Gender equality: A long way to go before India meets its SDG 2030 goals

Image credit: By DFID – UK Department for International Development – Community health worker gives a vaccination in Odisha state, IndiaUploaded by January, CC BY-SA 2.0,

According to the SDG India Index Baseline 2018 report, released by think tank NITI Aayog in association with the United Nations, India has scored 58 – reaching beyond the halfway mark when it comes to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDG 2030) adopted in 2015.

The index has taken into consideration 13 of the 17 SDGs and has assigned them scores ranging between 0 and 100 (achiever).  While no state has reached the achiever category, three – Himachal Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu are frontrunners with scores of 69, 69 and 66, while Assam, Bihar and UP are the laggards.

However, one area where the country still has a long way to go in meeting its targets for SDG 2030, is gender equality. The targets set as per Goal 5 (gender equality) of SDG 2030 include ending all forms of discrimination by 2030, eliminating all forms of violence including trafficking and sexual harassment, ensuring full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making, empowering women through enabling technology, ensuring that women get equal rights to economic resources as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance and natural resources, ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive rights and health, among others.

NITI Aayog has also considered six criteria that it has selected for the SDG India index – sex ratio at birth, percentage of ever-married women aged 15-49 years who have experienced spousal violence, average female to male ratio of average wages, percentage of seats won by women in the general elections to state legislative assembly and ratio of female labour force participation to male labour force participation rate.

Missing the marks

As per the SDG scores for gender equality, the country misses the mark across almost all parameters and women and girls lag behind men when it comes to areas such as healthcare, education, nutrition, empowerment, decision making at home and in the public space and employment. In a score of up to a 100, the SDG index for states ranges between 24 and 50 for states and 27 and 58 for Union Territories. Only two states meet the halfway mark in the scores with Kerala and Sikkim just meeting it at 50. Among the UTs, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Chandigarh are in the frontrunner category with scores of 58 and 51, respectively.

The child sex ratio (0-6) has declined from 927 females to 1000 males in 2001 to 919 females to 1000 males in 2011. The target is to achieve a natural sex ratio at birth of 954 females for 1000 males, and only two states – Kerala and Chhattisgarh have achieved this with ratios of 963 and 959, respectively.

The country has much work to do in terms of bringing parity in education, with the literacy rate for women being 65 per cent compared to 82 per cent for males in 2001.

On the political representation front as well, women are lagging behind men. As per the data, only 8.7 per cent of seats in State Legislative Assemblies are held by women, which is way behind the national target set at 50 per cent representation. Rajasthan and West Bengal, with 14 per cent and 13.9 per cent, respectively, have achieved higher than the national average. However, the country lags behind a number of Latin American countries such as Cuba, Bolivia and Mexico, which have succeeded in bringing a near half representation of around 45-50 per cent.

While the national target for gender parity in the labour force as per the SDG 2030, is to achieve equal representation of men and women, only 32 per cent of women in India participate in the workforce. Nagaland has been working towards bringing in more women into the workforce and is ahead of the national average with women’s participation being at 76 per cent of that of men, Mizoram comes second at 73 per cent.

The national goal is to achieve parity in wages between both genders, however, currently, the average wage for females is 70 percent of that males for regular wage and salaried employees, as per NITI Aayog. The Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands has managed to bring about parity in its wages, while in Dadra and Nagar Haveli, women are slightly paid higher than men, as per the data.

One area, though, where the country has been progressing on is in family planning. As per the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) conducted in 2015-16, total fertility rate (actual bearing of children during a woman’s reproductive years, from ages 15-45) has declined to 2.2, a progress from the last NFHS which was conducted in 2005-06, where the TFR was 2.7. This is also below the global TFR which is just below 2.5.  While female sterilization is the most common family planning method in the country, the use of modern family planning techniques is the highest in Punjab, among the states and in Chandigarh, among the Union Territories.

A work in progress:

While much more has to be done, the government has been taking measures to bring about more parity in gender. The 2005-06 general budget introduced the Gender Budget Statement which recognises the fact that the national budget impacts men and women differently through resource allocation.

The Government has also introduced other schemes such as Beti Bachao Beti Padhao to improve the efficiency of welfare facilities for girls, the MUDRA initiative which provides financial assistance for women entrepreneurs, the Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana for the well being of the girl child and mother and, though it may have its drawbacks, the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill 2016, which provides for 26 weeks of leave for mothers and is aimed at bringing more women into the workforce.

While the country is showing improvement in achieving its SDGs, the goals are interconnected, and unless more parity is brought in terms of gender, India will find it difficult to meet the goals of ending poverty and bringing on a more peaceful, sustainable and prosperous world by 2030.