Sunday, September 20, 2009

Gender Empowerment in India: Concepts and Measurements


A lot is now spoken and written about the need for gender sensitive inclusive development in developing economies such as India (GOI, 11th plan document, GOI, 2009). The gender sensitivity was heralded to be essential in assessing social and economic development by the UNDP which computes a ‘human’ and another ‘gender (adjusted) development’ index, and presents a conceptual scheme on ‘gender empowerment measure’ (HDR 1995). In the following we present a set of variables which integrate both the ‘gender adjustment’ and ‘empowerment measures’ and compute a single ‘gender empowerment index (GEI)’. The GEI further eliminates three constraints the UNDP concepts face, firstly that the GEI aggregates multi-dimensional concepts and dimensions of empowerment; secondly the variables are socio-culturally sensitive to India; and that the new index can be estimated not only at the level of a nation but also at the level of states and lower level of geographic units within a country.

Practically all countries in the world that are identified as ‘developed’ are in unison for having provided equality of opportunity and access to women in all spheres of economy, society and polity. Such inclusiveness was possible not only through formal legal provisions but also as a matter of democratization of political system. Further, the process of inclusiveness of women in development was concurrent to increase in real incomes of households which was controlled and managed by women themselves; often such income was individually earned by them. In the context of developing societies such as the democratic India, where patriarchal social values are still in vogue, understanding women’s empowerment is somewhat complicated. Given a large canvas of social, economic, political and household level dimensions, empirically measuring women’s contributions across India and many States is not easy. This paper identifies the core concepts that are socio-culturally relevant and uses the empirical measures to compute a Gender Empowerment Index (GEI) for the mid-period of first decade in 21st century. The variables identified are those which capture the essence of the six main dimensions which together define gender empowerment efficiently, namely; (i) women’s level of human capital formation, (ii) women work participation, (iii) women’s capacity for household decision making, (iv) women’s control over resource and self assertion, (v) women’s control over reproduction, and (vi) woman’s political participation.

What follows in section 2 is a description of the generic concepts relating to empowerment found in literature; the gender relevance in the Indian context or a conceptual framework within which gender empowerment is articulated in section 3. Section 4 introduces the dimensions which encompass gender empowerment and the variables which help measure them; and estimates of the index values and state ranks as well as ranks according to social and economic characteristics are discussed in section 5. Section 6 concludes and discusses policy implications.


International literature on gender often highlights an important facet of societal decision making namely agency which is a desire and ability of the society and households to delegate responsibility to woman so that they take decisions independent of men and traditional- institutional support. The role of women's agency in the expansion of social opportunities for both women and men is considered to eliminate gender inequality (Dreze and Sen, 1999, 2000). Empirical research has found out that household decision attributed to women especially when interacted with education yield better human capital formation through investments in children’s education and health and also reduce gender bias (Schultz 1995, Shariff 1995. Another evidence has been feminization of agriculture, in the Indian context the skeptics use this as an evidence of distress but one can look at this phenomenon as empowerment of women instead (see Duvvury 1998, Shariff 2009). A related issue is of control - over resources (; for example, women normally use number of resources but they do not own or have control over them. For example, research highlights as to how little control women have over resources; none at all in case of land and only limited control over food crops for example in Uganda (FAO, 2008). The situation in India is not be any better in this regard since the rules of asset ownership is governed by complicated patriarchic system of inheritance and also because women move over husband’s place of co-residence after marriage . In its first ever gender gap study covering 58 nations, the World Economic Forum ( ranked India a lowly 53. Titled 'The Women's Empowerment: Measuring the Global Gender Gap', the report measures the gap between women and men in five critical areas namely economic participation, economic opportunity, political empowerment, access to education and access to reproductive health care.

Since the gender dimensions are far too many and condition of women varies according to different social, economic and political settings, it is not ordinarily possible to standardize the number and type of variables, measurements and framework of analysis to be used. The UNDP methodology of international comparisons chose variables that are easy to collect and but at high levels of aggregation such as a country. Although many countries are adopting the UNDP method to create disaggregated measures at lower geographic units, it is argued in this paper that these efforts do not adequately capture the socio-cultural context of the gender empowerment within a nation. Any adaptation therefore should take the conceptual relevance and application inherent in choice of variables and its national level appropriateness in to account.

The framework of analysis and choice of variables in this paper are guided by the evolving ideas on gender deprivation over time (more below) as well as availability of dependable data to empirically estimate gender empowerment at the level of the states. The six gender dimensions identified broadly conform to the generalized gender empowerment framework for India enunciated below. The choice of variables and measures are compatible for similar estimation even at lower levels of geographic/ administrative units such as the districts within a state in India. In this regard it is important to state that since the UNDP considers elected representatives in the parliamentary and assembly levels as the proxy for gender empowerment, these indicators are not suitable benchmarks if one is considering disaggregated level analysis. In the Indian case, appropriate indicator is intensity of participation of women in local level institutions such as the panchayats and nagrpalikas; and since over 17 years of democratic decentralization through the 73rd and 74th Indian Constitutional amendments, such data are available to academic use. Since August 2009 it is mandatory to compulsorily elect women for fifty per cent of the panchayat membership posts in India. Unlike all other variables in this paper which are extracted from unit level records, information on political participation is accessed from relevant departments of the government of India.

Alternative Analytical Frameworks

A number of analytical frameworks are in vogue for undertaking a gender enriched analysis; the prominent are identified below . The frameworks are not mutually exclusive and there is ample scope for academics to formulate new analytical models so as to contextualize the country specificity and / or incorporate socio-culturally relevant new data. The following listing is arranged in a broad chronological order although the refinements in the concepts and frameworks are a continuous process.

UNDP’s Gender Empowerment Measure: Assessments and measures to evaluate bias based on sex of individual was in vogue in research amongst the applied economists, sociologists and demographers since long, yet what made the gender discrimination prominent knowledge was the UNDP’s human development index which brought sex-differentials to fore in parameters such as literacy and health outcomes through the Human Development Reports, the first of its kind published in 1991. Subsequently in 1995 the UNDP formalized the gender dimension by computing a separate ‘gender adjusted index’ and expanded the scope not only to understand gender bias in common parameters but also to assess ‘gender empowerment’ using the political, economic and societal factors of highest order. But the UNDP’s choice of variables capture empowerment at a high level of geographic aggregation and less conducive for disaggregated measures at states, districts and other social and economic criteria.

Gender Roles Framework: An analytical framework developed by the Harvard Institute of Development, is a grid for collecting data at the micro-level, mapping the productive and reproductive work of men and women in a community, and highlighting the differences between them. This approach utilizes a number of tools such as, an activity profile, an access and control profile of resources and benefits, and lists influencing factors. This framework :-
• argues for an economic case for allocating resources to women as well as men, what is known as the efficiency approach to gender and development;
• resources, not power relations, are central to this approach;
• adapts well to an analysis of agriculture or other rural production systems; and
• relies on micro-level analysis and data collection at the household/individual level.

Gender Planning Framework: Developed by Moser (1994) this framework links the examination of women’s roles to the larger development process and questions the assumption that planning is a purely technical task. It employs three main concepts; women’s triple role of productive, reproductive, and community work; and practical and strategic gender needs. This approach:-
• disaggregates control of resources and decision-making within the household;
• uses concept of triple role and analyzes linkages between them; and
• conceptually focus on emancipation of women from their subordination.

Social Relations Approach: Developed by Kabeer (1994), this approach uses concepts instead of tools to concentrate on the relationships between people, their relationship to resources and activities, and how these are re-worked through the institutions of state, market, community, and family. More recently the institutional linkages for gender empowerment are well argues in global context for example in Roy et. al., (2008). one finds The framework helps to examine social institutional parameters that explain how gender inequality is formed and reproduced at the individual level leading to inequalities. This approach utilizes qualitative and contextual information which is often difficult to quantify.
• The framework concentrates on institutions and challenges the ideological neutrality and independence of institutions;
• links institutional analysis at all levels;
• views development as a process for increasing human well-being; and
• employs a holistic analysis of poverty, recognizing the cross-cutting inequalities of class, race, ethnicity and so on.

Gender Analysis Matrix: Developed by Parker (1998), this method attempts to determine the differential impact development interventions have on women and men, by providing a community-based technique for identifying and analyzing gender differences. It supports -
• participatory approach/fosters bottom-up analysis and qualitative in nature;
• use community for self-identification of problems and solutions;
• excludes macro-and institutional analysis; and
• capture change over time but through repetition of the analysis.

Since the UNDP’s efforts to sensitize the gender issues has been commendable and also the one with very high reach and visibility, it is quite normal to benchmark any further work on it. However, this present paper is aligned more with the other frameworks enunciated above, since it focus on empirical measurements within in social and economic contexts, and suitability of variables for disaggregated assessment.

The UNDP spearheaded the concept of human development and undertook gender oriented empirical adjustments to create a parallel index known as Gender-related Development Index (GDI) (HDR 1991). Further, in 1995 it also gave a methodology to compute a ‘gender empowerment measure’ (GEM). The GEM uses a set of variables namely, (1) seats in parliament held by women (% of total), (2) female legislators, senior officials and managers (% of total), (3) female professional and technical workers (% of total), (4) estimated earned income of women, and (5) women’s share of population (Human Development Report, 2004). Thus GEM attempts to capture women’s participation in higher political office (political empowerment), employment in high offices (economic empowerment), and macro-economic participation. Both the GDI and GEM indices, therefore, fail to capture socially and culturally sensitive factors which are relevant to assess gender empowerment amongst the masses in India. In fact the UN is unable to compute the GEM even for the all India level let alone for its many states due to want of appropriate data (HDR,????). The adaptation and recasting of the India GEM methodology undertaken by the ‘ministry of woman and child development’, Government of India could not eliminate these deficiencies in spite of efforts to rationalize the variables and data inputs in computation of GEM (GOI, 2009).

There are other critiques of the UNDP’s GEM as well. For example, Beteta (2006) argues that the UNDP concept do not account non-economic dimensions of decision-making and appear to measure empowerment only of the better-offs. Another critique argues that while normally the GDI & GEM are being used to highlight gender discrimination, but these measures do not reflect discrimination per se (Schuler, 2006), rather the GDI measures only the objective gender inequality when compared with the HDI. The GDI is not an independent and stand alone measure as it has to be interpreted always in conjunction of the HDI. There are also methodological issues relating to the estimations as found in Bhardan and Klasen (2000).

At the India level the report of the ministry of woman and child welfare, (GOI, 2009) do not isolate the socio-culturally sensitive factors that ideally measure woman’s empowerment amongst the Indian population. Rather it carries forwarded the UNDP suggested variables which are rather topical in nature and only captures very high and idealistic level of empowerment. Further the measures do not reflect the status linked to a specified state, for example, in India the national level services such as the IAS, IPS, the Judges and so on do not generally belong to the state of birth as matter of policy. Similarly, due to skewed prevalence of educational infrastructure, the professional women need not necessary belong to the state of their birth for practicing their services, rather they move over to places of higher demand and to megacities.


Establishing interlinks between economic growth, reduction of poverty and profiling livelihood opportunities is topical given the progressive context of ongoing economic reforms and global integration of economies. Drawing a gender perspective is essential as women stand at the cross road of economic growth and human development burdened with multiple activities in both reproductive and remunerative roles. Gender poverty is far bigger a challenge that confronts developing societies as much as the issues of equity. It is essential to recognize that although women and men are born equal, the changing social and agrarian structure, development policies and growth trajectories impact them differently. The socio economic dynamics reveal that while impact of growth processes have not been completely gender neutral, that of poverty and its deepening has had its worst impact upon women. It is well documented and acknowledged that women suffer most in conditions of deepening poverty and unless existing inequalities in opportunities, capabilities and differential rights are eliminated, the agenda of poverty reduction cannot be achieved. Female disadvantage reflected in unequal access to household resources, economic opportunities, household decision-making power and lack of control over reproduction or child care have large perpetuating intergenerational implications.

It is, therefore, essential to discuss gender disadvantage in a holistic framework, tracing the various facets of inequality and how poverty renders women doubly disadvantaged and vulnerable to economic shocks and adjustments. Refer to a diagrammatic presentation (Figure 1) of a ‘generalized framework’ explaining the factors which render women poor and the manifestation of it. These linkages may have substantial variation depending upon which state or region one lives in. It is well understood that inequalities originate from the household at very early stages of lifecycle continues to reflect in several social and economic spheres. The discussion therefore should revolve around the multiple dimensions of inequality and how poverty worsens the situation from a gender disaggregated perspective.


Normally, since men being the sole breadwinners of the household had to go out and earn their living; they also have control over all resources and assets and the right to better nutrition, healthcare and education. Men, therefore, both at the household and community at large emerged as the decision makers and exhibit strong bargaining powers, favoring their own interests. Gradually this logical following of things matured and because of males’ supreme command over assets, particularly land and other economic resources resulted in increasing gender inequality. Women all along derived their identity through their kinship and household relationships. There is a vicious circle where things originated and went wrong because of the influence of socio cultural stereotypes and poverty has had a compounding impact.

With the passage of time, when women increasingly took to education and economic activities, such participation stood in conflict with the dominant socio cultural practices. Subsequently, all growth and adjustment processes have neglected the issue of gender or rather touched upon marginally and failed to recognize women as potential partners. Whereby, in conditions of inequality and deepening poverty, women have had to bear the brunt of it, balancing both reproductive and remunerative activities. Gradually what was considered a way of living took different forms and some of these inequalities; unequal access to food, nutrition, healthcare, market seclusion and voicelessness of women has become resilient to change.

Household and Market Gender Relationships: In examining the gender relationships at the household level, it is observed that nutrition biases are in favor of men and boys in the family. This pattern is aggravated in conditions of scarcity arising out of cyclical seasonal effects and differential entitlements wherein women and girls eat less and last as a coping devise. Although women are responsible for ensuring food security of the family, they themselves are the most food insecure. This results in under nourishment of women in their reproductive age and young girls. For women, poor nutrition, severe anemia levels and poor quality or nonexistent reproductive health services contribute to high maternal mortality and low child survival.

Such biases are observed in healthcare systems as well. Women have lesser access to healthcare services. They rarely seek health services during sickness or ill health compared to men. This is yet another expenditure saving mechanism. Health seeking behavior of females is also guided by their educational levels whereby they are informed and understand the necessity to be healthy. Women in rural areas are more vulnerable to respiratory disease owing to their prolonged exposure to harmful and toxic fuels and gases. Women are at greater risk of disease and morbidity living in unhygienic conditions, which lack sanitation and access to pure drinking water, as observed in growing urban slums.

There has been a lot of advocacy in ensuring female education and employment is considered critical means of liberation. Although reducing female illiteracy has been part of every development agenda, there exist strong biases against female education and more so continuation in school. It is also true that although girls are sent to school at an early age, their continuation rates are poor compared to boys. Often it is the poor penetration of schools in rural areas that deter parents from sending their daughters to schools at far off distance. Again given the restricted opportunities in the labor market, the alternative is better to save upon the resources spent in educating a girl for marriage. When poverty strikes, girls are withdrawn from school such that their male siblings can continue. Also in families where the mother is engaged is some wage work to eke out a living, young girls are kept at home to take care and nurse their younger sibling or else join their mothers to contribute to the family pot.

Division of labor is highly skewed to the disadvantage of female and more so poor women are caught in a double whammy; balancing both reproductive and productive activities. Although globalization had broadened employment opportunities in most of the developing countries, it has set in trends of informalisation and women have been increasingly a part of it. Although women form a large part of the labor force, most of them are tied to the lower rungs. There is an increasing trend of feminisation of informalisation of the labor force. The informal sector is characterized by low wages, no contract and no fixed workplace. Women who are not educated enough and lack skills form part of this informal workforce. This has added to their workload, the returns from which are not at all remunerative. Often it is the economic distress that compels them to join the labor force and does not help them in enhancing their well being. As found in rural agrarian communities, women work either as unpaid family laborers or agricultural laborers as opposed to men who enjoy ownership rights. Despite the fact that the agrarian structure is undergoing enormous diversification and the role of women in dairying, fishing, horticulture can be improved; the efforts lack the appropriate gender sensitiveness. Although empirical evidences suggest that women through self help groups and community management approaches can lead in some of these spheres, the progress is too slow.

It is common practice that women have less access to ownership of land, credit and other productive resources. The law of inheritance in a south Asia study found men’s supreme command over land rights. Women derive their land rights by virtue of their relationship with men and have barely any role in using it as a resource. In agricultural communities, men are the landlords and own the assets as well as revenue accruing from land based activities. Women mostly work as wage or family labor and do not enjoy entrepreneurial rights. Differential access to credit has its roots in land ownership, wherein land is used as a mortgage for loans and it is only men who have the benefit of using it to access credit facilities. Hence women have very little access to credit which impedes their participation in any kind of technological innovation critical for agricultural growth. The self-help group approach to micro credit has mixed results in India unlike its roaring success in Bangladesh. Unequal access to resources has resulted in limited and restricted participation of women in both farm and non-farm activities.

Gender gaps in education, health care and employment opportunities have resulted in the voiceless of women in decision making and bargaining for a better livelihood. This has rendered women poorer and more vulnerable to shocks and adjustment processes. Inequality and poverty are two reinforcing elements and is seen as aggravating one another. In other words, unequal access to resources and opportunities is the major obstacle to women’s economic liberation and opportunity to break free from the poverty trap. Similarly, poverty aggravates inequality wherein female in early stages of their life cycle adopt expenditure saving mechanisms such as eat less, drop out of schools and live unhealthily life and as women take to income earning measures by taking up any low paid insecure odd jobs.

Modern economic reforms and associated dynamics with respect to work and income earning mechanisms are promoting empowerment of women even in rural areas of India. Besides remittances promote participation of women in agriculture which in turn improves agriculture productivity and household income. The new evidence suggests considerable increase in rural income from remittances (Shariff, 2009) due to an increase in rural-rural and rural-rural migration within India (WDR, 2009). Gender empowerment has received strong empirical support across the globe since it further enhances investments in education, health and nutrition that build stock of physical capital formation, thereby yielding durable poverty alleviating effects. Therefore, it is important to bring to fore the fact, that even in India the formative abilities of women are being enhanced due to higher education, participation in workforce, democratic participation and learning from programs such as micro-credit and national rural employment guarantee scheme. It is imperative, therefore, that women demand a rightful place in household and societal level decision making. Figure 2 below provides a pictorial depiction of gender empowered economy in India.


After an understanding of the multi-dimensional general framework within which one need to understand gender issues and a number of approaches that are in vogue enunciated above; in the following we identify selected measurable characteristics which all together will form a comprehensive and wholesome ‘gender empowerment measure’. Since these entire variable set are empirically measurable, an index derived out of them is described as ‘gender empowerment index’, which will be a useful policy instrument to governments and civil society alike. Note that this index is a mix of the gender adjustment which UNDP’s GDI performs as well the gender empowerment measure; and conceptually measures empowerment of masses as opposed to a measure of higher order which is inherent in UNDP’s gender empowerment measure.

Conceptually the selected indicators measure empowerment within the contemporary Indian socio-economic outlook and compatible with the debate on mechanisms to reduce gender bias in society and political decision making. Note that the dimensions and factors used in this paper are very different from those identified by the Government of India (2009) which is aligned with the UNDP concept but weak data support of suspicious quality.

An empowered Indian woman is the one who is literate, works (often outside home) and contributes measurable household income, independently decides for example, as to what kind of food needs to prepared and ingredients to be purchased; do not wait for husband to seek paid care for a sick child, owns some property by herself and also manages a bank account. Above all she decides as to how many children she can bear as well as ensure full immunization of all her children. She executes her right to vote and also participates in local panchayats and committees.

Compare this with a concept in which she is an IAS/IPS officer or a judge in a High Court, or can also be doctor or an engineer, or someone who can borrow at least Rs. 2 lakhs from a bank, or an MP, MLA or a Panchayat president, have immovable property and so on. In such a measure the focus is on individual instead of societal achievements and therefore can be aggregated only at national level. On the other hand the multi-dimensional attributes can be created at lower geographic levels and they reflect empowerment of all women in specified locales.

There are also serious data problems in case of the UNDP linked GOI approach; for example, in India the top level services including judiciary have national relevance. At the level of the state, a women born and education elsewhere will normally be posted in a specified state, thus her empowerment do not reflect empowerment of women of that state. Similarly, a large number of professional for example get education in states where educational infrastructure is better and often begin to reside and work in that state. Under such circumstance the gender measures will over estimate the true level of empowerment and may go inimical to women in that state/district. Another measurement issue is that all the measures are to be accessed from secondary sources often of poor and questionable quality. On the other hand the alternative variables proposed are extracted from unit level records of large household surveys which are known to be dependable data for measurements of societal dynamics at least in India. Further the proposed concepts and method can estimate a ‘gender empowerment value/index’ at any level of disaggregation even upto a village level and also estimated can be separately provided for the rural and urban areas separately. The data occurrence and coverage of the universe is almost all women in a defined areas in case of the alternative set of variables; where as in case of the GOI recasted method only a miniscule proportion of women may be covered, for example, even at the state level women in top level services, judiciary and polity can be only a handful countable in single digits and s on.
Statement 1

Measuring Gender Employment in a Socio-Cultural Framework:
Multi-Dimensions and Variable Measures

Choice of Dimensions and Variable measurements
Dimensions Measures Source and Quality of Variables
Human Capital Adult (7+) literacy Estimated from a nationally representative survey of 41,554 households namely the Human Development (HDPI) 2004-05, undertaken by NCAER New Delhi.
Gender gap in literacy
Work Participation Work Participation Rate (15‐64 Year) Estimated from a nationally representative survey of 1,24,680 households namely the National Sample Survey (NSSO) of Employment and Unemployment, 2004-05.
Gender gap in WPR
Household Decision Making Capacity to decide matters alone relating to daily household purchases Estimated from a nationally representative survey of 1,09,041 households namely National Family health Survey (NFHS)–3 of 2005-06.
Capacity to independently undertake the decision for own health care NFHS- 3 (2005-06)
Eco. Resources /Assets Individual/shared ownership of immovable assets HDPI (2004-05)
Manage independent bank accounts NFHS-3 (2005-06)
Earned Cash wages as a regular salaried/wage employee NSS (2004-05)
Gender gap in wages as a regular salaried/wage employee
Earned Cash wages as a casual wage labor NSS (2004-05)
Gender gap in wages as a casual wage labor
Reproduction and Child Care Use of modern contraceptives NFHS-3 (2005-06)
Women having fully immunized children in ages 12-23 months NFHS-3 (2005-06)
Political Participation Cast their vote in the last general election Statistical Report on General Elections, 2004 (14th Lok Sabha) – Vol. I, Election Commission of India.
Gender Gap in the vote casting
Panchayat members Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India: Number of women elected representatives in the three tiers of panchayats as on 31.03.2008 are available in the Annexure 1(A).

Thus, in the Indian context a comprehensive measure of gender advantage needs to incorporate indicators that capture culture-specific dimensions of agency and control over resources, through measures having relevance at the level of individual, household and society. Since aspects of gender empowerment are complex and multidimensional the variables and data needs are diverse and needs to be debated as to their appropriateness. Ideally the variables that measure a social situation and dimension should have the following qualities – (a) robust outcome indicators are the best; but since such indicators are difficult to gather and also as they change slowly, indicators highlighting the process and proximate to the concept of the index measure, in this case ‘gender empowerment’ can be used; (b) that the indicators are easy to collect and that they are collected from independent survey data rather than from service statistics which often lack quality; (c) easy to update frequently such as annually or at the most once in two years, for example, the NSSO undertake annual surveys and required data can therefore be collected, and (d) as much possible relevant to whole or majority of population.

We have identified six dimensions of which five dimensions extracts data directly from large sample surveys using the primary unit level records at the level of individual and households. A gender empowering dimension namely ‘political participation’ uses data from the government records since sample surveys so far have not collected information on these issues. All dimensions are aggregates of multiple measures and wherever appropriate incorporates gender gaps as well. The national sample surveys (NSS), national family health surveys (NFHS) and human development Surveys of the national council of applied economic research (NCAER) are well known data source in India.

(i) Human Capital (Education): Most commonly used human capital indicator, along with its gender gap captures human capital formation, namely, literacy. Absolute measures of female literacy amongst the population ages 7 years and above in percentage and the gender gap ratio are used to capture this dimension. Data from the human development survey of NCAER for reference year 2004-5 supplies data to measure literacy.

(ii) Female work participation: Female work participation rate and associated gender gap for adults 15-64 year was assessed using the ‘usual principal activity status’ (UPS) over a reference period of one year. Further the gender gap in work participation is also incorporated into the computation. A woman is classified as a participant in labor force, if she had been either working or looking for work during a longer part of 365 days preceding the survey. The UPS measure excludes from the labor force all those female who are unemployed and employed for a period of less than six months. The data are drawn from the 61st round employment and unemployment survey of the NSSO for the reference year 2004-05.

(iii) Household Decision Making: This is an aggregation of two variables namely, (a) women’s capacity of ‘making purchases for daily household needs’ and (b) women's participation in decision making for own health care, both extracted from NFHS-3 survey 2005-06 ( The variables together measure women’s participation in decision making; those who usually make specified decisions on their own or independently. Those reporting joint decision making along with men or husbands are excluded from these measures. These variables selected to reflect woman’s capacity for independent decision making in the domain of household are well recognized even in studies undertaken in other developing economies around the world.

(iv) Economic Resources and Assets: Aggregates of two variables namely, women’s ownership of (a) immovable assets and (b) bank account are used to reflect her control over resources. The first variable is measured as the proportion of women who have their name on immovable properties owned or rented. Normally such names are incorporated on to the contract or registered property documents. For the first time such data have become available for all India and many states from the NCAER’s Human Development Survey -2004-5. Women having a bank / savings account are drawn from the NFHS-3 data set. Give that these data have longer-term relevance and are important aspects of households, both individually owned and jointly owned (along with husbands/other household members) are considered appropriate to reflect control of respective resources.

It is useful to state both these variables have become prominent in the Indian context in reflecting the independent nature of women and their empowerment. Besides a number of states in India have passed laws which favor joint (registration) ownership of land or properties which are rented. Often properties jointly owned are given tax concessions by law. So far as the ownership of bank accounts we bring the attention of the readers to the fact that the microfinance programs in India are over two decades old and upto 25 million households are enrolled into such program through the self-help group formations; and they are in a way enrolled in to a informal banking scheme. Further since about a year millions of bank accounts are opened in the names of women across India through a wage employment program known as ‘national employment guarantee scheme’. Thus there is a revolution of sorts which is enabling women even in rural areas to open and operate their own bank account. However the data used to assess these variable have the reference year 2004-5, and conditions during recent years are expected to more women friendly. Given this background these variables are India specific and they capture a dominant part of women’s empowerment.

(v) Reproduction and Care: This dimension is an aggregation of two variables, (a) one reflecting women’s capacity to choose and use a modern contraceptive method which is a reflection of control over reproduction; and (b) her capacity to ensure that her own children are completed with all essential dozes of immunizations. This second variable is constructed linking all children aged 12-36 months with the respondent women and identifying the completeness of all immunizations.

(vi) Political Participation: Participation of women in political sphere is indeed a dominant evidence of empowerment. For example, Indian historically has been in the forefront in this benchmark as it has had considerable world recognition when Mrs. Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India. Contemporary situation has enabled Smt. Pratibha Patel to be the President of India, and another high position of the ‘Speaker’ of the Loksabha (lower house of parliament) is occupied by a woman. The list of world’s powerful women contains many more entries from India. In spite of such feat one finds the condition of women in India is deplorable, mostly due to strong patriarchy and men favoring social and public policies. Therefore, we believe what is relevant to capture the political empowerment of women in India is their participation in Indian democratic system. We capture these traits by using two variables whose data are available from government sources. Percentage of women exercising franchise during the last general election is one variable used and dependable data are available from the Election Commission of India. Another positive woman favoring policy in India has been the democratic decentralization of governance to a third tier identified as the Panchayats in rural areas and nagar palikas (municipalities) in urban areas. Percentage of women members in the panchayat councils is used to represent political participation in this indexing exercise.


This is an exercise to cumulate the multi-dimensionality of gender empowerment inherent in the six identified dimensions enunciated in the previous section and create an index at the level of the Indian states, economic standing and social identities, and place of residence. All six dimensions are considered equally important; for example literacy and work are two equally important attributes expressing pedagogy and economic independence. Similarly, control over physical assets, using banking services, independently taking routine household decisions as well as control over her own reproduction and take decision about child care are all equally important in expressing the power a women exercise so as to change her immediate environment to benefit her own welfare, and the derived welfare of the household. So is the ability of women to participate in political system especially in the modern context of decentralized democratization process especially in India. Therefore, we believe assigning equal weights to each of the six dimensions should be noncontroversial, also because one expects systematic improvements occurring concurrently across all these dimensions over a period of time. The variables chosen to reflect the above aspects of empowerment are carefully selected from across the multiple sources of data, and wherever necessary gender differentials are also factored in the computations. Normally the index values and rankings are created for over the time comparisons; it should not matter much as to what the definitions, measurements and weights (implied) are so far as they remain constant over time. Even assign equal weights, however, care must be taken by making all variables and dimensions scale free so that the level difference between selected variables do no influence the values and subsequent rankings. A comprehensive discussion about the scaling, normalization, weighing and indexing in the Indian context can be found in Kundu et. al (2007).

Gender Empowerment Index for Major Indian States:
The gender empowerment values/index and associated ranks for all six identified components/dimensions according to major sates of India can be found in Table 1 and the last column assigns a GEI ranking.. The upper and lower benchmarks for comparisons are taken from within the state distributions and therefore the absolute values are not comparable with other international benchmarks. Measuring empowerment requires country specific qualitative variables as described above and therefore no effort is made to undertake international comparisons although such indices can be crafter should a situation demands.

The GEI index values reflect the levels of achievement to the maximum possible of 1 and the least value being 0. Thus if a state takes the maximum value of 1 in six dimensions then the aggregated index value will be 1 which is the perfectly women empowered situation and if it is 0 then it is the worst scenario. At the All India level the overall GEI value has worked out to be 0.424 which is less than even the half of the level mark, and in the inter-state comparisons show the bottom most value is 0.238 recorded in Uttar Pradesh and the top most value is 0.646 for Kerala. We have categorized states in four segments taking the mean of all states as the first dividing line and further the mean of each segment as the other dividing line to distribute states in all four segments. This method of ordering states in segments provides useful analytical advantage. One can find that states with relatively better or ‘high GEI’ besides Kerala are Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka in that order, followed by Gujarat, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and West Bengal which can be considered as states with ‘moderate GEI’. States which have ‘low’ index are Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh; followed by the ‘very low GEI’ states namely, Jharkhand, Assam, Rajasthan, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (refer Table 1). Refer also to a composite map (Map 1) and six other maps one each of the specified dimensions of empowerment identified in this empirical exercise (Maps 2- 7).


In case of Gujarat while it ranks as low as 8th in human capital formation, it is on the top on ‘control over assets, and second on ‘capacity for household decision making’; but it ranks too low at 16th of the 17 states in political participation. On the other hand Kerala which is on top on human capital formation, but as low as 8th in household decision making as well as woman’s work participation and 6th in political participation.

Gender Empowerment Index according to Socio-Economic Categories:
The type of the data used allows estimating the GEI using the first five dimensions, since disaggregated data for woman’s political participation is not available, according to place of residence (rural or urban residence), socio-religious categories and economic groups based on per capita income quintiles (Table 2). It is surprising to note lack of GEI differential according to place of residence, namely the rural and urban areas; although we are aware that there are noteworthy gender differentials if only an absolute level of a particular variable is evaluated. Thus while there may be huge level differentials in the measurement of variables in absolute terms, when one takes the relative gender differentials it does not matter whether one resides in rural or urban areas, the gender bias seems as strong. This is a very important empirical finding.

Further the values and rankings are evaluated for economic classification and socio-religious groups and one notices some perfect association. The GEI index has a perfect match with the per capita income quintiles in such a way that relative economic prosperity indeed promotes gender empowerment. The only dimension which has inverse relationship from within the six considered is women’s work participation suggesting that poorer women work relatively more so as to supplement household income; yet overall economic prosperity promotes ‘gender empowerment’.

The data bases used, namely the national sample surveys, the NCAER’s human development survey and the national family health surveys contain variables that are amenable to create exclusive socio-religious categories which are generally so identified in day-to-day discourses in India. One finds considerable variations in the GEI according to the socio-religious categories as well. For example, it is residual others (minority religions other than Muslims but less than 5 % of population) category which has the highest value of 0.763 followed by the high caste Hindus with 0.675 and these two communities are class apart and reflect large inequity in society. The subsequent values are far too low at 0.410 for OBCs, 0.366 for SCs, 0.281 for the STs and least for Muslims at 0.276. There is a notion that the tribal communities offer fairly egalitarian social system which, but such common understanding and does not stand the empirical test, thus making ST women extremely vulnerable as well along with the SCs and the Muslims. The socio-religious exercise provides excellent leads for public policy formulation in the area of effecting group-equity in India.


It is common knowledge that the UNDP promoted the concept of human development index which is now widely used all over India. One finds that many states in India have brought out human development reports highlighting district level variations as well. We consider it useful to compare the state HDI ranks with the GEI estimated by us (see Table 3). There are a few unexpected relationships between the two in a few states. For example Assam and Uttar Pradesh have recorded relatively better HDI ranking compared with the GEI which are far too low. Other states with higher ranking differentials and having lower GEIs are Bihar, Haryana and Punjab. On the other hand state which have improved over their HDI rankings considerably are Maharashtra, Karnataka, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. However, it will be instructive to know as to what factors have pulled the state of Assam and Uttar Pradesh considerably low in the GEI measures.


The correlation between the GHI and HDI rankings has worked out to be only 0.58 suggesting that HDI do not reflect the true gender vulnerability and therefore it is essential to create a separate series of data that reflect women’s empowerment. As mentioned earlier, we have used six dimensions and associated measures for which dependable data are available from sample surveys and government records. Although we believe that dimensions and variables chosen for this exercise are excettent and effecnint in capturing empowerment of women in India, one can add other concepts provided quality data are available so as to contextualize indexing to local situation and needs. Tt is most appropriate to create the gender indices as the level of districts, and according to socio-religions communities within the state for a better understanding of the problem of gender discrimination.

A number of policy implications will emerge from this research and a few of them are listed below:

• Enable policy makers to understand the process that facilitate empowerment of women.
• This research will enable recognition of the significant role gender empowerment play in improving incomes especially in rural areas and thereby poverty alleviation.
• Help formulate policy support to sustain empowerment of women, for example, through strategies to establish and sustain ownership rights, enhance participation in local governance and undertake market based activities.
• Promote fiscal and financial products which suits formation of household capital, assets and insurance against risks in rural areas of India.
• Effective policies can be designed to so that economic resources transferred through micro-credit programs can promote micro-enterprises and local markets.
• Promotes regionally balanced economic growth through wage and labor market effects especially factoring increased female participation in labor force.

We believe that this paper raises a major issue of appropriateness of the factors and measures that reflect gender empowerment and hope that the methodology presented will help generate an informed debate on the topic in India and other developing societies.


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