India’s G20 presidency highlights the critical theme of gender equality and the empowerment of women in domestic and global contexts. Recognising the significance of women’s education, financial inclusion, and equal opportunities, India aims to build a robust and inclusive digital public infrastructure (DPI) to advance women’s economic empowerment. Through various initiatives and innovative approaches, the government seeks to bridge the gender gap, create sustainable finance options, and promote women’s leadership at all levels of decision-making.
A crucial aspect for the advancement and empowerment of women is ensuring their financial inclusion. Globally, almost half (42 per cent) of women and girls remain outside the formal financial system, with a persistent 7 per cent gender gap. However, India has made remarkable progress in this area. Today, nearly 81 per cent of urban women and 77.4 per cent of rural women in India own a bank account, which they operate themselves.
To foster sustainable development through gender equality and women empowerment, it is imperative to enhance women’s capacities and provide equal opportunities. Education plays a vital role in this regard, yet gender parity remains a challenge. Women, still, account for almost two-thirds of all adults unable to read, and with 54 per cent of the total 78.2 million out-of-school children being girls, a concerted and coordinated effort will be required to move the needle. India is committed to making progress in this area. In tandem, the pervasive issue of malnutrition and food insecurity must be addressed at its roots. During my tenure as CEO of NITI Aayog, I had the fortune of driving the GoI’s Aspirational Districts Programme (ADP)—the world’s largest outcome-based governance project, focused on improving the socio-economic indicators of the 112 most backward districts of India. I saw the impact of combining the strengths of local governance structures with multi-stakeholder partnerships first-hand. By setting up model anganwadi centres, standardising data-collection methods, and creating an enabling environment for innovative solutions, we were able to improve markers for health, well-being, and overall development significantly. For example, in Ranchi, Jharkhand, a remarkable initiative called the Poshan app revolutionised the way malnourishment was addressed in the district. This app utilised real-time data analytics to monitor crucial aspects such as bed occupancy, child-growth charts, and inventory levels at malnourishment treatment centres. The impact was astounding, with bed occupancy levels at health care centres witnessing an increase of over 90 per cent.
By bridging the gap in access to digital technologies, promoting women’s education, and ensuring their health and livelihood, we can accelerate their economic empowerment globally. Global leaders must collaborate to dismantle long-term structural barriers that hinder women’s progress across these critical pillars. The increasing participation of women in any economy not only fosters growth but also has a positive impact on the overall socio-economic development of the nation. I firmly believe that women’s empowerment is not just a cause, but a transformative force that can drive sustainable development and inclusive growth.
India recognises the importance of women’s representation at all levels, from administrative offices to grassroots institutions. By bringing women’s unique perspectives and experiences to the table, we cultivate more inclusive and effective decision-making. The sustainability of outcomes and progress towards gender equality rely on the availability of quality gender-disaggregated data. By investing in data collection and sharing, and converting it into digital intelligence, we can develop targeted interventions and monitor the impact of our efforts.
Advancing gender equality is essential for creating a more equitable and inclusive society. By focusing on women’s financial inclusion, strengthening their capacities, enabling their leadership, and prioritising their health, and the collection of gender-disaggregated data, we can create a better future. By building a robust digital public infrastructure and implementing initiatives that bridge the gender gap, India aims to empower women and promote their leadership at all levels. It is through these concerted efforts that we can create a more prosperous future, where women’s economic empowerment and gender equality are at the forefront of our collective endeavours.
The author is G20 Sherpa, government of India, and former CEO, NITI Aayog. All views expressed are personal.