Gender and Growth Gaps in South Asia – Research and Policy Workshop
Date: Thursday, August 3, 2023
Co-organisers: Inclusion Economics India Centre at the Institute for Financial Management and Research, Yale Economic Growth Center, Yale Inclusion Economics, the Udaiti Foundation, the Asian Development Bank Institute, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Location: Infosys Science Foundation, No. 2, 2nd Block, 14th Cross Road, Jayanagar East (Ward 153), Bengaluru- 560 011, Karnataka, India
Recent research has built on earlier analyses of women’s participation in economic development, to yield nuanced empirical insights on the interplay of institutional features and economic growth processes impacting women’s participation in the workforce and their overall economic well-being. These observations are particularly pertinent in the context of South Asia, which has some of the lowest women’s labor force participation rates globally, alongside important variations in gendered labor market dynamics across countries in the region.
Inclusion Economics India Centre (IEIC) at the Institute for Financial Management and Research (IFMR) is organizing an in-person research and policy workshop on August 3, 2023 in Bengaluru, in collaboration with the Economic Growth Center (EGC) and Inclusion Economics at Yale University, the Udaiti Foundation, the Asian Development Bank Institute and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). The workshop will be held at the Infosys Science Foundation and aims to address the current policy needs through research insights concerning gender gaps in the economy, specifically in the context of South Asia.
The workshop in Bengaluru will consist of three panel discussions, a keynote address and working sessions and is open to anyone working in and interested in facilitating inclusive policy making and programming. Policymakers, civil society and researchers will participate in facilitated discussions on the drivers and implications of gender inequality in the economy and how policy can address this.
Speakers at the workshop include Rohini Pande (Yale University), Renana Jhabvala (SEWA Bharat), Ashwini Deshpande (Ashoka University), Priyank Kharge (Government of Karnataka), R Prasana (Government of Chhattisgarh), Rosa Abraham (Azim Premji University), Gaurav Chiplunkar (University of Virginia), and Dr. Kajal, IAS (Government of India).
Policymakers, researchers and civil society members converge to discuss building resilience through safety nets
Inclusion Economics India Centre (IEIC) at IFMR, in collaboration with JEEViKA, a rural livelihoods initiative of the Government of Bihar, held a roundtable discussion in Patna on ‘Building Resilience Using Effective Safety Nets’ on 9th May, 2023. The roundtable was an opportunity to share insights with, and promote discussion between, policymakers, academics, and stakeholders working to expand economic opportunity in Bihar. Over 40 people from 17 organisations joined us in an insightful conversation. They specifically spoke about the evidence and nature of collaboration that is needed to design and deliver effective safety nets in the face of increasing and complex crises.
The presentation focussed several key questions.
The Changing nature of shocks and promoting community resilience through data and collaboration
Charity Troyer Moore, Scientific Director, Inclusion Economics at Yale University spoke about the many compounding shocks that Bihar has faced in recent years, including Covid-19 and the return of migrants from major cities across the country and floods.
Many of India’s policy investments made before Covid-19 have helped India support its vulnerable citizens through has become a global leader in shock response, having invested deeply in social protection infrastructure. For example, there were direct benefit transfers to the Aadhar-linked accounts of 98 crore households, opened under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, and the MGNREGS absorbed an increase in employment demand, illustrate the magnitude of India’s social protection programming. Bihar has designed a variety of initiatives that support the vulnerable to prepare for, and respond to, shocks – including the Jal -Jeevan-Hariyali Abhiyan, which provides rural work through plantations; construction of pucca households; and establishment of Self Help Groups, where crores of women make their voices heard.
As Bihar continues to experience economic growth and expand its social protection programmes, how can we design safety nets that could offset future economic and social shocks?
Based on IEIC’s research studies in Bihar and other states across India, Moore presented four insights into design and implementation of inclusive safety nets that could aid in preparing for future shocks:
1.Inequities in social protection access needs to be addressed prior to the crisis:
Evidence shows that directing women’s MGNREGA wages to their own bank accounts, complemented with basic financial literacy training, increases work force participation and increased earnings, this held true for the most vulnerable women, even during the Covid-19 pandemic.
2.Vulnerable people need to be recognised and considered while designing policy:
The ‘Invisible Vulnerable’ are those individuals whose vulnerability is not seen in available data, that is often documented only at the household level. There is a need to understand who the ‘invisibly vulnerable’ actually are in order to develop targeted and intentional programming.
3.Real-time data can inform decision making during crises:
In 2020, IEIC collected data to understand returned migrants’ demand for MGNREGA work; it led officers to increase MGNREGA work in locations where officers had just been transferred.
4.‘Optimal’ data best supports government officials:
IEIC’s work with a mobile application that automates wage payments in Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand has shown significant improvements in payment delays, increased the number of person-days worked and reduced rejected payments.
How did the audience engage with these insights?
The audience showed a keen interest in bridging existing information asymmetries between the heads of the Panchayati Raj Institutions and the communities they serve, leveraging data from studies done by IEIC and other research organisations. Throughout this discussion, several key themes emerged:
Understanding the pathways to MGNREGA participation is key
Attitudes towards MGNREGA vary across communities, with some households reluctant to take up manual work and some others eligible for MGNREGA work, but employed with the private sector. Ensuring that IEIC’s data captures this information will help to shape policy responses.
Need for gender-disaggregated and individual-level data across key indicators
To gain better visibility into individual vulnerabilities, intra-household poverty needs to be better captured in surveys. Re-evaluating the level at which we ask questions, ensuring that data is gender-disaggregated, and capturing other lines along which vulnerabilities are formed – such as disability – will produce more informative data for addressing inequity in social protection programming.
Need to include adaptation to weather events in portfolio
A key function of safety nets is to protect against shocks, and there is strong demand to expand programming and evidence generation into other types of climate shocks. While IEIC currently has focused on flood alerts, policymakers felt that including drought alerts could also be an important extension benefiting many citizens, especially farmers. There was a demand to study post-disaster government assistance and its effect on marginalised communities.
Reducing opaqueness of data
Policymakers mentioned that while data was supposed to lead to transparency and aid prioritisation for government officials, who often juggle implementation of multiple programs, it has somehow made the system more opaque. There is a need to strengthen the bridge between academic research and policymaking, to transfer high-level insights into actionable policy recommendations with fewer and targeted indicators to support decision making across departments. This may help develop an overall ecosystem fluent in data, so that all levels across government could be proficient in using data in their work.
Inter-sectoral coordination is key to build effective safety nets
Officials pointed out that there are multiple government departments involved in building safety nets at a household level. While households might associate safety nets with ‘the government’, it was observed that coordination across a variety of stakeholders and convergence on priorities is critical for effective and widespread service delivery.
Prioritising and consolidating insights to aid decision making
In programs with complex programs and a wide variety of indicators – like MGNREGS, which has approximately 150 indicators – systematically organising insights and degree of potential impact will allow for policymakers and programme administrators to effectively prioritise their decisions.
The goal of bringing voices from across levels of Government administration and civil society was to drive a culture of evidence to equip both policymakers and administrators in Bihar. Continuous dialogue and strategic communication of insights with various Government departments will continue to be a central part of IEIC’s work in building an ecosystem of resilience and strength and advancing inclusive governance in the state.
Policymakers, researchers and civil society members meet in Raipur to discuss how to improve women’s wellbeing and empowerment through policy-engaged research and programming
The Inclusion Economics India Centre (IEIC) at IFMR, in collaboration with the Government of Chhattisgarh, held a roundtable discussion on ‘Women’s empowerment and wellbeing – A Policy-engaged Research Perspective’ at the State Secretariat, Mantralaya, in Raipur on 13th December, 2022. The roundtable was a part of IEIC’s mission to have dialogues with policy makers based on evidence from recent studies.
Since 2017 IEIC has been doing research in multiple districts in Chattisgarh to understand the drivers of women’s engagement with mobile phones. Conversations with policymakers in Chhattisgarh and other stakeholders in the region has been crucial, and has been key to ensure we create actionable and useful insights for policy making.
What do we know about women’s access to and use of mobile phones in Chhattisgarh?
Mobile internet use among men was a little above 25% and a little below 10% among women (GSMA 2018). There is clearly a gender gap. We wanted to investigate if digital literacy training could help more women access the internet and relax norms around phone usage for women .. We conducted digital training camps on basic phone usage for women aged 18-45 years across 180 villages in Chhattisgarh. IEIC affiliated researchers conducted a randomised control trial to understand the causal effect of such a training. Six months after the training, women’s attitudes towards female phone usage were less restrictive among those who received training. An increase in phone usage by women was also observed. Overall, results indicated that training helped to close the gender gap in phone ownership and showed increased social connectedness and improved mental health.
Mor Awaaz programme
Following these training camps, over 10,000 women from rural Raipur district were enrolled in the Mor Awaaz programme, launched by the government of Chhattisgarh. Women were sent weekly recorded calls that shared information on health and nutrition practices and government welfare schemes IEIC’s research found this led to a 11 percentage point increase in women’s knowledge about JSY amount from a 29 percentage base. Further, there was an 8 percentage point increase in utilisation of the scheme (but not statistically significant) in the group that received the messages.
Engaging policymakers to enable women empowerment
This roundtable was a significant step in engaging with the Chhattisgarh state government. With IEIC’s work in the state falling under the purview of multiple state departments, the roundtable was an opportunity to communicate with various ministries on a single platform. Shri. R Prasana, Secretary, Department of Panchayat and Rural Development, Government of Chhattisgarh, chaired the round table, and underscored the importance of research collaborations that inform policy making and noted IEIC’s commitment to, and initiative in, engaging with the Government. Dr Rohini Pande, Professor of Economics and Director of the Economic Growth Center, Yale University and Harsh Jaiswal, Research Manager, IEIC presented research findings from Inclusion Economics’ research work in the state related to mobile phone use and women’s empowerment and well-being.
The 3-hour roundtable was attended by senior officials from the Government of Chhattisgarh including Shri. Rajesh Singhi, Joint Director of the Women and Child Development Ministry, Ms. Kartikeya Goyal, Director of Panchayat, Shri Bhoskar Vilas Sandeepan, MD of National Health Mission and Ms. Alice Lakhra, Chief Operating Officer of the National Rural Livelihoods Mission. In addition, academicians from Hidayutallah National Law University, and professionals from civil society organisations, such as Transforming Rural India Foundation and Indus Action, who work in the area of women empowerment in Chhattisgarh also attended.
How did policy makers engage with the insights
Government stakeholders were interested in understanding how they could apply features of the training in digital literacy to other government training across the state. Kartikeya Gopal, Director of Panchayat, was interested in taking some of the insights that surfaced in the roundtable discussions to government training programmes at the district and block levels as well. The Ministry is interested in training beneficiaries on using mobile phones to access other government schemes, and would like to glean insights from Inclusion Economics’ experience on digital literacy trainings. In addition, they were intrigued by the participation of women in the training and the programme and were eager for Inclusion Economics to share the methods used in facilitating women’s participation.
Officials also expressed a desire for the weekly recorded calls to be translated to languages other than Chhattisgarhi, to broaden reach of these messages across states