#BreaktheBias, But How?

By Dr Santosh Kumar Mohapatra*

International days and weeks are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, mobilize political will and resources to address global problems and celebrate and reinforce the achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool.

Marked annually on March 8th, International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity, raising awareness about women’s equality; fundraise for female-focused charities. Significant activity is witnessed worldwide as groups come together to celebrate women’s achievements or rally for women’s equality.

International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1911, in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. The centenary was celebrated in 2011, so this year we’re technically celebrating the 111th.


Each year IWD is given a “theme”, and “campaign them” which often relates to contemporary events, trends and struggles. The UN announced their theme for 2022 as “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”.

Advancing gender equality in the context of the climate crisis and disaster risk reduction is one of the greatest global challenges of the 21st century. Women are increasingly being recognized as more vulnerable to climate change impacts than men, as they constitute the majority of the world’s poor and are more dependent on the natural resources that climate change threatens the most.

Across the world, women depend more on, yet have less access to, natural resources, and often bear a disproportionate responsibility for securing food, water, and fuel. The climate crisis amplifies existing gender inequalities and puts women’s lives and livelihoods at risk. The climate change may lead to more gender-based violence, an increase in child marriages, and worsening sexual and reproductive health.

As women and girls bear the burden of climate impacts, they are also essential to leading and driving change in climate adaption, mitigation and solutions. Without the inclusion of half of the world’s population, it is unlikely that solutions for a sustainable planet and a gender-equal world tomorrow will be realized.

At the same time, women and girls are effective and powerful leaders and change-makers for climate adaptation and mitigation. They are involved in sustainability initiatives around the world, and their participation and leadership result in more effective climate action.

Hence, the UN Women’s website says, “This year’s IWD observance is in recognition and celebration of the women and girls who are leading the charge on climate change adaptation and response, and to honour their leadership and contribution towards a sustainable future,”

This year the campaign is #IWD2022 #BreakTheBias and is asking people to imagine “a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination”. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women’s equality. Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.

In 1996, the UN announced their first annual theme “Celebrating the past, planning for the Future” which was followed in 1997 with “Women at the Peace table”, in 1998 with “Women and Human Rights”, in 1999 with “World Free of Violence Against Women”, and so on each year until the current.

The theme of International Women’s Day 2020 was : #EachforEqual in 2020; for 2019 was #BalanceforBetter; for 2018, #PressforProgress, for the 2017 #BeBoldforChange, and for the 2016 theme was #PledgeforParity. Them for last year was #ChooseToChallenge . Similarly, the campaign theme for the 2021 International Women’s Day was “#ChooseToChallenge #IWD202”, with the idea that we can all choose to call out gender bias and inequality, as well as choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements.


Despite celebrating women’s day having them and campaign them each year, there is no discernible improvement in the status of women in the world. In the case of India, women’s condition is more abysmal and deplorable.

According to the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2022 report, around 240 crore women of working age are not afforded the equal economic opportunity and 178 countries maintain legal barriers that prevent their full economic participation. In 86 countries, women face some form of job restriction and 95 countries do not guarantee equal pay for equal work. According to the World Economic Forum, sadly none of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, and nor likely will many of our children. Gender parity will not be attained for almost a century.

The Women Business and the Law 2022 report is the eighth in a series of annual studies measuring the laws and regulations in 190 economies, in eight areas impacting women’s economic participation – mobility, workplace, pay, marriage, parenthood, entrepreneurship, assets, and pensions. This year’s report also includes pilot research on the legal frameworks for available, affordable and quality childcare, as well as on the implementation of laws.

Similarly, according to United Nations (2022), 70% of the 130-crore people living in conditions of poverty are women. In urban areas, 40% of the poorest households are headed by women. Women predominate in the world’s food production (50-80%), but they own less than 10% of the land. Around 80 % of the displaced by climate-related disasters and changes around the world are women and girls.


Violence against women continues to be an obstacle to achieving equality, development, peace as well as the fulfilment of women and girls’ human rights. Violence negatively affects women’s physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health, and may increase the risk of acquiring HIV in some settings. Violence threatens women’s and girls’ safety, and it sets barriers to their potential for prosperity or filling leadership roles. Violence against women – particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence – is a major public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights.

Estimates published by WHO indicate that globally about 1 in 3 (30%) of women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Most of this violence is intimate partner violence. Worldwide, almost one third (27%) of women aged 15-49 years who have been in a relationship report that they have been subjected to some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner.

In India, violence against women is rampant too. According to the NCRB, which functions under the Union home ministry, a total of 371,503 cases of crime against women were reported across the country in 2020 in comparison to 405,326 in 2019 and 378,236 in 2018. The dip by 8.3% in crimes against women in 2020 compared to 2019, may be due to the failure of many women to report the crime in the time of the pandemic.

Crimes against women include cases of rape, outraging modesty, dowry deaths and harassment, acid attacks and kidnapping. “Majority of cases under crime against women were registered under ‘Cruelty by Husband or his Relatives’ (30.2%) followed by an assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty (19.7%), kidnapping and abduction of women (19.0%) and rape (7.2%).

Domestic violence, sexual harassment has increased during the pandemic as women have to cope with the agony, the anguish of male members of the family who lost jobs or remained home for a longer period. Domestic works including child care increased the burden of women killing their leisure and rest.

Of the total cases of crimes against women during the Covid pandemic-induced lockdown, there were 28,046 incidents of rape involving 28,153 victims. Out of the total victims, 25,498 were adults, while 2,655 were below the age of 18 years, the report stated.

The number of rape cases, as defined in the Indian Penal Code section 376, stood at 32,033 in 2019, 33,356 in 2018 and 32,559 in 2017. The figure for 2016 was 38,947, as per NCRB data from corresponding years. With 5,310 cases, Rajasthan reported the maximum number of rapes in 2020 while Uttar Pradesh reported 2,769 cases, Madhya Pradesh 2,339 cases, Maharashtra 2,061 cases and Assam 1,657 cases.

Rape cases are increasing but are found false after probe or sometimes, the victim forms an agreement with the accused and don’t want to pursue the case. “Despite making strict laws, including capital punishment, for raping a minor of less than 12 years, the number of cases is not coming down significantly. One of the major reasons is delay injustice and a lower conviction rate,”


Gender inequality remains a major barrier to human development. Girls and women have made major strides since 1990, but they have not yet gained gender equity. The disadvantages facing women and girls are a major source of inequality. All too often, women and girls are discriminated against in health, education, political representation, labour market, etc.—with negative consequences for the development of their capabilities and their freedom of choice.

The Gender inequality Index (GII) is an inequality index based on Human Development Report. It measures gender inequalities in three important aspects of human development—reproductive health, measured by maternal mortality ratio and adolescent birth rates; empowerment, measured by the proportion of parliamentary seats occupied by females and proportion of adult females and males aged 25 years and older with at least some secondary education; and economic status, expressed as labour market participation and measured by labour force participation rate of female and male populations aged 15 years and older.

The GII is also built on the same framework as the IHDI—to better expose differences in the distribution of achievements between women and men. It measures the human development costs of gender inequality. Thus, the higher the GII value the more disparities between females and males and the more loss to human development.

The HDR (2020) has calculated the Gender Inequality Index (GII) in which India is abysmally placed at 123rd place out of 162 countries in 2020. It means India is behind 122 countries out of 162 countries in regard to reducing gender inequality. This is largely, because of poor Parliamentary representation (11.6%), abnormally high maternal mortality rate (174 out of one lakh) and very low women participation in the workforce (23.5%) as against 81.6% for men.

Not only have we dropped a rank from 122nd in 2018, but India also remains well below neighbours China, Bhutan and Nepal in how it treats its women. The only consolation probably is that Pakistan and Bangladesh treat their women worse than us. China has reduced gender inequality to .16, largely because 61% of women participate in the labour workforce and the mortality rate is 27 per lakh.

Other reasons behind the poor ranking is a combination of factors including cultural preferences, lack of budget allocation for key schemes involving the betterment of women and disinterest at government-level in spending the allocated money.

The COVID-19 crisis has disproportionately affected women. Besides the health impacts, lockdowns also exacerbated instances of domestic violence. Economically, women have been slower to regain lost jobs, and have struggled to care for their families while trying to stay in the paid workforce.


Despite so much discussion, the gender gap is widened as reflected in India’s abysmal position in World Economic Forum’s gender gap index. The Index was first introduced in 2006 to benchmark progress towards gender parity and compare economies’ gender gaps across four dimensions: economic opportunities, education, health, and political leadership.

The pandemic has exposed sharp economic and social inequalities and has widened the already existing gap with the most vulnerable in society, including unequal impacts affecting women and girls by virtue of their gender. The Index-2021 stated that India, home to 65 crore women, has widened its gender gap by 3% this year to 66.8%. This means only a 32.65 % gap closed to date.

The report estimates that it will take an average of 135.6 years for women and men to reach parity on a range of factors worldwide, instead of the 99.5 years outlined in the 2020 report. In other words, the time it will take for the gender gap to close grew by 36 years in the space of just 12 months, thirty-six years marks the largest loss in one year since the report started in 2006.

In India, in the 2020 index, it was expected that it would take 99.5 years to bring equality between men and women but as per the 2021 report, it would take 265 years, which means one generation.

In India, the decline also took place in the economic participation and opportunity subindex, albeit to a lesser extent. Most of the decline occurred in the political empowerment subindex, where India regressed 13.5%, with a significant decline in the number of women ministers (from 23.1% in 2019 to 9.1% in 2021).


The LFPR basically tells what percentage of the total women within the working-age (aged 15 years and above) are seeking work; it includes both those who are employed as well as those who are as yet unemployed but seeking work.

labour force participation rates (LFPR) by women, was 33.1% in 2011-12and slipped to 25.3% in 2017-18 coinciding with a 45-year high in unemployment and further to 20 to 21 % now, among the lowest in the world. At 21%, India has one of the worst labour force participation rates (LFPR) by women, even not half the global average (47%). In other words, 79% of Indian women (aged 15 years and above) do not even seek work. No matter which cluster of countries one compares with — high income or low, highly indebted or least developed — India comes off worse.

The two theories that are usually circulated to explain India’s low female labour force participation rate (FLFPR) are that women typically step out of the workplace to make way for the menfolk when unemployment is high and that many of them step out of the workforce to educate themselves. A recent Pew Research Centre on gender dynamics in the home and the economy adds a third explanation that suggests that the problem may be more deep-rooted: That India’s persistently low FLFPR is the result of the deep-seated conservatism of Indian society.

This is underlined by the fact that FLFPR has worsened with the slowing of the Indian economy before the pandemic afflicted and the consequences of Covid thereafter. The Pew survey showed that more than half the Indians think men should get job preference when jobs are scarce. The fact that women constitute 48% of the population but remain mostly excluded from access to economic opportunities was clear after the lockdown was lifted in 2020.

During the three months ended September 2020, the unemployment rate among women touched 15.8% against 12.6% among men workers. According Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), women accounted for 10.7% of the workforce in 2019-20, but suffered13.9% of the job losses in April 2020. At least part of this asymmetry is a result of conservatism among employees as well


Patriarchy, a social organisation of violence against women, of course far pre-dates capitalism – neoliberal or any other kind. The patriarchal mindset of both males and females defines women as subordinate to men and caretakers of home and confining role to procreation. leading to the preference of the male child, inciting female foeticide is responsible for gender inequality -depriving women of their legitimate rights, privileges, based on gender only.

Traditionally, women were considered to be caretakers of the home. They had to look after the running of the family smoothly, they had to manage the expenses in the most economical way possible, they had to look after aged in-laws, nurture the child, etc. They were expected to obey the orders of their husband, the elders of the family, but kept in isolation when it came to the major decision related to the family.

Communalism and religious fanaticism, superstition is used to perpetuate the inferior status of women and project them as subordinate to men. According to Pew Research Centre, 80% of the Indians with college education believe women must obey their husbands. Similarly, rampant consumerism has affected women too as women are used as instruments of advertisement of various companies. The culture of nudity has affected their self-esteem too.

Present times are a poisonous period for women. Now price rise, essential commodities, privatisation of essential services and public-sector have affected. Privatisation leads to maximisation of profit through overexploitation of labour, downsizing, retrenchment, and wage cut, increasing working hours which affect women more as women are last to get jobs but first to lose jobs

‘Privatization of education and health affect women more because privatisation leads to rise of the cost of those services and male children are given preference ahead female children.


In the Budget speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recognised the importance of ‘Nari Shakti’ as the harbinger of India’s bright future and for women-led development during the ‘Amrit Kaal’. In her first budget speech in 2019, she had also used the phrase “Nari Tu Narayani,” recognising the importance of woman empowerment. But in the last 3 years, ‘Nari Shakti’ has been more enervated devitalized, instead of being invigorated. Of course, the corona pandemic has further exacerbated the plights and sufferings of women further.

To emphasize ‘Nari Shakti’ Sitharaman said the government has comprehensively revamped the schemes of the Ministry of Women & Child Development. But the allocation for the women and child development ministry went up from Rs 24,435 crores in 2021-22 to Rs25,172.28 crores in 2022-23, an increase of paltry 3%, which is negative in real term. Revised estimates for 2021-22 was Rs 23,200 crores.

Gender budgets have continued to remain under 5% of the total Union Budget since the exercise was made mandatory in 2006. In 2020-21 the gender budget was 4.7% of the total budget outlay. It had shrunk to 4.4 % 2021-22 and was estimated to decline to 4.32% in 2022-23. What is reprehensible is that the government spent a whopping 80% of funds under its flagship Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (BBBP) scheme on media campaigns.

In December 2021, the parliament Committee on Empowerment of Women chaired by Heena Vijaykumar Gavit finds that out of a total of Rs 446.72 crore released during the period 2016- 2019, a whopping 78.91% was spent only on media advocacy.


Nari shakti is linked with the political empowerment of women which is linked with an increase of their representation in parliament and assemblies. The bill to reserve 33 per cent seats for women in Parliament and state legislatures was passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2010, but it was never introduced in the Lok Sabha.

Soon after it assumed power in 2014, the NDA government was asked in Parliament if it intended to do so. Ravi Shankar Prasad, the then law minister, replied that the issue needed “deep study” and “careful consideration on the basis of consensus among all political parties” before they could introduce such a bill. But many bills are passed without discussion in parliament or by bypassing Rajya Sabha designating the same as a money bills.

No wonder, India ranks a dismal 146th in women’s representation in the national Parliament. At the turn of the century, it ranked 66th. The decline has come because progress has been piecemeal — several other countries have improved their share of women in Parliament far more rapidly.

In 2019, the world average Percentage of women’s representation in parliament is 24.5%. In the lower house, it is 24.6% and in the upper house, it is 24.3%. But as of October 2021, in India, as per the data compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, of which India is a member, women represent 14.44% of the total members of the Lok Sabha and 10.5% of the total members of the Parliament. The scenario for women Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) across all state assemblies in India is even worse, with the national average being a pitiable 9%.


Gender justice is an important commitment of the government. With the WEF 2021 report data staring in our face, the country must invest and commit towards this for a more promising future to meet its commitments towards achieving the UN SDGs.

According to Swami Vivekananda), “the best thermometer to the progress of a nation is its treatment of its women. There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. The woman has suffered for aeons (an indefinite and very long period of time)., and that has given her infinite patience and infinite perseverance. The idea of perfect womanhood is perfect independence. There is no hope of rise for that family or country where there is no estimation of women, where they live in sadness

The above-quoted lines, famously uttered by a 19th-century Indian monk way before India woke up to its present status of being an independent and recognised nation-state, addresses an insight that informs the development discourse all over the world today.

The first thing is to reduce violence perpetrated on women. All in all, the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – to leave no one behind – cannot be fulfilled without putting an end to violence against women and girls. Violence against women is preventable.

The health sector has an important role to play to provide comprehensive health care to women subjected to violence, and as an entry point for referring women to other support services, they may need.

Second, there is a need for increasing women’s employment. Despite a policy consensus that closing gender employment gaps will boost economic growth, relatively little is known about the size of these gains in many developing countries. A paper by the world bank group published on 22 Feberuary 2022 develops a new Gender Employment Gap Index (GEGI), which is equal to the size of long-run GDP per capita gains from closing gender employment gaps.

The GEGI is simple and transparent and can be easily constructed using closed-form expressions for almost all countries using macroeconomic employment rate data by gender. The basic variant of the GEGI is the gap between male and female employment as a share of total employment. The full GEGI is similar, but instead of using an aggregate employment gap, the full GEGI is the weighted average of a “better employment gap” and “other employment gap.”

According to report, GDP per capita, in the long run, would be almost 20% higher if female employment were exogenously increased to be the same as men’s (other things being equal), In some countries closing gender employment gaps is likely to have a large effect on GDP, whereas in other countries broader gender benefits (such as greater empowerment) may be more important.

The largest gains are in many middle-income countries—especially in the Middle East and North Africa and South Asia regions— where GDP per capita could increase by 40-80% if gender employment gaps were to be closed. In contrast, gains are much smaller in both low-income and high-income countries: likely because women are too poor not to work in the former and tend to have better employment opportunities in the latter. The GEGI averages 22% across 11 Pacific Island countries but varies greatly from close to zero to almost 40% depending on the country considered.


Empower women smallholders

Over the last few decades, 55% of the improvement in food security in developing countries has been driven by programmes promoting women’s empowerment. The Food and Agriculture Organization projects that if women farmers had equal access to productive resources, their farm yields would increase by 20 to 30%. This could provide enough food to keep 100 to 150 million people from going hungry, reducing global hunger by 12 to 17%.

Increasing the productive capacity of women smallholders (small-scale farmers who manage agricultural areas up to 10 hectares, or roughly 25 acres) also helps to promote sustainable agricultural practices. 75% of the world’s food comes from only 12 plants and 5 animal species, making the global food system extremely vulnerable to environmental shocks –– such as changing climate patterns and extreme weather events. Smallholders, who tend to rely on more diverse and climate-resilient crops, represent a sustainable alternative to our current model of agricultural production.

Invest in care

The global economy depends on the unpaid and underpaid care work primarily carried out by women. But despite its essential nature –– which we’ve seen more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic –– this work is not valued in accordance with its worth. Rather, care work (much like the environment) is treated like a limitless commodity that can be used without cost or consequence.

Instead, governments should treat care work as a collective good, expanding its availability and providing adequate support to those who do it. This includes investing in the expansion of care services, as well as increasing support for unpaid caregivers There’s a role for the private sector as well, in supporting unpaid care work through paid family leave and flexible working arrangements. Investing in care work is not only an acknowledgement of its importance but is also a way to create jobs and foster economic growth without increasing carbon emissions.

Care is an inherently sustainable economic sector: rather than consuming resources, it helps to sustain and strengthen human abilities. Curbing emissions will require us to rethink the way we produce and measure value –– moving from a depletion-based economic model to one based on regeneration –– and investing in care is a crucial step in this direction.

Support women’s leadership

At both the national and the community level, women’s representation and leadership appear to drive better environmental outcomes. Countries with higher percentages of women in parliament tend to adopt stricter climate change policies, resulting in lower emissions. At the local level, women’s participation in managing natural resources leads to more equitable and inclusive resource governance and better conservation outcomes. And when community climate programmes fully include women, they tend to be more effective and efficient in their use of resources.

In general, women are more likely to consider their families and communities in decision-making processes –– which is crucial to producing the kind of holistic solutions that make for effective climate action. Indigenous women, in particular, possess unique knowledge about agriculture, conservation and natural resource management that make their voices indispensable in any decision-making process.

Fund women’s organizations

Strong civil society organizations are a critical counterbalance to powerful state and corporate actors. They bring the voices of those who best understand their own experiences and needs into decision-making processes and help to keep governments accountable to the people they are meant to serve –– both key to climate action that prioritizes the wellbeing of people and planet.

Government collaboration with women’s organizations can help ensure that climate policies meet the specific needs of women and girls and that such policies are effectively implemented. Invulnerable communities, women’s organizations often act as an informal safety net, bridging gaps in government services and helping to provide emergency support. Empowering such community networks is a crucial way to build climate resilience at the local level.

Protect women’s health

Evidence suggests that women will bear the brunt of climate-linked negative health outcomes. In general, women are more likely to die in disasters, due in part to their limited access to resources and services. Research also indicates that climate change will have negative sexual and reproductive health impacts: higher temperatures are increasing the spread of diseases like malaria, dengue fever and Zika virus, which are linked to negative pregnancy and birth outcomes, and extreme heat itself appears to increase the incidence of stillbirth. As with other crises and disasters, climate change also increases vulnerability to gender-based violence.

At the same time, climate disasters often pull resources away from women’s health services and services to support survivors of gender-based violence. As climate change worsens, it is critical that these services are strengthened and expanded to help keep women healthy and safe.

Women should drive for financial and economic independence. The privatisation process should be stopped. Collective action and shared ownership for driving gender parity are what makes International Women’s Day impactful.

Gloria Steinem, world-renowned feminist, journalist and activist once explained “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.” So, make International Women’s Day your day and do what you can to truly make a positive difference for women.



*The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.



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