Women’s empowerment is a critical driver for economic growth and social prosperity. Broadly, the term refers to an improvement in women’s political, social, educational, economic, and health status. Beyond individual women, it has far-reaching benefits for their families and communities as well. For instance, research indicates that women’s empowerment is positively associated with improved health, education outcomes for children, and increased competitiveness on human development indicators. By 2030, India has committed to making sure that women and girls contribute as equal partners to the growth and development of the country under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)-5. However, according to the recently released Global Gender Gap Report 2020, India ranks 140 among 154 countries. In this context, how much progress have we really made towards achieving the goal of gender equality under the SDGs?

Findings from the first phase of the 5th National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) were released in December 2020. Our analysis of the data and trends captured by the NFHS-5 across 18 states and four union territories has helped us better understand where our performance should be celebrated, and where it is being held back.

In India, the NFHS measures women’s empowerment, albeit in a narrow sense. It measures six factors—three related to ownership of physical assets (mobile phones, bank accounts, land, and housing), access to menstrual hygiene products, participation in three key household decisions (healthcare for herself, household purchases, and visits to family or relatives), and employment status over the last year.

It’s worthwhile to note that several important indicators which are a part of the SDGs are not yet captured by the NFHS. These include measurements around time spent on domestic or unpaid work, decisions on reproductive health, and the incidence of genital mutilation, among others. Indicators on aspects of political empowerment, such as the perception of women in their communities, are not tracked at all in the NFHS.

Read the full article about women's empowerment in India by Vishal Kansal and Anurati Tandon at India Development Review.