G20 Summit 2023 has turned out to be a defining moment in global history by emerging as the epitome of transformation under the able leadership of our worthy Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi. Upholding the theme of- ‘One Earth, One Family, One future’, the Summit has resolved to act in concrete ways to accelerate strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth, empowering countries to not only address global challenges, but also pledging to bring prosperity and wellbeing to humanity as a whole, and thereby making the planet more inclusive and sustainable.
India’s maiden G20 Presidency, with representatives from 42 delegations around the world, has proved to be a resounding success, highlighting themes such as unlocking trade for growth, advancing financial inclusion, fighting corruption, accelerating progress on Sustainable Development Goals, eliminating hunger and malnutrition, strengthening global health, delivering quality education, conserving, protecting and restoring ecosystems and so on. But the highlight and prominence of the theme of furthering empowerment of women, with the prime focus on gender equality, had a special place in this year’s G20 agenda and principles.
There are many key issues that affect women in the world today, which include gender-pay gap, digital gender divide, informal work and instability, gender-based violence, limited access to education, poor reproductive health etc. G20 has doubled-down on their belief that gender equality is of fundamental importance, and that the empowerment of all women and girls would have a multiplier effect on their goal to achieve the Agenda 2030.
The G20 initiatives for gender equality encourages women-led development and remains committed to enhancing women’s full, equal and meaningful participation, as decision makers for addressing global challenges inclusively and contributing in all spheres of society across all sectors and at all levels of economy. Given that gender is a cross-cutting theme affecting almost all the other development prospects, there has been a renewed emphasis on gender equality across the entirety of the G20 Agenda, and its engagement groups.
Women empowerment experts have highlighted that India is setting the stage for women parity on the global as well as the domestic level. The Working Group on Women’s Empowerment in India has focused on several key areas to advance gender equality and women’s rights including gender-pay gap, enhancing access to quality education and skills development, bridging the digital-gender gap, ensuring women’s health and wellbeing, and increasing women’s involvement in environmental and climatic initiatives. By addressing these critical aspects, the working group aims to empower women and girls to promote active participation in various fields, fostering a more equitable and inclusive society.
Our PM Shri Narendra Modi has a strong belief that, ‘when a woman prospers, the world prospers’ and it has forged a women-centric development approach, that has proved to be an effective step in the empowerment of women in India. He has time and again highlighted the role of women in India in driving economic, environmental and social changes, and also about their invaluable contribution in space missions like Chandrayaan and Mission Mars etc. He even enumerated that more women in India are now enrolling for higher education than men, and the country boasts of one of the highest percentages of female pilots in Civil Aviation, with women now even flying fighter aircrafts in Indian Air Force.
On the domestic front, various programs and platforms have been launched by the Modi Government, in keeping up with the theme of women-empowerment, and are a perfect example of the Government’s initiatives for bridging the gender-divide. The Government of India has decided to place women’s empowerment at the heart of its Atmanirbhar Bharat development agenda, with a commitment to supporting their holistic development at all stages of life. The Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme has led to a 16-point improvement in the sex ratio at birth since 2014. Likewise, there is MUDRA scheme that provides microfinance, has over 70% women beneficiaries, and Mission Poshan 2.0, which is an integrated nutrition support programme that seeks to address the challenges of malnutrition in children, adolescent girls, pregnant women and lactating mothers.
Similarly, Mission Shakti aims at strengthening interventions for women safety, security and empowerment, and Mahila E Haat is an online platform launched by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, to support women entrepreneurs. India has also launched Tech -equity digital inclusion platform along with G20 EMPOWER, which aims to bridge the gender- digital divide by providing women and girls with digital skills, to thrive in the technology driven global landscape.
Other steps — such as, from the establishment of working women’s hostels and the launch of various skills-development programmes and initiatives to secure their safety and freedom from violence — all testify to India’s concerted focus on ensuring the suraksha (safety), suvidha (convenience) and swabhimann (independence) of women.
Among the three critical women-development centric focal areas in G20, the most profound is invariably the supporting of women’s digital and financial inclusion. Globally, almost half (42%) of women and girls remain outside the formal financial system. Despite progress in financial inclusion rates, the gender gap has not narrowed and a 7% gap persists. Digital technology innovations, particularly for information & communication, have the potential to accelerate women’s economic empowerment. Yet, there remains a Digital Gender Gap, both in access to digital technology and to digital education. India has prioritised women’s digital financial inclusion through the JAM or Jan Dhan-Aadhar-Mobile platform and this has allowed significant social protection programs to reach women directly as well as strengthened women’s economic empowerment. The G20, has looked at similar concrete ways to strengthen women’s digital and financial inclusion.
Second, strengthening women’s capacities to make them equal stakeholders in development matrix. This is important both to facilitate the entry of, and to ensure continuity in women’s participation in the economy and in society. For instance, despite education being wholly acknowledged as the cornerstone of empowerment globally, only 49% have achieved gender parity in primary education, 42% in lower secondary education, and 24% in upper secondary education. Globally, around 1.1 billion women, and girls, remain outside the formal financial system, many of whom also have limited access to digital technologies. Similarly, in countries across the world women perform significantly higher unpaid care work. Therefore, the G20 has worked together to drive consensus and actions around dismantling these long-term structural barriers that women face and their lives and at work.
Third, enabling women’s leadership at all levels of decision making. Today, India is being served by over 1.90 crore women in administrative offices, over 17,000 women elected to Panchayati Raj Institutions, and over 10,000 women in the defense forces. Such an approach to women-led development will be critical for ensuring that their unique perspectives, experiences and leadership styles are brought to the table, which in turn can lead to more inclusive and effective decision-making.
G20 has decided to offer lifelong support to women and girls in attaining primary as well as higher education, and has reaffirmed their commitment to eradicating gender-based violence in the corporate world. They look forward to a complete transformation of the labour world with women taking over the domain. Further they aim to help all women and girls including those with disabilities finding work, while also promoting leadership skills to bridge the gender digital divide.
The G20 leaders agreed to create a new working group on empowerment of women to support the G20 Women’s Ministerial, and look forward to the convening of its first meeting during Brazilian G20 Presidency. They are committed to halve the gender gap by 2030, by addressing gender norms and barriers and accessibility, affordability and usage of digital technologies, and enabling women and girls to actively participate in the formulation and implementation of national digital strategies including enhancing digital literacy and skills. With women empowerment as its prominent theme, India’s G20 Presidency has been successful in outlining solutions related to women’s education, entrepreneurship, technology, finance and beyond.
G20, 2023 has turned out to be a pivotal point in global history, where partnerships were strengthened, mindset shifted and policies transformed, thereby consolidating the theme that regardless of where we live, gender equality is a fundamental human right. India’s revolutionary leaps, has led it to the paradigm of women-led development, which has become the defining mantra of this age. G20 must pick up the baton and keep pushing the development of women in all spheres, where women aren’t just beneficiaries of development but are also setting the agenda, as leaders and equal participants. Although the interlinked crises the world has faced has set us back from achieving our common development goals- India’s G20 Presidency offers the opportunity for us to set the agenda for next phase development. In this window of opportunity, it is critical that we place women at the heart of our efforts so as to achieve a better tomorrow.
(Vanathi Srinivasan is National President, BJP Mahila Morcha, and Member of Legislative Assembly from Coimbatore.)