vulnerable groups of women; and improving health and education services.

The GOI has set up a ‘Working Group on Women’s Agency and Empowerment for the Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-17).’ Several sub-groups have been constituted to focus on specific topics including the legal framework, skill development, women in local governments, gender mainstreaming through institutions, and accountability mechanisms.

World Bank Support

The World Bank supports the Government of India and several state governments through investment loans/credits in a variety of sectors (“projects”), as well as through analytical and advisory activities (AAA). Gender equality is promoted through these instruments through one (or more) or three ways: a strong focus on women, such as that in the livelihoods projects listed below; mainstreaming gender concerns, as in the reproductive and child health project and secondary/tertiary education projects; and addressing gender-specific needs and providing opportunities for girls/women, such as in the water supply and sanitation projects. The gender-related analytical activities undertaken recently have taken a ‘women-focused’ approach.