[Kurukshetra April Summary] Rural Women: Integral for Atmanirbhar Bharat – Explained, pointwise

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New India envisions rural India as an asset with great potential to speed up its economic development. Looking at the spree of recent schemes targeting well-being of rural women, empowerment of rural women seems to be at the heart of a plan to attain the dream of an Atma Nirbhar Bharat. These measures have opened avenues for access to education, productive resources, capacity building, skill development, healthcare facilities and diversified livelihood opportunities. They have evolved the rural ecosystem and facilitated socio-economic empowerment of women in India.

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What is the current status of Rural Women?

In 2011-12, workforce participation rate for urban male and urban female are 54.6% and 14.7% respectively, whilst rural male and rural female are 54.3% and 24.8%. In 2018-19, the female labour force participation rate was 19.7% and 16.1% for rural and urban women respectively.

In rural communities, agriculture and allied sectors are the primary source of livelihood for 80% of all economically active rural women. 33% percent among them constitute the agricultural labour force and 48% are self-employed farmers.

Read More: Female Labour Force in India – Trends and Challenges – Explained, pointwise
Why is the need to focus on the empowerment of Rural Women?

Boosting Economy: Empowerment of rural women would result in improving their productivity and skills. This will enable them to set up their own ventures and boost the rural economy, especially the agricultural sector. This would help in achieving the goal of making India a US$ 5 trillion by 2024-25.

Food Security: Agriculture employs about 80% of rural women. A gender focus will help in improving their food and nutritional security. This will in turn help in tackling poverty and hunger across the nation.

In 2011, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) projected that women-oriented reforms in agriculture would increase agricultural output in developing countries between 2.5-4%.

Poverty Alleviation: Skilling of rural women is essential for providing an additional helping hand to the family that can generate additional income and result in poverty alleviation. The NITI Aayog’s Multidimensional Poverty report shows 25.01% of the population was multidimensionally poor in the country in 2015-16. However the poverty ratio was as high as 32.75% in rural areas.

Demographic Dividend: India is one of the youngest countries in the world with an average age of around 29 years as per the recent UN estimates. This gives it a window of demographic dividend which can be duly harnessed only when rural women are truly empowered.

Global Commitments: The Sustainable Development Goals need to be completed by 2030. Amongst them some of the targets like SDG -5 (Gender Equality) can’t be fully utilized without empowering the rural women.

What are the major challenges faced by Rural Women?

Poor Literacy Rate: Low level of education among rural women is one of the main causes of their dismal participation in developmental activities.

Triple burden on rural women: Home-making, agriculture and child upbringing are all responsibilities of women. This leaves no time for skilling.

Wage Inequality: There is widespread disparity in wages of men and women. Women are paid less for doing the same level of work for the same duration.

Lack of Ownership of Resources: The ownership of land and other economic sources by rural women is very less in comparison to male counterparts. This reduces their bargaining power in the family and reduce their decision making power. 

Patriarchal Mindset: This induces people to look at women as an inferior being to men. It makes parents to focus less on women education and save more for their marriage. Moreover they are encouraged to work only in compelling times when the male members are unable to earn requisite money for the family. 

What steps have been taken by the government for empowerment of Rural Women?

Concept of ‘Gender Mainstreaming in Agriculture’: It was created by the government to encourage participation of rural women in agriculture. The mission was to ensure access to ongoing women-oriented schemes and resources across rural setups.

Outcome: With pro-women initiatives, percentage of female operational holding in the country has increased from 12.78% during 2010-11 to 13.78% during 2015-16 (Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, 2019).

Ease of Living: Initiatives like Ujjwala Yojana (Clean Fuel), Jal Jeevan Mission (Tap water to every household) and Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) have played a pivotal role in improving living conditions of rural women.

Outcome: About 101 districts, 1,159 blocks, 67,473 Gram Panchayats and 1,39,366 villages have achieved ‘Har Ghar Jal‘ Status in the country.

Read More: [Yojana April Summary] About Jal Jeevan Mission: Accelerating Socio-Economic Development – Explained, pointwise

Safety and Security: Mission Shakti, an umbrella scheme, is implemented by the Ministry of Women and Child Development. This scheme includes setting up of National, State and District level Hubs for empowerment of women, women helplines, one stop centers, Sakhi Niwas or working women hostels, Shakti Sadans or homes for destitute and troubled women, crèches, etc.

Outcome: The setting up of Mahila Shakti Kendras (NM) at district level has provided safety and security to rural women.

Skill Development and Entrepreneurship: Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) provides several short duration skill training programmes for rural youth and women to earn their livelihood. 

Similarly, Rural Self Employment Training Institutes (RSETI) provide several skill training courses. This includes making of homemade incense sticks (Agarbatti), soft toys, papad, pickle, masala powder, beauty parlour management and costume jewellery, etc.

Outcome: Under the RSETI scheme, 10 training courses out of the total 64 are exclusively for women candidates. Under this programme, about 26.28 lakh women candidates have been trained since inception.

Read More: [Kurukshetra April Summary] Women Entrepreneurs – Explained, pointwise

Financial Empowerment: The financial inclusion and accessibility to banking through Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) has boosted prospects of rural women participation in the formal sector.

Outcome: . Since the implementation of this scheme, 43.04 crore accounts have been opened in the country. Further, this constitutes 55.47 percent (23.87 crore) women account holders and 66.69 percent (28.70 crore) are Jan Dhan accounts in rural and semi-urban areas. 

What more should be done?

First, the government should ensure that political representation of women is duly enhanced by proper implementation of women reservation at local levels. This will help in formulation of more women centric policies and initiatives. 

Further focus should also be placed on tackling the development of Sarpanch Pati syndrome that undermines the sanctity of elected women candidates.

Second, the government should collaborate with NGOs like Saheli in order to sensitize the masses on gender equality. This is needed to tackle son meta preference and ensure equitable distribution of ancestral wealth among the children.

Third, there should be creation of more women-led Self Help groups in rural India in order to enhance the economic capabilities of women. It will require proper implementation of schemes like SHG-Bank linkage program and learning from successful examples like Kudumbashree model of Kerala.

Read More: [Yojana September Summary] SHG-led Women Empowerment – Explained, pointwise

Rural transformation can be expedited by scaling up programmes for rural women’s empowerment. Skill development, access to education, healthcare, safe and secure environment, ownership rights, and new technology can play a significant role in improving the lives of rural women. Empowering women farmers will enhance agriculture productivity and help in building an empowered nation.

Source: Kurukshetra April 2022

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