India: making place for women

iwd_squareToday’s post is by Anna Biernat, Media Coordinator in the OECD Public Affairs and Communications Directorate. Anna holds a master’s degree in Indian studies and has lived and travelled extensively in India.

India has recently grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons. British film-maker Leslee Udwin interviewed one of the rapists from the Delhi gang rape that shook the country in 2012 for a documentary. The rapist, Mukesh Singh, who is facing the death penalty along with three others, expressed no remorse in the interview and blamed the victim for being out at night and fighting back. The documentary “India’s daughter” was shown on BBC Four on 4 March and was scheduled to air on India’s NDTV on Women’s Day. But instead, it kicked up a storm and was banned in India following accusations of glorifying the rapist and creating an atmosphere of fear and tension. Clearly, the ban only drummed up publicity for the film in a way that was beyond the wildest imagination of any marketing executive and sparked a vigorous discussion on Twitter.

A renowned Indian journalist Shekhar Gupta noted on Twitter that 99.9% of those who are outraged at the BBC rape documentary are Indian men, not women.

Omar Abdullah, a former chief minister of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and a critic of the Modi government, said the documentary didn’t tarnish India but exposed some people’s attitudes toward women.

“In our culture, there is no place for a woman,” said one of the rapists’ lawyers. A shocking statement but how true is it? What is really the role of women in modern Indian society? The truth is that while India is one of the world’s fastest growing economies, many Indian women are still trapped in the dark ages. According to a 2012 poll, India is one of the worst countries to be a woman. Female foeticide, child marriage, dowry, domestic slavery and abuse top gender evils. And while in the last 20 years the growing economy has created opportunities for young women to work, female labour force participation in India is low and declining, as shown by the new OECD Economic Survey of India. According to the study, the reasons are complex and include cultural, social and religious barriers, safety concerns and poor infrastructure. But the survey clearly indicates that many women in India would like to work if conditions improved.

I recently travelled to India with OECD Chief Economist Catherine L Mann and two other senior female economists and experts on India. As we presented the survey in different Indian cities, wherever we went, we provoked surprise among our hosts and audience as a four-woman delegation. “Is that common?” people asked. “Not at all,” we responded frankly. “The gender gap remains an issue all around the world, including in the OECD countries.”

Raising female labour force participation can have substantial growth effects. It is estimated that if participation rates for women were to reach those of men by 2030, there would be a 12% increase in GDP across the OECD. In India, growth could raise by 1.5 to 2.4% per year as a result of a combination of pro-growth and pro-gender policies including public investment in infrastructure, safer and better transport, sanitation, health and, last but not least, education. If a household has access to water or electricity, a woman has more time available for outside work. For example, in South Africa electrification led to a large jump in female participation. Safety and availability of transport also impacts ability to go to work, or access markets. Electricity is reaching more and more households and businesses across India but the infrastructure, measured by the share of paved roads or access to water, must be improved.

There’s a saying that if we educate a girl, we educate a family – and a whole nation. Providing girls with education helps break the cycle of poverty: educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will, less likely to die in childbirth, more likely to have healthy babies, and more likely to send their children to school. Furthermore, greater gender equality in educational attainment has a strong positive effect on economic growth. In India, much progress has been made in the last decade to increase school enrolment of girls, especially at the primary level, but the gender gap persists. According to the Census of 2001-2011, the male literacy rate stands at 80.9%, which is 5.6 per cent higher than the previous census, while the female literacy rate is 64.6%, an increase of 10.9 per cent since 2001.

In the Economic Survey of India, the OECD provides a number of recommendations to enhance women’s economic participation including extending female quotas in state and national parliaments, modernising labour laws to ensure equal work opportunities for women, enhancing implementation of gender-related laws, and investing in public transport.

Asked about her opinion on the role of women in modern Indian society, a female Indian friend and a journalist gave a simple answer: “It’s a fight every day. Even for women in urban areas. And it is worse in villages. Women need to reclaim their rights.”

Happy Women’s Day!

Useful links

International Women’s Day events in India

India on the OECD iLibrary

OECD data on gender equality


Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now

International Women’s Day Competition: Can you spot the OECD delegation in the photo below?



Malthus wrong again says OECD

Agriculture Outlook 2014-2023Even if you know nothing about the French Revolution, you’ve probably heard of Marie-Antoinette’s reaction on being told the people had no bread: “Let them eat cake”. In fact, the infamous catch phrase was probably invented by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who attributes it to an unnamed princess in his Confessions, written before the 14 year-old Austrian princess even married the future Louis XVI. As far as the course of events went, it doesn’t matter whether she said it or not, since the people believed that it was the kind of thing she would say. The doomed monarchs could have learned a few lessons in the art of good government from the founder of the Bourbon dynasty. One goal of the reforms instigated by Henri IV, King of France from 1589 to 1610, was a chicken in every pot, on a Sunday at least. This slogan was to reappear in the United States in the 20th century, with “a car in every garage” tacked on to some versions.

Food riots are thing of the past in most OECD countries, but in 2007-08, various places around the world would see people taking to the streets as food prices rose suddenly in response to the interactions among a number of factors, including high oil prices forcing up production costs, drought in major producing areas, diversion of land to biofuels, and a very low level of stocks.

The food price crisis in 2008, the renewed price hikes in 2010, and depressingly regular reports since of people facing famine (the latest in South Sudan) have raised questions about whether agri-food markets could be relied on in future to deliver sufficient quantities of food at affordable prices. And not just in sensationalist media with their love of explosions in food prices and population growth. In 2009, Sir John Beddington, the UK’s chief scientist, warned of “Food, energy, water and the climate: a perfect storm of global events?

As we pointed out in this article, there have been predictions that the world will face mass starvation ever since Malthus published his famous essays on demography. As Malthus himself put it in An Essay on the principle of population: “The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race.”

And yet it hasn’t happened. The UK’s population for example doubled over 1750-1800 (the year in which Malthus published The present high price of provisions), and tripled over the next century. This demographic surge couldn’t have happened without the interaction of a number of elements. We often talk about the agricultural “revolution”, suggesting sudden overthrow of the old systems. But even in Britain, the initial changes to agricultural techniques and practices such as enclosing common land and introducing crop rotation were spread over centuries, and what accelerated the pace of change was interaction with the industrial revolution. Improved communications and storage and preservation techniques allowed producers to serve markets far from home. A well-functioning financial system provided capital. And a feedback loop was created whereby improved food supplies supported a bigger population that in turn provided labour for emerging industries and markets for farmers.

Likewise, when looking at the prospects for food production and consumption today, we have to look at the whole picture. The OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2014-2023 doesn’t expect a Malthusian crisis to materialise. The report argues that the world’s farmers and fishers will be able to satisfy demand over the next 10 years. Rising incomes, urbanisation and new eating habits will reinforce the transition to diets richer in protein, fats and sugar. . In real terms, prices are expected to fall (slightly) but remain higher than the historical lows seen in the early 2000s.

This year’s report has a special focus on India, the world’s second most populous country with the largest number of farmers and also the largest number of “food-insecure” people. The Outlook proposes a relatively optimistic scenario for India, with the expansion in the production and consumption of food both projected to continue, led in particular by higher value added sectors, even for staples, for instance consumers preferring basmati rice rather than inferior varieties.

At least two major issues still need to be addressed though.

First, any rise in food prices can affect the food security of the poor. An OECD working paper shows that developing countries with very different levels of economic development, population size and geographical location have succeeded in reducing poverty and improving nutrition. Despite the significant differences among them, they share some characteristics. During the period when they had the greatest success in reducing poverty, the macroeconomic context became progressively more favourable. Their own governments were lowering export taxes, reducing overvalued exchange rates and dismantling inefficient state interventions in agricultural markets. Meanwhile, the governments of rich country trading partners were reducing the kinds of support to their farmers that distorted production and trade the most.

Second, as argued by the OECD in Climate Change, Water and Agriculture that we featured last month, climate change poses challenges on a different scale from the variations that can affect crops and livestock during the course of a season or even a year or two. Future changes in the climate could have significant impacts on land use, commodity production, and where different activities are viable; and the implications of expanding food production for the natural resource base and climate change.

Useful links

OECD work on agriculture and fisheries

China: back to the future

Napoleon Bonaparte never visited China, but his reflections on its future role on the global stage have stood the test of time. “Let China sleep,” he wrote about 200 years ago, “for when she wakes, she will shake the world.” Ironically, back in Napoleon’s day China’s share of the global economy was far larger than it is today, according to the economic historian Angus Maddison. The chart is based on data from his monumental economic study of the second millennium, The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective, which was published by the OECD in 2001. In the early 19th century, China’s share of the economy stood at just under 33%, according to Maddison, but fell to 4-5% in the 1960s and 1970s before recovering to reach about 12% in 2000, the latest year this study provides. China’s global share has continued to rise since then, as more recent, albeit differently based, World Bank estimates indicate. But why the earlier long decline? Maddison splits the millennium into two parts – before 1820 and after… (more…)