10 December Saturday

Kerala develpment policy more sensitive to gender equity : Dr. Mridul Eapen

Dr. Mridul EapenUpdated: Tuesday Oct 19, 2021

Image : King's College


Development policy in Kerala has been more sensitive to gender equality in terms of human resource development as reflected in the much lower gender gap in basic capabilities, such as education and health, linked as it was to its historical legacy of public action, laying strong foundations through earlier achievements in land reforms, health, education, social justice and gender inclusiveness. Matrilineal forms of family sanctioned women’s rights to inherit property, a critical indicator of power.

In later years, despite the changing forms of capitalist development that prevailed in India and the resource constraints that state governments faced given the imbalance in the Indian fiscal system, exacerbated by the liberalisation regime, high social spending by the government of Kerala did result in a different path of development.

 In the late nineties based along the lines of UNDP’s Human Development Index and Gender Development Index, state wise indices developed in India ranked Kerala first. However, as became clear, from the emerging social issues of concern, education and health are not sufficient achievements for transforming women’s subordinate position. The state's development experience was caught up in normative assumptions regarding gender roles in a patriarchal society, the basis of unequal gender relations, as stated earlier. The growing uneasiness with Kerala’s uneven social development was due to the rising visibility of gender based violence, in particular domestic violence, very often linked to dowry demands, unemployment and low and declining work participation rates, mental ill-health manifested increasingly as suicides, downtrends in women’s property rights and rapid growth and spread of dowry, even as the levels of education continue to rise.Hence, debates around development and women’s empowerment questioned the veracity of conventional development indices like education and health, which need not necessarily translate into freedom from gender oppression or a complete breakaway from the gender stereotypes and hence the need to look at other non-conventional indicators

Several interventions were undertaken by the state for gender empowerment (a) gender aware planning at the decentralized level including a women component plan (WCP) since 1996; (b)setting up of Kudumbashree a community organization of NHGs of women in 1998 as a to 22 percent department for Women and Child Development in 2017 to give a more focussed thrust to activities aimed at social assistance and empowerment of women and children.; and (d) Gender budgeting undertaken in the 11th FYP and more systematically developed in the 13th Plan of the State.This ofcourse also meant a conscious effort to address women’s/TG issues through a number of schemes and programmes.

These interventions did result in commendable achievements, for instance most significantly an increase in women’s work force participation rate in Kerala from 16 percent in 2017-18 to 22 percent in 2019-20 (Periodic Labour Force Surveys) but the cultural / patriarchal mindset underwent very little change; increasing gender based violence and exclusion of some social groups from even whatever gains had occurred calls for more concerted and focused intervention on these groups. Particularly since the Pandemic has hit the most vulnerable groups more disproportionately.

Now with the Pandemic, the gendered division of household labour has exacerbated gender inequalities as almost all studies around the world have shown. Women’s unpaid household and care work has intensified, with the family at home and a redistribution of work at home is not being successfully negotiated, at times even resulting in domestic violence. This is a gender dimension to be addressed emphatically. So much disruption has taken place in education and job structures (women being the bigger job losers), with new technology driven skills growing rapidly. How do we ensure gender equality?One thing is very clear- that the digital economy will come to play a significant role in our lives impacting on education, skilling and employment, changing traditional ways of teaching and learning and doing business. Can ICT reach out to all, big and small, as expected with access to internet connectivity to the poorest households planned by the government? Above all the need to maintain equity across genders and disadvantaged groups, cannot be underemphasised.

Kerala Development Report (2021)3 states “the Kerala of the future will continue to build on its strengths in social spending, social welfare and social justice. It will continue to use these as a foundation for further and accelerated growth in the productive forces and production in the economy.We look forward to sustained efforts to apply science and technology, modern skills and the skills available to a “knowledge economy” to enhance growth in agriculture, allied activities, modern industry, infrastructure, building and income bearing services......” (pg9)

We enter the portals of Nava Kerala development, keeping in mind the need to consciously address gender needs, both in terms of social and economic spending since development is not gender neutral and does not trickle down automatically. Cultural dimension too has to be considered in the Kerala of the Future which would yield better outcomes in terms of greater gender equality.