Up until today, a carefully designed set of indicators to measure and assess the extent of gender sensitivity within the system of governance in India have not been developed. In the absence of any suitable index to measure such efforts, it has been difficult to understand adequately whether or not gender inequalities in governance have been addressed.
Now, thanks to the indicators developed by the Centre for Women's Development Studies (CWDS), gender sensitivity in governance can be assessed to determine whether or not there has been any qualitative change in this critical aspect.
The New Delhi-based CWDS felt the need to develop a set of measurable indicators - in response to a UNDP initiative - because of the continued marginalization of women's concerns, despite claims that women had been given greater participatory opportunities in governance. In its draft country paper on gender and governance - prepared in consultation with a cross-section of government departments, research institutions, women activists, NGOs and others - CWDS contends that governments have shown a predilection towards the creation of ad hoc institutions with inadequately articulated mandates, resources and autonomy.
"There has been a lack of political will to translate policies into concrete action. This has negated the basic principles of equality enshrined in the Constitution," says Kumud Sharma of CWDS, and one of the four academicians to have authored the report. The others are CWDS director Vina Mazumdar, Nirmala Buch and C P Sujaya.
In order to judge gender sensitivity, CWDS says it is necessary to assess how men and women fare with respect to seven basic indicators. The first indicator is an assessment of the survival of women. According to CWDS, women's survival is dependent on mortality rates, which in turn, are good
indicators of the levels of development. All things being equal, lower mortality usually corresponds to higher development.
CWDS says that the crude death rate, the under-five years mortality rate, infant mortality rate, still birth rate, the maternal mortality rate, and sex ratio at birth should be used to monitor gender sensitivity. For example, if statistics of female mortality in the 1-4 age group is studied, it will indicate the extent of gender bias against the girl child.
The second indicator is a means to assess the quality of survival. In this context, it is necessary to analyze life expectancy at birth, whether a child has been given the complete course of immunization, her nutritional status, age at marriage and her first pregnancy. "Immunization and nutritional status have never been given the importance they deserve in assessing policy interventions required to balance gender inequalities. We feel it should be used, in conjunction with other factors, to measure whether or not the government has been sensitive to the health of women,"
Skill acquisition and workforce participation - the third and fourth indicators - are linked says CWDS. Literacy, enrolment, the dropout rate at the primary level of school, the completion of primary education, the dropout rate at the secondary level, and the completion of secondary and higher education, determine workforce participation. However, women who do acquire these educational skills may still be idle or if they work, may not be equitably employed. To assess their development in this sector, parameters like workforce participation rates, patterns of workforce participation, wage disparity, paid and unpaid work, workplace conditions, patterns of migration and women-headed households have to be analyzed and monitored.
While high female workforce participation rates indicate an improvement in the general status of women, it is the fifth indicator - control over resources - that tells the real story. According to CWDS, women's participation in surplus generating activity, their control over resources and the means of production, land ownership and property rights need to be studied to assess whether or not women have really been empowered.
"Women are usually allowed to engage in subsistence-level income generation. However, their ability to exercise control over the means of production, whether capital or land, gets restricted. This is the basis of gender inequalities. There has to be a greater effort by governments to sensitizing policies to address these concerns," points out Sharma.
Participation in the public sphere is the sixth indicator to determine gender sensitivity in governance. According to CWDS, the exposure to the external (public) sphere; participation in it, and decision-making abilities are determinants of the real status of women's empowerment. While the sex ratio of women vis-ï¿½-vis the sex ratio of the above-18 population, can measure the exposure of women to the public sphere, the sex ratio of the population exercising their franchise can gauge participation.
According to CWDS, the stability of tenure of the elected representative in local bodies can be an indicator of the degree of freedom in decision-making enjoyed by women.
CWDS points out that in order to assess gender sensitivity, indicators to assess women's participation in the public sphere should not be limited to positions dependent on the ballot but should also include self-help groups and trade unions, in which women could hold positions of power and decision-making.
However, women's participation in the public sphere is largely dependent on the law and order environment. Security - the last CWDS indicator - encompasses the incidence of rape and molestation, abduction, dowry and marriage-related violence and murder, and the unnatural death of women below and above the age of 20 years.
And because there are several loopholes in law and the attitude of the judiciary has been, in many cases, ambivalent and inconsistent, CWDS contends that a closer look has to be taken into the dependence on legislation. Greater gender sensitization, supplemented by implementation of the law will boost the confidence of women, encouraging her to participate in the public sphere.
Often, the central or a state government claims that it has raised gender sensitivity considerably by giving women reservations in local bodies through the panchayati raj institutions. But they have consistently failed to give a satisfactory explanation for the continually declining female sex ratio.
This paradox indicates not just conflicts in social values, but huge gaps - gender inequalities that the systems of governance have been unable to address. Unless there is a rethinking on the basic premises of governance and its participatory approach to development, indices to measure gender sensitivity in governance will continue to indicate failure. And, that as far as women's empowerment is concerned, governments do not practice what they preach.