HART works on human rights issues that often go overlooked. In relation to HART’s work in India, why can traditions be inhibitive to the economic empowerment of women and Sustainable Development Goals 5 and 1?

26 April 2017

Jenny Raw Junior Essay Entry – 2nd Prize

‘The strength, industry and wisdom of women remain humanity’s greatest untapped resource. We simply cannot afford to wait another 100 years to unlock this potential’

Michelle Bachelet, first executive Director of UN Women1 ‘Leaving no one behind’ typifies the most salient aim of Sustainable Development Goal 1; to identify consistently marginalised groups, such as women and provide them with access to aid –essential to such a democratic, yet hierarchical society as India’s. Whilst the Millennium Development Goals successfully reduced extreme poverty rates by half2, Ban-ki Moon commented that progress “tends to bypass women and those who are lowest on the economic ladder”3. Therefore, crucial to the eradication of extreme poverty by 2030 is the empowerment of women; which should be both a moral imperative and a basis of the SDGs, since the successes of Goal 5 are multi-faceted. Hence, since women constitute 70% of those living on $2 a day internationally4, the success of SDG 1 is dependent on changed attitudes to women and consequentially more conducive environments to gender parity. Compassionate yet channelled work for SDG 1 is, therefore, the nucleus of HART’s unique combination of aid and advocacy.

A seminal barrier to SDG 1 is traditional communities which refute occidental notions of their own poverty and which advocate harmful practices, often directed at women, justifying them as ‘cultural’. Whilst poverty rates in India have decreased from 31.1% in 2009 to 21.2% in 20115, caste differences, though illegal, persist to be inhibitive to the eradication of poverty, since hierarchical constraints constitute quasi-intangibly forceful barriers to female empowerment. Traditions form the nucleus of many Indian societies, supposedly aiming to enhance social cohesion and celebrate the life cycle, the reality often validates the victimisation of the girl child. Whilst in 1996, 1 in 6

Indian deaths were caused by gender based issues6, 2017 reports find that 50 million girls are missing from India’s population due to gendercide7 and whilst the economic liberalisation of the 1990s spurred economic growth in India8, in 2015, there were 2000 victims of female infanticide each day9. Thus, concessions for cultural empathy often result in loopholes in policy. Much as attempts at the multilateral eradication of poverty are contentious since poverty is often celebrated as a richness of tradition10, the assumption that economic growth is desirable is not

affirmed11, thus, whilst Goal 1 relies upon the empowerment of women, Goal 5 is not consistently ratified. Therefore, HART’s work at the confluence of aid and advocacy helps CEDAW to be fully realised. Pseudo-cultural practices are recognised as being inhibitive to UNESCO’s definition of poverty, signifying the ‘empowerment’ and ‘capability’, not solely economic, perspective12. Therefore, women suffer the poverty of a lack of empowerment, perpetuating notions of their own enforced inferiority, galvanising the persistence of practises such as the Devadasi System, which, though prohibited in 1947, persists with 80,000 Devadasis in 201613. Whilst views on prostitution, as an exercise of free choice, or the antithesis of female emancipation, polarise the feminist movement – the Devadasi system is a mechanism for the continued subjugation of women, under the guise of their deification. Therefore, 1 in

4 pre-pubescent girls die in India14, some of which partake in the Devadasi system.

HART’s work is essential to continue the debunking of ideologies which contribute to a misogynistic mentality, which has physical manifestations which contravenes Goal 5.2, 5.3 and Goals 1.1 and 1.4.

Furthermore, Goal 1.4 demands the representation of women in academia, yet cultural ideologies inhibit women’s progress in STEM subjects. The World Bank suggested that women in India often feel that internet use is not considered appropriate for them15, epitomising the Indian paradigm of womanhood which explains why 18-34% of married women continue working after marriage in Delhi16.

However, whilst this ideology could be dismissed as innocuously cultural, the 900 complaints of denial of maternity benefits in 2008-201217 suggest that these ideologies cripple latent possibility for empowerment. Furthermore, countries that invest in science and technology sectors will reduce income inequality, alleviate extreme poverty and improve national health18, yet in 2015-2016, 80.1% of Indian immigrants in the US studied STEM subjects19, demonstrating that women are an untapped economic ‘resource’20. Therefore, whilst STEM in India has been depicted as a necessary balancing act with alleviating poverty21, HART’s work, focusing on the roots of the empowerment of women through advocacy, is essential to further the long-term employment of women in better work, which satisfies Goal 1.4.

To conclude, the multi-faceted benefits of the economic empowerment of women through SDG 5 should seek to strike a balance between compassionate cultural empathy and the recognition of inherently harmful practices. Thus, the SDG’s philosophy of ‘Leaving No One Behind’, the epitome of HART’s work, can be effectively realised.





1 UN News Centre (2012) UN News – interview with Michelle Bachelet, executive director of UN

Women. Available at: (Accessed:

February 2017).

2 United Nations millennium development goals (2015) Available at: (Accessed: February 2017).

3 The Millennium Development Goals Report (2015) Available at:

(Accessed: February 2017).

5 The World Bank (2015) Poverty and Equity, India. Available at: (Accessed: February 2017).

6 Heise LL, Pitanguy J. Germain A. Violence Against Women: the Hidden Health Burden. [World Bank

Discussion Paper, #255] Washington, DC: World Bank, 1994.

7 Project, I.G. (2017) The issue – invisible girl project. Available at:

(Accessed: February 2017).

8 Panagariya, A. (2004) India in the 1980s and 1990s: A Triumph of Reforms. Available at: (Accessed: February 2017).

9 Iyengar, R. (2015) ‘Indian Minister Says 2,000 Girls Are Killed Across the Country Every Day’, Time,

10 The Guardian (2016) From widows to indigenous people: Can the SDGs really leave no one

behind? Available at:


(Accessed: February 2017).

11 Ibid.

12 Goodpal (2016) Poverty perspectives: ‘Basic needs approach’ vs ‘capabilities approach’. Available


Capabilities-Approaches# (Accessed: February 2017).

13 Vadlapatla, S. (2016) Devadasi system still exists in Telangana, AP, says report. Available at:

articleshow/46337859.cms (Accessed: February 2017).

14 Project, I.G. (2017) op.cit.

15 Santos, I. (2016) ‘#GenderMatters: From digital divides to digital dividends’, The World Bank, 29

January. Available at:

dividends (Accessed: February 2017).

16 Arya, D. (2015) Why motherhood makes Indian women quit their jobs. Available at: (Accessed: 27 February 2017).

17 Ibid.

18Kitaj, J. (2015) STEM education to reduce global poverty. Available at: (Accessed: 27 February 2017).

19Ross, K.M. (2016) Study: Interest in STEM Fuels Growth in Number of International Students in

U.S. Available at:

in-stem-fuels-growth-in-number-of-international-students-in-us (Accessed: 27 February 2017).

20 UN News Centre (2012) UN News – interview with Michelle Bachelet, executive director of UN

Women. Available at: (Accessed: 27

February 2017).

21 Ians (2016) ‘Balancing act for India to fund stem cell research, fight poverty’ – ET HealthWorld.

Available at:

stem-cell-research-fight-poverty/50804715 (Accessed: February 2017).




Back to News

Help our local partners realise their vision of hope for their communities