The Cabinet’s approval of the expansion of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP) scheme to include all 640 districts of the country is a positive step in the right direction. The Central Governments’ commitment to improving the status of women and girls in the country is also evident from the proposed outlay of Rs. 1132 crores that has been approved for the expansion of the scheme up to 2020.
The shared efforts of the three ministries – Women and Child Development, Health and Family Welfare, and Human Resource Development – are focused on improving indicators of development like child sex ratio, education of the girl child, and ensuring equal opportunity for girls. India can never achieve its true potential until our girls and women are empowered. The BBBP scheme, bolstered by the Prime Minister’s commitment and convergence of resources and efforts of the ministries, recognised these gaps and tried to provide a systematic and comprehensive strategy to change attitudes.
While statistics for some areas may indicate improvements, the Global Gender Gap Report for 2017 by the World Economic Forum released earlier this month is a sobering document. It reports India has fallen by 21 spots and is at the 108th rank. “India experiences a decline in its overall Global Gender Gap Index ranking, largely attributable to a widening of its gender gaps in Political Empowerment as well as in healthy life expectancy and basic literacy. India ranks fourth-lowest in the world on Health and Survival, remaining the world's least improved country on this sub-index over the past decade."
There is still much work to be done. The intent must be matched by early action and ensuring that the budgets are spent effectively. Given the political commitment, we hope this will not be like many other schemes that are rolled out as a goal in itself with huge unspent budgets. We need continuous, sustained efforts to change social norms and attitudes that ensure preference for the male child and turn a blind eye to discrimination and sex-selective practices. While the government is on the right track, we need continuous monitoring and an independent review of the scheme for future course correction.