By Dr Nisha Taneja (Professor, ICRIER) and Shravani Prakash, First Published in Economic Times
Women – led development has been a key pillar of the present government and several significant steps have been taken towards gender mainstreaming in policy actions across various spheres. Consequently, India has rightly called for the inclusion of gender concerns into the core agenda of the G20 during its Presidency, with PM Modi noting that “we have to maintain priority on women led development even in our G-20 agenda”.
The G20 Presidency provides India the right platform to showcase its efforts towards the social upliftment of women. However, it is the most opportune time to also bring to the centre stage some recent measures to economically empower women, which have been undertaken in silos and not received the deserved attention. These measures, taken in line with Global best practices, have the power to change the enabling ecosystem for women-led development.
Specifically, we discuss three areas of policy actions impacting women that need more visibility –
Strengthened Gender Budgeting
Gender Budgeting was adopted by India in 2005-06 as a powerful budgetary strategy to advance gender mainstreaming at the national level in all policies, programs, legislations and schemes. In 2018, exemplary measures were taken to strengthen the Gender Budgeting process, when it was made mandatory for each Ministry and Department to set up a Gender Budget Cell with a Nodal Officer. Each ministry was also mandated to compulsorily identify schemes and programs with a gender component and submit demands in the Budget Circular -a mechanism to review each Ministry’s programmes through a gender lens. These measures have meant that all Ministries, even in gender-neutral sectors, now have a gender mandate and need to look at their work through a gender lens.
To further enhance the impact of the gender budgeting process, it is important that the upcoming Budgets set outcome targets on gender-budget expenditures and perform the ex-ante and ex-post gender impact analysis of all programs. Annual budget execution reports on gender initiatives should also be made available. Further, India should consider implementing the Niti Aayog’s proposal of providing a legal backing to mainstreaming of gender-based budgeting across all ministries through the formulation of the Gender Budgeting Act.
Mandatory ESG disclosures
India has several policy mandated tools to ensure that women are enabled at workplaces, However, there had been a lack of any effective mechanism for monitoring and assessment of the progress made by workplaces towards enabling women.
From FY 2022-2023, this gap has been filled by the introduction of the mandatory reporting requirements put forth by the Securities and Exchange Board for India (SEBI) under the environment, social, and governance (ESG) for the top 1,000 listed companies. Four of the nine principles of the RBC Guidelines on which the Business Responsibility and Sustainability Report (BRSR) format for ESG reporting is based, are mapped against SGD 5 related to Gender Equality. Consequently, India will now be able to collect insightful gender disaggregated statistics in the corporate sector on parameters including gender diversity on the organisations’ payrolls as well as on their Boards and Management Teams; employee turnover rates and return- to-work rates; median wages; maternity leave, paternity leaves and child-care benefits; occupational health, safety and wellbeing; and on training and skill development.
To make ESG an effective tool for gender equality, not only must this valuable data be collated but the Government must reward and showcase the organisations that perform well on these metrics. To bring in the element of target setting akin to the actions relating to Climate Change goals, companies must be mandated to set specific Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) related commitments and targets; and evaluate performance against the specific commitments.
Gender Mainstreaming in India’s Trade Policy
Recent steps have been taken to create an enabling environment for women to participate in international trade. For instance, India’s National Trade Facilitation Action Plan (2020-23) specifically recommended the promotion of “gender inclusiveness in trade” as an action point, and the Land Port Authority of India (LPAI) has announced a target to make all Land Ports in India gender friendly within 3 years. The vision statement of the new foreign trade policy 2023, for the first time is expected to include a women’s empowerment and gender equality component, with scope for additional facilitation measures and non-fiscal incentives.
To further use trade policies and agreements as channels for reducing gender inequalities, India must now affirm its commitment to mainstreaming gender into its Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). At the very least, women entrepreneurs must be included as important stakeholders in consultations in bilateral FTA negotiations. A Gender and Trade Advisory Group could be formed to ensure that women are at the forefront of trade and investment discussions. At the end, it is recommended that India not only showcases and builds upon its gender mainstreaming initiatives but also invites all the G20 countries to share their best practices to learn from each other.