The status of women in India has been subject to many changes over the past few millennia. Modern Indian women have adorned high offices in the country as well as across the globe. They have held top level management positions in corporates and in government offices but they are still affected by numerous social issues. Few of these are gender inequality, female foeticide, sexual harassment, and income inequalities, etc.
Reports show that gender inequality has an adverse impact on development goals as it reduces economic growth. Women form 40 per cent of the paid labour force. Women constitute nearly half the world’s population but receive one-tenths of the world’s income and own less than one-hundredth of the world’s property (UN Report 2005). On an average, a woman works 15 to 16 hours a day; unpaid at home and underpaid outside her home.
Gender biases also exist in the field of education; the literacy rate of women is much lower than men because men receive more schooling than women when they are young. There are parts of India where the literacy rate of women today is as low as three per cent.
Health is another issue where women are discriminated against and are facing challenges. An estimated 1,36,000 women die in India every year due to pregnancy related setbacks. India ranks first among the 12 countries that account for two third of under-five and maternal deaths in the world. Studies show a sharp drop in the sex ratio after the introduction of ultrasound machines used for determining the sex of foetuses resulting in selective abortion of female fetuses. The 2011 census shows a continuous decline in the child sex ratio as there are 914 girls per 1000 boys.
Given the above scenario, there are many financial institutions, programmes and schemes by the government of India, and non-government organisations (NGOs) which are constantly working for the betterment of women. UNICEF provides a women’s empowerment framework, which argues that development of women can be viewed in terms of five levels of equality, of which empowerment is an essential element at each level. The levels are welfares, access, conscientisation, participation and control.
To mark International Women’s Day, we at SocialStory have identified a few government-owned organisations and schemes that are working exclusively for the welfare of women.
- Bharatiya Mahila Bank– Launched by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November 2013, Bharatiya Mahila Bank is an all women’s bank with an objective to serve the banking needs of women and promote their economic empowerment. The bank provides services to women and women-run businesses, supports women’s self-help groups and their livelihoods and promotes further financial inclusion. Though the bank allows deposits from everyone, lending facilitates are pre-dominantly for women.
- Support to Training and Employment Programme for Women (STEP)- Launched in 1986-87, STEP is a central sector scheme which seeks to upgrade the skills of poor and asset less women and provide employment on sustainable basis by mobilising them in viable co-operative groups, strengthening marketing linkages, support services and access to credit. The scheme also provides for enabling support services in the form of health check-ups, legal and health literacy, elementary education, gender sensitisation and mobile crèches. Since inception, around 250 projects have been provided financial assistance under the scheme.
- Rashtriya Mahila Kosh (National credit fund for women) – Rashtriya Mahila Kosh (RMK) was set up in 1993 with a corpus of Rs 31 crore to provide micro-credit to poor women. This fund is provided for various livelihood support and income generating activities at concessional terms in a client-friendly procedure to bring about socio-economic development. The RMK is now being restructured as an NBFC with a corpus of Rs 500 crore. An RMK sponsored Impact Study of 2008 shows that 84 per cent beneficiaries from rural areas and 16 per cent from urban areas had undertaken activities like animal husbandry (41 per cent), petty shops (19 per cent) and agriculture (17 per cent). Since then, their monthly income has doubled; 96 per cent have reported improvement in food consumption pattern.
- Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY) – Conditional Maternity Benefit (CMB) scheme is a conditional cash transfer scheme for pregnant and lactating women to contribute to a better enabling environment. It provides cash incentives for improved health and nutrition to pregnant and nursing mothers. It is being implemented initially on a pilot basis in 52 selected districts. The scheme envisages providing cash directly to women during pregnancy and lactation, provided they fulfill specific conditions.
- Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari – Founded by Chetna Sinha 1997, Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari is a micro finance institution that provides loans to women in rural areas. Since its inception, the bank has served over 2,00,000 women in Maharashtra. The institution focuses on rural economic empowerment by providing capital and other financial services to impoverished women.
Nowadays, non-profit organisations and corporate houses have also come up with various schemes, plans and programmes for the upliftment of women in society.