From Talk to Action: 10 Ways to Enhance Gender Security in SDGs for India

Keywords: gender security, conflict transformation, resource competition, climate security, SDGs, public policy.

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Source: ‘Art and the SDGs’ project by Janakpur Women’s Development Centre, Nepal

A tribal woman living in the coastal region, physically handicapped, economically and socially deprived – represents the gory structural constraints that hang over the most marginalized in India. In his critique of neoliberal globalization, Arturo Escobar argues that Alter-Globalization Social Movements (AGSMs) are occurring at interstices of indigenous, LGBTQIA+, environmentalist, women and subaltern identities, positioned in the template of ‘glocalities’ ((Asher, Wainwright, 2018).

This piece is an attempt to understand how policy gaps in India can be strengthened by making them more gender-sensitive, particularly when it comes to achieving Sustainable Development Goals. 

#1 Climate induced droughts, floods, cyclones will displace entire communities – impacting women across all intersectionalities of disability and other socio-economic parameters. This may aggravate internal security issues at an inter-district, intra-state and inter-state level. Clash of cultural norms or their diffusion depends on gender sensitive responses from a society. Proliferation of conflict zones due to climate change induced psycho-social and economic displacement will enhance economic, ecological and social deprivations. However, goal 13 on climate change and goal 10 on migration fail to address this. Disaster Risk Reduction and Prevention is not a one off practice drill but involves a continuous cycle of disaster risk, disaster recovery and rehabilitation strategies under the Sendai Framework. It must therefore focus on trauma counselling – particularly oriented towards women and LGBTQI+ community during and post-disaster phases. 

#2 Conflict preventive diplomacy – transnationally and domestically must be proactively pursued in harmony with SDG 16. Transmutation of conflict zones into rehabilitative and re-integrated communities at a domestic level is possible by the Indian bureaucracy. For this, the administration must coordinate training modules and mid-career trainings with the UN for All-India officers. The issue of Naxal insurgency can be tackled by providing re-integration strategies by mainstreaming women related employment opportunities. Local women leaders must be mobilized that bring to the fore concerns of tribal injustice. Such women leaders must engage with local women police to produce innovative community engagement exercises. This shall provide political voice for survivors of gender-based violence in conflict affected areas such as in naxal areas and insurgency fueled environs. 

#3 The System of Environmental Economic accounting while being conflated with SDGs must also incorporate disaggregated data for social impact on the transgender community. Sex disaggregated data must be enriched in NFHS-5 data on transgenders. India must create inclusive data sets via its statistical system, for a data driven future. 

#4 57% of women in India are anaemic (NFHS-5, Government of India, 2019-21). Severe nutrition insecurity will harm maternal foetal health. Unsustainable change in dietary patterns will conflate nutrition insecurity and be a risk to climate security. Stocking of State procured grains loses its nutritional impact while sitting in godowns for long (Boss, Pradhan, 2020). Meanwhile lack of crop diversification will deplete groundwater and irrigation resources and cause land degradation. Fifthly, unscientific afforestation is surely converting drylands, scrublands and grasslands via blindly carrying out plantation drives; but scientific forestry augurs that landscape appropriate species must be planted in an eco-systemic manner. Scientific planting of new saplings and trees will rehabilitate aquifers, wetlands and entire ecosystems. Healthy cropping patterns, that contain nutri-cereals and water efficient crops, are thus linked to the maternal and child health across economic pyramids. Therefore, micro-ecosystems must not be demolished. 

#5 The total fertility rate now achieved in the majority of states in India and the meta son preference is the next challenge along with booming geriatric impediments in healthcare and social security systems. A weak state led social security system for old age may further fuel preference for sons among the current working age population. Both India and China ironically face similar demographic testing points in the upcoming decade. Increased migration from, say UP and Bihar, having TFR higher than replacement level (as per NFHS-5; 2.4 for UP, 3.0 for Bihar) will have long term effects on cultural norms of destination state. We still do not know how adversely it will further transform gender roles in UP and Bihar themselves as migration flows increase exponentially in an outward manner to southern states. This may morph new linguistic realities within states, thus changing cultural contexts of state politics across Indian states. It may push to the forefront gender related issues in states like UP and Bihar as poor women in rural households get left behind by their male counterparts upon migration in increasing numbers and duration. 

#6 The long list of SDG Goals and indicators remain silent not only on cultural norms and Artificial Intelligence, but also how Industry 4.0 is essentially occurring for the top echelon of the global demographic. Majority of the population may not have access to electricity or Information Technology, thus stuck in Industry 2.0 and Industry 3.0, but the privileged minority is racing towards the next level of automated inventions. Most harmful impacts are going to be on people still struggling to alleviate themselves out of basic economic, energy, literacy and health poverty. 

#7 Absence of AI related international treaties will prove to be an impediment in outer space diplomacy, non-conventional warfare strategies and transformation of human security challenges. Automated weaponry is hyper-masculinizing our territorialities. Hyper-masculinist embodiment of artificial intelligence will push gender transformative diplomacy and politics from incrementally advancing the meagre foothold it has managed in this century. This is the looming challenge for multilateralism and gender representative politics. Sustainable Development Goals do not mention any policy goal related to Artificial Intelligence.

#8 Embedded in a universalist liberal paradigm, the language and objectives of SDGs surpass the emphasis on conflict management and peace building. All it limits itself is to restrict trafficking and exploitation; it never problematizes what it means by ‘justice’ and ‘peace’. Engendering of peace and justice across cultural contexts will require greater policy sensitivity from governments of the Global South like India. SDG 5 conveniently is oblivious of the global transgender community, let alone coloured transgendered community. 

#9 The changing demands of industrial workforce and novel challenges should ensure to provide space to gender sensitive, gender responsive and gender transformative job profiles. Conflict transformation, trauma counsellors, sociological re-integration specialists, gender advisors across policy segments will have to be deployed horizontally and vertically in all public sector initiatives. Besides introducing robotics in school curriculum, the New Education Policy, 2020 must highlight how intersectional feminism is equally important and science as a discipline can have less masculinist undertones.

#10 Most importantly, regional action plans regarding implementation of SDGs must be enacted; for instance, a South Asian action plan adopted by these countries will by default handle issues of climate related migrants and insurgency related cross- border money laundering. 

Policy flows not only in a duo-directional manner but across the network of stakeholders it involves. Feminizing the geopolitical space, international diplomacy and domestic administration being empathetic to gendered aspects of conflict zones within India – will have a positive multiplier effect on doubly or triply marginalized women, girl children and transgenders. As resource competition gets exaggerated under climate change, unsustainable urbanization and development; civil gender advisors are essential for policy brainstorming and execution.


Vani edited

Vani Bhardwaj

Vani is Head of Policy at Young Women In Sustainable Development.

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