G20 vision: Women’s development to Women-led development

In recent years, there has been a discernible shift in the discourse around ‘women’s empowerment’ – moving from “Let’s empower or develop women” to increasing interest in women-led development. This mindset shift recognises that true progress requires women not just as beneficiaries, but as active leaders and decision-makers in shaping their own destinies. At the G20 meeting held in September, India listed women-led development as one of its 6 priorities, putting it forth as a way to close the ‘wicked’ gender gap.

Women-led-development revolves around power redistribution and equal opportunities, spanning access to quality education and resources. Click To Tweet

In my work as Equity lead at Societal Thinking, I wonder how women-led development is different in practice. Is it the same wine in a new bottle or a radically different approach to inclusion? 

In my view women-led development:

Focuses on restoring the agency of women

One of the key takeaways from the G20 meeting was the unanimous recognition of the pivotal role of women as agents of change. Leaders from member countries emphasised the potential of women being able to take ownership of projects, programmes and decision-making – flipping their role from recipients to active participants. By actively participating in decision-making processes, women can ensure that initiatives align with their needs and aspirations. This, in turn, would mean women not only exercise agency today but also shape social, cultural and political trends of tomorrow to be more inclusive, especially for vulnerable communities. 

Recognises that diversity is not a problem but the solution

‘Empowerment’ is not a one-size-fits-all endeavour. Women’s lives are complex when we consider the economic, social, political, and cultural dimensions. Women occupy different places in society and, for a solution to work, it has to take into account all these different dimensions – it has to be intersectional and create an environment where all women can thrive – as life-givers, caregivers and important actors in the development of the next generation. 

In India, while the number of women graduating is steadily increasing, their labour force participation rate is dropping. This is because a lot of work environments are not conducive for women to work. If women are recognised as must-have participants (and not just good-to-have participants) in a country’s economic growth, work environments need to adapt to become more inclusive in a way that works for women from all walks of life. 

Identifies that diverse actors from Samaaj-Sarkaar-Bazaar (civil society, government and markets) need to come together to solve

Women-led development in small pockets is great, but for population-scale change, diverse actors need to come together to solve. At G20, India launched a digital inclusion platform for women called TechEquity. TechEquity is designed as an aggregator of learning and skill enhancement opportunities, with corporate and civil society partners. The platform is aimed at empowering women with the digital skills and knowledge that they need to thrive in today’s technology-driven world. Government, markets and civil society each play vital roles in setting and implementing the right policies and digital rails that can enable women to exercise their agency and realise their potential.

There are many transitions that are required to bring women-led development alive, from access to acceptance to assistance in education, health, livelihoods, behaviours etc. 

In my opinion, one of the most crucial transition areas is reshaping the care economy. For women, the care economy is both a burden (unrecognised and unpaid labour or undervalued work largely done by women) as well as a boon (299 million jobs to be added to the care economy by 2035). 

But there aren’t too many concrete models to understand care work, recognise care workers and solve the challenges they face as well as that of the women who are dependent on care support to participate in the labour force. It’s a sector that affects all women in the labour force, be it at the grassroots or at the highest levels of leadership. As Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, Chair of UNGA, says “The feminised care sector needs a radical overhaul”. 

I wonder what transitions in the care economy can restore the agency, dignity and choice of women. Do you know of models that have been able to change deep-seated cultural norms and power dynamics or create better opportunities and value for women in the care sector or build public infrastructure that could help the care sector scale? 

Zooming out even more, I wonder what will make sure that the gender gap in the labour market closes faster than the current outlook of 131 years to parity.

Image credits: Freepik

About the Author

Priya Ajmera

Chief Evangelist, Societal Platform