By Iman Grewal

Mirroring “two economic” Indias are “two gendered” Indias. Deeply rooted patrifocal family structures and ideologies have shaped traditions and practices that reinforce the value of a male child while limiting the value and mobility of the female child. In general, these gendered traditions and practices are more deeply rooted in the “other” India creating double barriers to economic, educational, social, and political participation for girls and women living in poverty. Women in the “first” India have access to education and actively participate in the political, social, and economic sphere. The “first” India is home to women who have the ability and freedom to exercise their right to choose careers that defy all gender boundaries and expectations, for instance, India has had the longest running female head of any country in the world. Women in the “other” India, however, have limited or no access to education and face significant barriers to economic and political participation. These women lack the freedom to make even the most basic choices in their lives, including those related to marriage and childbearing. Between these two extremes, there exists a multitude of economic and gendered realities.

Gender-based inequalities in educational attainment, health and survival, and economic and political participation are not particular to India; they exist in most countries in varying forms. Gender inequalities, however, are found to be highest in countries that are pre-dominantly patriarchal and with high populations of women and children in poverty, such as India. The extent of gender inequality along with rising awareness that gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential—not only at the individual and family level but for the health of a country—have made issues of gender equality a significant focus of national and international discourse and policy reform efforts. Until recently, discussions and efforts aimed at achieving greater gender parity were targeted almost exclusively at women; however, the growing awareness that issues of gender equality begin at birth and shadow the lives of girls into womanhood has broadened the focus to include girls in discussions and reform and movements. Inclusion of girls in the equality discourse is also supported by the shifting conception of childhood.


Elizabeth Gersabeck