The G20 Delhi declaration, released on 10 September, issued a global call to action. Across the world, we've witnessed development for women and by women. The declaration pushes for a new narrative: development led by women or "women-led development."
While this is an exciting idea, the true transformation will depend on how nations, especially those with significant gender disparities and historical, regressive social norms, interpret and implement these resolutions.
India's Stark Reality
India has made significant strides across sectors. Yet gender equality, especially in health, education, and economic opportunities, remains an unfinished agenda. Indian society's deeply rooted patriarchal structure primarily fuels this inequality.
According to the fifth National Family Health Survey (2019-21):
Almost one in four women aged 20-24 were married before 18
Around 8 percent of women aged 15-19 were mothers or pregnant during the survey
And 59 percent of young women (15-19) are anaemic.
Nearly 30 percent of married women aged 18-49 have faced domestic and/or sexual violence.
About 12 percent of currently married women are still unable to participate in three key household decisions – decisions about healthcare for herself; making major household purchases; and visits to her family or relatives).
Only 54 percent of women have mobile phones that they themselves use.
These numbers don't lie. They paint a picture of a society where women, despite their undeniable potential, are often pushed to the peripheries.
These disparities also curtail women's economic participation.
The 2023 Gender Gap report states that only 36.7 percent gender parity in economic participation has been achieved, which means that India lags behind even many of the least developed countries on this count.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), only 24 percent of women participate in the paid labour market, and earn about 33 percent less than men.
While 80 percent of economically active women are in agriculture, just 13 percent own agricultural land, as per a study by Oxfam India.
These statistics call for India to prioritise the G20's commitments, not only as an international obligation but as a domestic imperative.
The Commitments Made by G20
The G20 resolutions are comprehensive and have the potential to significantly address these issues.
They reflect the nature of the key concerns highlighted at the G20 Ministerial Conference on Women's Empowerment, organised by the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
The declaration has highlighted gender equality as fundamental, emphasising the cascading benefits of empowering all women and girls in achieving the 2030 Agenda.
The world leaders have committed to promoting women's active societal participation. This focus ranges from:
Boosting labour force participation
Guaranteeing equal educational opportunities, especially in STEM and emerging digital technologies, to addressing the gender pay gap
Enabling life-long learning focused on skilling, reskilling, and upskilling.
They also aim to halve the digital gender gap by 2030 while recognising the gendered impacts of climate change and emphasizsing women's food security and nutrition.
Another crucial initiative is the establishment of a new Working Group on Empowerment of Women to ensure and monitor the progress of these initiatives, reflecting the seriousness of the intent.
The document is an acknowledgment of the fact that empowering women is not a matter of charity but a fundamental necessity for any nation aiming to achieve gender equality in its development trajectory.
What's the Road Ahead?
The G20's emphasis on women-led development offers a golden opportunity for India's future growth.
As India grapples with its gender disparities, the need for tailored interventions is necessary.
To leverage the "gender dividend," India must prioritise policies focused on women and girls, supported by strong investments.
The country should adopt a 'life-cycle' approach for empowerment at every life stage and provide gender-responsive work environments with improved financial access.
Broadening access to modern family planning methods is also crucial, as 9% of women currently face an unmet need.
The success of Mission Parivar Vikas, a programme aimed at improving access to family planning services in 145 high-fertility districts, suggests there is potential for further improvements and scaling up, keeping in mind the specific geographical and population context.
Social and Behaviour Change Communication (SBCC) campaigns are essential to counter regressive social norms that often lead to early marriages, unwanted pregnancies, and gender-based violence.
For women and girls to contribute effectively to society, they must be equipped and motivated.
Initiatives like the Digital India Mission can benefit from the G20's push to bridge the digital gender gap, involving the co-creation of digital solutions.
The G20's emphasis on strengthening primary healthcare and health services is also significant.
As we bolster health systems, these initiatives must address healthcare disparities faced by Indian women.
In the context of global tensions, conflicts, and an ongoing war, we are fortunate to have a clear roadmap and a global consensus as reflected in the G20 declaration.
World leaders must ensure that the next G20 focuses on ensuring progress on development issues, especially women's empowerment, and maintains this momentum.
India's path to gender parity is laden with challenges. Yet with the G20's vision and customised national strategies, India can aim for a future where women are not just recipients of development, but also lead as its chief architects.
(Poonam Muttreja is the Executive Director at the Population Foundation of India. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)