It is usually expected that when there is growth and development in any economy, the fruits of this growth are available to all citizens across the board. In fact the basic objective of growth should be to improve the well being of all the people in that system, whether it is in terms of alleviating poverty, hunger, educational disparities, providing better health systems, housing, infrastructure, or removing social disparities such as caste and gender discrimination through programmes for affirmative action. Classical theories of growth and development assumed that the market system would automatically ensure that the benefits of growth reached all sections in society. However, as experience has proved, markets are not “neutral”; in an unequal society where some people are better endowed than others with more resources, the market system actually favours them.
The benefits of development are seen to flow to them, leaving out the others who are relatively weaker. Therefore in a society riddled with disparities, special efforts have to be made to ensure that the benefits of growth reach all quarters. This is especially important in a country such as ours, where a large proportion of people are poor, and in addition there are deep divisions based on caste, gender, community, region, availability of natural resources, etc. This implies that the market system cannot be relied upon to ensure that growth is equitable. In other words, growth with equity requires intervention in the market to divert its benefits to deprived sections. It is quite clear that this intervention on a large scale is possible only if the state takes on this responsibility. Equitable growth therefore essentially depends on state policy and state intervention in the development process.
The “trickle-down” theory
However, there has been a major change in the development paradigm in our country in the last twenty–twenty five years in our country, particularly since 1991. The trajectory of the development process has been within the neo-liberal framework, which essentially rejects state intervention in favour of market processes. As a result, with the advent of globalisation policies that promote privatisation and liberalisation, the role of the state has actually been relegated to the background. Governments, both national and state, are expected to play more of a role of a facilitator, providing more and more concessions to the private sector, with the assumption that people will satisfy their needs by buying the necessary goods and services from the market.
Moreover, this paradigm also subscribes to the “trickledown” theory of growth. This theory accepts that market driven growth may not extend to all sections, but argues that even if the benefits accumulate with a small section at the top of the hierarchy, eventually some of them will trickle down drop by drop to those at the bottom of the ladder. It is expected that these drops will eventually help these sections to improve their economic status. It does not matter to these theorists that in a very unequal system, there may be layers and layers of people, and that some of these drops may actually dry up by the time they reach the bottom, by-passing very large sections of deprived communities. There is no answer to the question about what is to be done to improve their conditions. So inherently, this theory not only accepts the existing inequality in the system, but also the fact that the growth process, by benefiting those at the top more than others, will in fact intensify this inequality even further.
Women excluded in the growth process
It was during the post war period that many women economists across the world drew attention to the fact that unless there were proactive policies to include women in the development process, they would be largely excluded and existing gender inequality would not just remain untouched but was likely to exacerbate in the future. In India, the fact that women are being left out of the development process was brought out cogently in the path breaking report of the Committee on the Status of Women titled “Towards Equality” that was published in 1974. It showed that despite the fact that the Constitution of India provided equal rights to women in all spheres, they remained largely on paper, and that women were behind in term of economic progress, jobs and wages, educational attainments, property rights, political participation, access to citizenship rights, as well as basic life indicators such as mortality, sex ratios, etc. The report generated much debate and discussion with women’s groups who used it as a tool to press for greater inclusion of women’s concerns in the planning process. The sustained pressure of the women’s movement resulted in the inclusion of a special chapter on Women and Children in the Sixth Five Year Plan. It eventually led to the acceptance of concepts such as Gender Resource Planning and Gender Budgeting, as tools for ensuring the inclusion of women in the process of growth and development. These concepts again imply that the state has a special role to play in ensuring that the benefits of growth reach out to women who are historically a neglected section within our Indian society. However, with the advent of the neo-liberal policies in the nineties, this process of inclusion has once again taken a beating, since the role of the state has been relegated to the background.
But after more than two decades of pursuing neo-liberal economic policies the ruling governments in our country have finally woken up to the fact that the growth process has actually intensified the inequalities in our country. The term “inclusive growth” itself implies that there is a deliberate effort to include those sections that are left out of the growth process. This is acknowledged in the fact that the stated objectives of the 11th Five Year Plan were “Faster and Inclusive Growth” and that the Approach Paper to the 12th Five Year Plan was titled “Faster, Sustainable and More Inclusive Growth.” But sadly, there is no discussion about the status of women and the need to make a special effort to improve it. The steep increase in prices of essential commodities, the ongoing agricultural crisis, the industrial recession are all affecting women adversely. Most women continue to work in the unorganised sector, with no social protection. Access to clean drinking water, toilets, basic healthcare remains distant for a majority of those women who live in underdeveloped rural areas and slums in cities. Educational disparities are continuing and becoming intensified with privatisation of education. In the name of fiscal deficit, the government is cutting back on many of its flagship programmes including MGNREGA, which actually has a provision to ensure that a third of the work days that are created go to women. The government continues to employ lakhs of women as Anganwadi and ASHA workers without paying them remunerative wages for their work. While it passes Acts to deal with domestic violence and sexual harassment at the workplace, there is no adequate budgetary provision to set up infrastructure to implement these Acts. Within the general category, women are historically marginalised sections such as dalits, tribals, minorities, those living in remote hilly areas, who continue to face greater economic and social discrimination and require greater attention. Within the special programmes for SCs, STs and minorities, there should be some provisions for the development of women amongst these sections. However, all this requires a fundamental change in the direction of government policies, which need to turn their face to the poor, the marginalised and the deprived in our country. Only then will growth be inclusive for women.