Saturday, May 17, 2014

Women's natural role overlooked in India

 By Abhismita Sen

"You can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its women," said Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India. The empowerment of women has emerged as a sine qua non of progress in recent times. [1]

The 2013 Report "The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World", released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), noted that India is ranked 136 among 186 countries in the UN's Human Development Index (HDI).

The related Gender Inequality Index ranked India at 132 and the Inequality Adjusted HDI rank was 91, as measured by this composite index of reproductive health, years of schooling, parliamentary representation, and participation in the labor market. [2]

The 2011 Human Development Report "Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All" offers important new contributions to the global dialogue on this challenge, showing how sustainability is inextricably linked to basic questions of equity - that is, of fairness and social justice and of greater access to a better quality of life.

Sustainability is not exclusively or even primarily an environmental issue, as the report so persuasively argues. It is fundamentally about how we choose to live our lives. There must be an awareness that everything this generation does has consequences for the 7 billion of us here today, as well as for the billions more who will follow, for centuries to come.

Major disparities in power shape these patterns. New analysis shows how power imbalances and gender inequalities at the national level are linked to reduced access to clean water and improved sanitation, land degradation and deaths due to indoor and outdoor air pollution, amplifying the effects associated with income disparities.

Gender inequalities also interact with environmental outcomes and make them worse. At the global level, governance arrangements often weaken the voices of developing countries and exclude marginalized groups.

Women in poor countries are disproportionately involved in subsistence farming and water collection, they face greater adverse consequences of environmental degradation. Many indigenous peoples also rely heavily on natural resources and live in ecosystems especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as small, island developing States, arctic regions and high altitudes.

According to a study by UNICEF, the principal collectors of water in an Indian household are women between the ages of 15 to 35 years collecting about 192 liters of water a day for an average household. [3]

Girls are more often adversely affected because they are more likely to combine resource collection and schooling. Access to clean water and improved sanitation is also especially important for girls' education, affording them health gains, time savings and privacy.

Historically, women's intimate knowledge of nature has helped to sustain life. With colonial intervention and capitalist development, production in traditional societies was disrupted. It resulted in a capitalist economy dominated by men in charge of production of exchange-commodities, while women were pushed increasingly into the domestic sphere, responsible mainly for reproducing the workforce and social relations. Under the capitalist system, reproduction is subordinate to production and the sustainability of nature is ignored.

Women have long been neglected in the process of development; a secondary role is usually assigned to them whether in taking part in crucial issues related to development as beneficiaries of the process itself. Women's participation in development is a positive concept, related to their ambitions and aspirations that symbolize their conviction about their personalities in relation to society.

An analysis of the past efforts at development of women only reflects discontent with respect to their status and position. A host of realities ranging from pervasive poverty to lack of dignity and economic independence become evident. Sustainable development therefore directly reinforces permeation of quality in developmental efforts related to women, with pronounced concern for justice, equality and economic freedom for women.

The Gender Inequality Index (GII), updated this year for 145 countries, shows how reproductive health constraints contribute to gender inequality. [4] This is important because in countries where effective control of reproduction is universal, women have fewer children, with attendant gains for maternal and child health and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

For instance, in Cuba, Mauritius, Thailand and Tunisia, where reproductive healthcare and contraceptives are readily available, fertility rates are below two births per woman. However, substantial unmet need persists worldwide, and evidence suggests that if all women could exercise reproductive choice, population growth would slow enough to bring greenhouse gas emissions below current levels.

The GII also focuses on women's participation in political decision-making, highlighting that women lag behind men across the world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the Arab States. This has important implications for sustainability and equity. Because women often shoulder the heaviest burden of resource collection and are the most exposed to indoor air pollution, they are often more affected than men by decisions related to natural resources. Recent studies reveal that not only is women's participation important but also how they participate - and how much.

In addition, because women often show more concern for the environment, support pro-environmental policies and vote for pro-environmental leaders, their greater involvement in politics and in non-governmental organizations could result in environmental gains, with multiplier effects across all the Millennium Development Goals.

These arguments are not new, but they reaffirm the value of expanding women's effective freedoms. Thus, women's participation in decision-making has both intrinsic value and instrumental importance in addressing equity and environmental degradation.

The government of India had floated zealously its grand ideas for the country by declaring the year 2001 as Women's Empowerment Year, with a focus on achieving the "vision in the new century of a nation where women are equal partners with men".

What followed was a spate of programs and schemes with fine names: Swashakti and Stree Shakti for women's empowerment; Swayam Siddha to benefit nearly 100,000 women through microcredit programs, Balika Samrudhi Yojana for the girl child and a number of other projects, doubtlessly launched with the intention of creating a greater common good. [5]

In contrast to the tragedies of communities affected by drought, flood or civil conflict, the poverty, powerlessness and ill health which accompany illiteracy are not easily captured on the camera and brought to the attention of international public opinion. Today, 125 million primary school age children are not in school in India; most of them are girls. [6]

The current literacy rate for women in India stands at 65.46%, compared to 80% for males. Efforts are, however, being made to raise standards for the girl child. There are several programs being undertaken. [7]

Women are the major contributors in terms of economic output, but their contribution still remains invisible. Men and women are not equally distributed across the types of work.

Women are concentrated in the primary sector and in unskilled and marginal work. Ninety-five percent of women, as against 89% men, are engaged in un-organized sectors, and most are found in rural areas. According to the 2001 census, there are 90 million women in the workforce. [8]

Industries that employ more women than men include domestic services, beedi (traditional cigarette) manufacturing, and spinning and weaving. Women also constitute a majority of the workforce employed as nurses, ayahs (domestic servants), paramedics and technical workers. Their contribution goes unnoticed as most of the times they are involved as unpaid or home-based workers, who often get counted as non-working housewives.

In her paper on land laws and gender equity, Professor Bina

Aggarwal points out that women are much more dependent on agricultural livelihoods. Over the years, while the male workers have been moving to non-agricultural arenas, women have remained where they were, owing to their lower mobility, lower education and fewer assets.

She notes, "Firstly there is systematic bias against the women and female children's sharing of benefits from the male controlled resources - women without independent resources are highly vulnerable to poverty and destitution in case of divorce or widowhood. They often need titles to avail credit facilities." [9]

Eco-feminist movements have been formed in India with a view to creating a social movement where women contributed towards protecting the environment. The Chipko movement in the Himalayas in the 1970s, in which village women hugged the trees to protect them from being felled, gave a new meaning and momentum to environmental activism in the country. In other parts of the world too, women have taken an inspiring lead in protecting the environment, such as Wangari Maathai in Kenya, Rigoberta Menchu in Guatemala and Marina Silva in Brazil, to name just a few.

Sadly, while Chipko received wide media attention at the time, the so-called eco-feminist movement slowly but surely died away.

Women and the environment are mankind's greatest assets.It is time we worked towards the well being of both. The state of the environment impacts everyone. However, initiatives take on a different connotation if aimed at women in urban India as opposed to rural Indian women. To be successful, programs must be sensitive to varied cultural, complex, physical, and sociological differences.

Women, in order to be effective managers, must have secure rights to land and other natural resources and access to credit and training. There must be full integration in the selection and development of technologies applied to communities, full participation in the design and implementation of training and involvement in businesses that promote sustainable production. Research must be conducted on macro effects on micro conditions for women.

Institutions must involve women at national and grassroots levels. If urbanization is the world's future, we must design urban environments and services in ways that will give women greater security, and educate and involve citizens in this cause. A Commonwealth initiative bringing together our great cities to collaborate on this issue would be timely. Under the UNDP, Self Help Groups (SHGs) have been constituted.

Efforts must be made to generate awareness about renewable resources. Government ministries can do a lot if the people of a certain area contact their local representatives and together work out a solution. The political process can create momentum if the SHGs establish links with local-self government bodies.

In fact, 10,000 SHG members were elected to the local bodies in 1997 elections. [10] An increase in awareness levels about society led to laying roads, planting trees, conserving environment, construction of water harvesting structures, donations to the victims of natural calamities, campaign against eradication of social evils like forced marriages. All we can hope for in the present context is a better future for womenfolk across the globe and an increased sense of awareness at all levels.

1. Balakrishnan Lalita, All India Women's Conference, Women self help groups.
2. Klugman Jeni, United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 2011, Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All.
3. Kulkarni Seema, Gender and Irrigation in South Asia; Including women in water management
4. Klugman Jeni, see note 2 above
5. Ram Raghu, Competition Master, Women Empowerment
6. Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Census 2011
7. Ibid
8. Ibid
9. Agarwal Bina, The Hindu, Landmark step to gender equality, September 2, 2009.
10. Wilson Kim, EDA Rural Systems, Self Help Groups in India: A study of the lights and shades, 2006

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.

Abhismita Sen is a post-graduate student of the Jadavpur University-Department of International Relations. Abhismita is in the process of starting a student oriented online policy magazine, the Global Strategic Digest. You can learn more about it at or by logging in here.

India’s First 10 CSR Thought Leaders Felicitated at Coffee for Cause

 CauseBecause Bureau May 5, 2014
For the first time in India, 10 CSR Thought Leaders from India’s corporate houses and institutions were felicitated at ‘Coffee For Cause: Conversations around CSR’, which took place on 3 May 2014 at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.

The leaders were felicitated for their distinguished service in the responsibility and sustainability domain. The felicitations were done by Mr BS Bonal, member secretary, Central Zoo Authority (CZA), Ministry of Environment & Forests.
While there are many award platforms for corporate groups, there has been none to recognize efforts of individuals who have dedicated their careers to the CSR domain. Keeping this in view, CauseBecause, a social enterprise focused on sustainability, conceptualized and organized Coffee For Cause.
Mrs Rajashree Birla, chairperson of The Aditya Birla Centre for Community Initiatives and Rural Development at Aditya Birla Management, congratulated the 10 Thought Leaders and appreciated the efforts of Team CauseBecause in seeing this unique event through. Mrs Birla is also director on the Board of all the major Aditya Birla Group of Companies including Grasim, Hindalco, Aditya Birla Nuvo and UltraTech Cement, and heads of CSR from all these companies attended Coffee For Cause.

The felicitated Thought Leaders included:

Dr Pragnya Ram, group executive president, corporate communication and CSR, Aditya Birla Group (Mr Tej Bahadur Mathur, GM - CSR at Hindalco, receiving the memento on her behalf)

Lt Gen. Rajender Singh, CEO, DLF Foundation

Brigadier Rajiv Williams, corporate head, CSR, Jindal Stainless Limited

Ms Vikas Goswami, group head - community relations, Vedanta Resources Plc

Colonel Prakash Tewari, head CSR, Jindal Steel and Power Limited

Ms Madhu Singh Sirohi, country head, Vodafone Foundation

Ms Sushama OZA, CEO, Adani Foundation

Prof. Girish Agrawal, Coordinator, Center for Social Entrepreneurship and Enterprises, faculty Group member, Center for RI & CSR, IRMA

Mr Rishi Pathania,  head CSR, UPL Ltd

Dr KK Upadhya, head CSR - FICCI
The event also witnessed leaders from over 40 NGOs presenting on stage their social programmes to these thought leaders. The presentations by the NGOs were made in a unique format wherein they had three minutes each to talk about their project/idea, its scalability prospects as well as their expectations from the corporate groups.
Interestingly, many programmes by NGOs were appreciated by the corporate leaders and will be taken forward for the second level of talks.

Kumar Mangalam Birla: Focus is the Key to the Development Narrative

To manage the tough times ahead, the development narrative in the coming years has to be centred around job creation, price stability, sustainable livelihoods, fiscal prudence and manufacturing resurgence
Kumar Mangalam Birla: Focus is the Key to the Development Narrative
Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman, Aditya Birla Group heads India’s third largest business conglomerate with revenues of over $40 billion and operations spread across several countries. He is also the chancellor of the Birla Institute of Technology & Science
India is completing the largest democratic exercise in the world, or indeed in history. More than 800 million voters elect their representatives to Parliament, and to a new government for the 16th time since 1952. This historic transition of political power is largely peaceful, and testimony to the resilience of democratic processes of the nation. This is also a milestone year as the World Bank has confirmed that India is now the third-largest economy in the world, measured in international dollars adjusted for purchasing power. Its rank has jumped up seven places in the last 10 years.

India is home to 18 percent of humanity, and contributes about 6 percent of global GDP. Due to its demography, it will remain one of the youngest nations in the world for decades to come. The youth of India represents ambition, aspiration, creativity, skills, and also a growing challenge of creating livelihoods. The world has been moving at a slower pace since the financial crisis of 2008. Asia’s traditional export engine too has slowed down, putting a question mark on whether an export-led growth strategy will succeed. Countries in Asia will henceforth need to look at boosting domestic consumption to drive growth. India’s economic growth also slowed down to below 5 percent in the recent past.

In a global environment of continued slowdown, volatile prices and currencies and investment uncertainty, India’s new government will face enormous challenges. We need to quickly move back to a higher growth rate, contain inflationary forces, upscale infrastructure and focus on massive job creation. All this is to be achieved in a democratic framework and within the limits of fiscal sustainability.

The incoming government would do well to categorise its priorities into two buckets, of short- and medium-term. The former could be translated into a 100-day programme, and the latter could spell out a five-year strategic vision and action plan. All priorities should be governed by the principles of innovation, efficiency, inclusiveness and sustainability.

Innovation is the very basis of all growth and development. Efficiency implies frugality in the use of resources, minimisation of costs, and optimality in assigning resources to requirements.

Inclusiveness means aiming for the benefit of the maximum number of people. It also means special attention is given to those who are underprivileged in society.  Finally, sustainability requires that India’s development path is such that it does not deplete resources to the extent that future generations become vulnerable. It means consciously choosing a growth path that is less energy-intensive, and more conservation-oriented.

Five focus areas
Any economy of a billion people will obviously face a multitude of challenges. In the case of India, the following five broad areas need greater focus and priority from the new government: (a) Food and agriculture; (b) manufacturing and skill building; (c) fiscal consolidation; (d) financial deepening; and (e) sustainable growth.

Food inflation has been high in the past few years. This is unprecedented, and its causes could be external as well as internal. Inflation was particularly persistent in protein items like milk, eggs and pulses. This was probably because of higher demand, due to changing consumption patterns. It was also due to stagnant supply growth. Pervasive food inflation also reflected demand supply imbalance and supply chain inefficiencies. Hence it is imperative to increase agriculture and food supply rapidly, with a combination of increased farm productivity, reduced cultivation risk to the farmer, better transportation and logistics, reduced supply chain inefficiency, and removal of unnecessary regulatory shackles. There is a great deal of disintermediation possible in the links between farmers and the end consumers.

Socially responsible stocks can bolster the CSR law

Socially responsible stocks can bolster the CSR law

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is the most talked about topic these days, especially after the enactment of the Companies Act 2013. According to the Act, any company with net worth of Rs. 500 crore or more, or a turnover of Rs. 1,000 crore or more or a net profit of Rs. 5 crore or more during any financial year will have to constitute a CSR committee and ensure that it spends at least 2% of the average net profits of the company made during the three preceding financial years, in every financial year, in pursuance of its CSR policy. In the case of failure to do so, it must report the necessary reasons for not spending the same in the Board’s report. This, according to reports, will release Rs. 18,000 crore to Rs. 20,000 crore for social welfare activities.

However, the enforcement aspect of such a regulation is a concern; whether such an amount will be spent on social welfare or companies will find out ways of escaping such a responsibility. So is there a better way to make companies socially accountable and enforce CSR principles? We think it’s possible by using Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) because companies understand the language of stock markets. Put simply, SRI implies that while making investment decision, investors must consider the social and environmental performance and not just the financial performance of a company. A socially responsible investor invests in socially responsible companies and penalises irresponsible companies by not demanding its shares. Unless the investors turn socially responsible, CSR principles cannot be enforced in practice. The main concern of SRI is whether investment in socially responsible stocks provides significantly lower returns than other stocks. Our recent research shows that there is no penalty for investing in socially responsible companies in the Indian stock market. Mutual funds and other investment funds should launch schemes that invest in socially responsible stocks, to provide the outreach of SRI even to small investors in India. This way, CSR principles can be enforced in an effective way, in the language companies understand. Vanita Tripathi is assistant professor and Varun Bhandari is research scholar, Department of Commerce, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi

CSR : Help others, not yourself

CSR: Help others, not yourself

Tina Edwin       Last Updated: May 6, 2014  | 15:48 IST

CSR: Help others, not yourself   
Tina Edwin
Hindustan Unilever (HUL) spends a lot of resources in rural India educating villagers about the need for good hygiene practices. Taken at face value, this is one of the projects that qualify as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activity.

But the CSR rules of the Companies Act 2013 will not allow HUL to treat such community outreach activities as CSR. It will be treated as an activity undertaken in the normal course of business. That's because, HUL will derive direct benefit from this activity - demand for its toiletries and detergents will grow among the targeted communities. The Indian subsidiary of the Anglo-Dutch FMCG major will have to book all such expenses as business promotion expenditure.

Its Project Shakti, a programme that combines social responsibility, sustainability and business strategy, too will not qualify as a CSR activity, even in part, because CSR rules do not allow shared value propositions.

Like HUL, many India companies across industries have activities that combine sustainability with business strategy - and none of them can treat a part of the spending on such activities as CSR expense. Companies have another little bother to deal with - CSR activities carried out by a department within the company will not qualify as CSR activity under the Companies Act.

This is because the Rules accompanying the Companies Act, 2013 say that CSR activities must be undertaken by a separate entity - it could be trust, a society or another company set up specifically for the purpose. It is not necessary that these trusts, societies and companies should be set up by the company on its own - companies can work with an existing independent one that has a three-year track record for carrying out such activities. Companies can also collaborate with other companies for a joint CSR programme - provided each can identify and report separately their part of the joint activity and what was achieved.

Effectively, the new Act and its Rules make it necessary for companies to spin off CSR activities that are currently carried out internally into a separate entity registered as a trust or a society or a not for profit company.

What qualifies as CSR activityThe Companies Act lists out all 10 sets of activities that qualify as CSR activities. Most of the listed activities are not foreign to companies - much of their work in CSR is among the 10 specified. For instance, contribution to environmental sustainability is an activity many big Indian companies showcase. Others are known to work in the areas of education, particularly female literacy.
Besides these, projects identified in the Rules include eradicating hunger and poverty, promoting education and employment enhancing vocational skills, protection of national heritage, art and culture and contributing to the Prime Minister's National Relief Funds. Promoting gender equality, empowering women, rural development, funding or contributing to technology incubators within approved academic institutions and promoting all kinds of sports also qualify as CSR activity.
While this is a longer list than the one originally written into the Act that went through Parliament, companies need not limit themselves to the ones listed - though there is a little confusion on that due to the wording of the Act.

What is clearly not CSR
Any contribution directly or indirectly to political parties will not be counted as CSR expenditure - it will be treated as political funding. Any activity or project that benefits only the employees of a company and their families too will not count as CSR. The first condition is a welcome step as it lowers, although it may not eliminate, opportunities for politicians to arm twist companies to support specific projects where they have a vested interest. The second condition may prove restrictive in new areas of development where at least one member of a family is employed by the company - if the employment was part of a compensation settlement with a village for land acquired or leased from farmers.

Who needs to have a CSR policyIt is mandatory for any company operating in India, including branches and project offices of foreign companies as well as unlisted Indian companies, with net worth of Rs 500 crore or more, or turnover of Rs 1,000 crore or more or a net profit of Rs 5 crore or more in any financial year to have a CSR policy. Its CSR policy is to be decided by a committee of the board, which will also identify projects and monitor their implementation. In doing so, companies have to give preference to local areas and areas where its business operates. While there is nothing wrong with that stipulation, there could be a concentration of CSR projects in certain pockets such as industrial belts and clusters, special economic zones and some towns and cities, while many areas that require a lot of intervention may get ignored.
All these companies are required to set aside two per cent of their average net profit of the preceding three years for CSR activities and ensure that they spend that money. Any failure to spend the funds has to be adequately explained by the board in its report. There is as yet no penalty for failure to spend or  for falling short of target. The government is relying on peer pressure and companies' own need to be seen as caring to ensure the spending happens.

Areas of concern

Many see the mandatory spending as an additional tax of two per cent on corporate profits, as the Income Tax Act does not yet allow the spending as a deduction from profit. If the CSR expenditure is a deduction, net profit will be lower and so would be the income tax that companies pay on their net earnings. It remains to be seen if the new government formed after May 16 will amend the Income Tax Act to allow that deduction.

Another area of concern is for branches and project offices of foreign companies. CSR spending could run into Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) and Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) red-tape. Under FCRA rules, NGOs receiving contributions from foreign entities - branches and project offices are not Indian companies - need to get approvals from the home ministry.  Under FEMA, branch offices and project offices can take up eight kinds of activities and CSR is not among them. FDI is not allowed in companies set up as not for profit. But income generated from FDI is also treated as FDI and therefore any contribution from profits to CSR activities could be viewed as routing FDI into CSR.

Foreign banks face another set of problem. A Reserve Bank of India circular of 2005 allows foreign banks to contribute up to one per cent of their profit of the previous year to non-profits and charity. The question remains whether these banks should comply with the RBI circular or the Companies Act.

Sharing responsibilityIndia is the first country to legislate mandatory CSR spending for companies. But India is not the first to go down that path. Denmark and the United Kingdom issued directives in 2002 and 2006, respectively, asking companies to spend on sustainable development. India may have merely followed them.

Indian companies may grudgingly follow the government directive, but the world is watching India's attempt to share what is widely seen as perceived as state responsibility with the private sector and possibly replicate India's experience. For India companies, it is also an opportunity to deploy their organizational and managerial capacity to play a significant role in activities where government has failed to deliver. Dividends would follow in terms of a healthier nation, a better educated and trained work force,  larger markets for its goods and services and more importantly, in building of a caring corporate brand.