As the G20 brings together the world's largest economies, India's leadership can help promote a gender-sensitive agenda in the global development discourse

India's G20 presidency, which began on December 1, 2022, promises to focus on women-led development as a key priority. Women’s economic empowerment remains at the heart of India’s G20 agenda and was well encapsulated at the group’s summit in Hamburg in 2017, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a greater focus on women's empowerment, stating that “empowerment of women is key to economic development.”

This focus on women-led development is not surprising given India's commitment to gender equality in its policies. Schemes and initiatives aimed at promoting women's empowerment and entrepreneurship such as the Stand-up India scheme, which provides loans to women and SC/ST entrepreneurs, and the Mahila E-Haat platform, which enables women entrepreneurs to sell their products online, are helping the cause. In a similar vein, the Udyam Sakhi portal is effectively disseminating information regarding government schemes, policies, and activities for women entrepreneurs, thereby promoting financial inclusion.

As per a McKinsey report, India could achieve an 18% increase over business-as-usual GDP, or $770 billion by advancing women’s equality. However, there is still a long way to go, especially in rural areas where gender-based discrimination and violence against women still prevail. India's G20 presidency provides an opportunity to address these issues and promote women's empowerment in the country.

W20 (Women 20) which is an official engagement group under the G20 is focused on actualizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of “Women-Led Development” to create a world of equality and equity where every woman lives with dignity and gets the opportunity to thrive, transcend, transform their lives and those of others.

Its primary objective is to ensure that gender considerations are mainstreamed into G20 discussions and translated into the G20 Leaders’ Declaration as policies and commitments that foster gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. W20 India took over the presidency from W20 Indonesia on December 12, 2022.

In 2020, India chaired the W20 and focused on issues such as digital inclusion, financial inclusion, and sustainable development for women. The W20 also called for greater investment in women's entrepreneurship and leadership, and for gender-disaggregated data to be used in policymaking.

This year, the theme for India's G20 presidency ‘Building a Better World’ focuses on three pillars - People, Planet and Prosperity. Under the ‘People’ pillar, women-led development has been identified as a key priority. The aim is to ensure that women are equal partners in the development process and that their voices are heard in decision-making at all levels. The G20 brings together the world's largest economies, and India's leadership can help promote a gender-sensitive agenda in the global development discourse.

There are five priority areas of W20 under India’s presidency which include - women in entrepreneurship, women leadership at the grassroots, bridging the gender digital divide, education & skill development, and women & girls as change-makers in climate resilience action.

To bring awareness and change at the grassroots level, the W20 is including key stakeholders of Women from tribal and rural areas, agriculture, handloom & handicrafts sector, micro & nano entrepreneurs, SHGs, Anganwadi workers, adolescent girls, women living in urban slums and homemakers.

The Chair of W20 is headed by Dr. Sandhya Purecha, Chairperson of Sangeet Natak Akademi. There are other eminent Indian Delegates which include, Dr. Jyoti Kiran Shukla, ex-chairperson of the 5th Rajasthan Finance Commission, Prof. Shamika Ravi, IPS (Retd.) Bharati Ghosh, Actress Raveena Tandon, and Bansuri Swaraj, Advocate, Supreme Court of India. Dharitri Patnaik, an Entrepreneur & Philanthropist is the Chief Coordinator.

Since taking over from Indonesia, W20 India has signed more than 15 MoUs with various organizations as knowledge and network partners and conducted 40 Jan Bhagidari programs with thousands of women across 10 states in India. These W20 meetings are envisaged to play a pivotal role in driving collaboration and providing further impetus to gender equity and women’s economic empowerment.

Today, India is witnessing a rapid transition from women’s development to women-led development. By creating an enabling environment for women's entrepreneurship, addressing gender-based discrimination, and promoting women's participation in decision-making, India can help build a better world where women are equal partners in the development process.

Union Minister Smriti Irani, during the G20 Empower Inception meeting in Agra on February 11 said, "If you want to get your future right, if you want to be future-ready, make sure that women are at the center of the discourse and that women are at the centre of your decisions. Till now, a discussion on women at the grassroots level was barely held on an international stage, but we have made it a central agenda through women-led development. This had not happened till now".

Women and Child Development Secretary Indevar Pandey said “In the 21st century, global growth will come from the countries of the South and India has the potential to demonstrate the leadership of the Global South by showcasing women's leadership and innovation and highlighting their concerns and potential.”

Published in July 2022, the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report projected that it will take 132 years to reach full gender parity based on the current rate of global progress, with further challenges triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic and evolving global economic crisis. So at such a time, India’s G20 presidency can play a key role in promoting these measures through international cooperation and partnerships.

“I see the G20 Presidency of India as a real opportunity for India to share lessons from the global South with the rest of the world,” Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women Anita Bhatia told PTI.

She added, “for us as UN Women, what is really how India is putting the issue of women-led development and a focus on gender equality as a centerpiece of its G20 Presidency. One of the things that (India’s G20) Presidency can do is to share development stories and pragmatic interventions that have already worked, with others. Because everybody is hungry for solutions that are efficient, particularly in a post-pandemic world".

India's focus on women's empowerment and gender equality within the G20 reflects its commitment to creating a more inclusive and sustainable global economy, and to ensure that women are fully represented and engaged in the decision-making processes that shape the future of our world.

*** The author is a Mumbai-based journalist; views expressed are her own