Gender Equality Context in India

Equal Measures 2030
Paula Bronstein / Getty Images Reportage

India is the world’s largest democracy, with 1.2 billion people, and is expected to be the world’s most populous country by 2050. Where India makes progress towards development goals, the lives of hundreds of millions of people can be improved: in recent decades, India has made substantial progress to improve child nutrition, immunisation rates and education enrolment rates, as well as to achieve broad economic growth. Yet, gender disparities persist against a backdrop of rapid economic growth: rates of violence against women are still high, women’s participation in government is low, and discriminatory dowry and inheritance practices continue.

The Constitution grants equality to women, ensures equality before the law, and prohibits discrimination against any citizen on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. It also allows ‘personal’ laws, however, resulting in a dual system that allows forms of discrimination against girls and women. Under civil law, for example, the minimum age for marriage is 18 years for women and 21 years for men, but in Muslim Personal Law (though not codified) Muslims can determine when marriage is acceptable (sometimes at puberty).

Implementation of relevant legislation, such as the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (2006), has been weak, partly because the statute is unclear on whether it supersedes personal law. Similarly, The Hindu Succession Act of 2005 grants Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain women equal inheritance rights to ancestral and jointly owned property, but Muslims may follow Sharia laws on inheritance that allow daughters to inherit only half as much as sons.

India launched the National Mission for Empowerment of Women (NMEW) in 2010, mandated to facilitate the coordination of all programmes related to women’s welfare and their socio-economic development across all ministries and departments. The government leads specific initiatives focused on gender equality and other programmes that, though not focused exclusively on girls and women, benefit them nonetheless, including its push to enhance access to clean water and sanitation.