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Gender equality is when women and men enjoy the same rights and opportunities across all sectors of society, including economic participation and decision-making, and when the different behaviours, aspirations and needs of women and men are equally valued and favoured.
The UNDP’s Gender Social Norms Index shows a telling tale of widespread gender discrimination globally and in India. This index measures how social beliefs obstruct gender equality in areas like politics, work, and education, and contains data from 75 countries, covering over 80 percent of the world’s population. The highlights provide clues to the “glass ceiling”.
- Over 40% feel that men make better business executives and that men have more right to a job when jobs are scarce.
- Less than 6% of CEOs in S&P 500 companies are women; while women work more hours than men, this work is more likely to be unpaid care work.
Social constraints leading to gender inequality:
- The unequal treatment of women by religion has exerted a very strong influence on every society’s gender norms.
- All the key functions of organized religion, such as conducting religious ceremonies and heading the religious hierarchy, are reserved for men. No organized religion treats women equal to men.
- Countries where the majority of inhabitants have no religious affiliation display the lowest levels of gender inequality, and countries with the highest levels of gender inequality are those with high levels of religious affiliation.
- For millions of years, except in few matriarchal societies, the man has always been considered the head of the family. The provider-role he played was always seen superior to the nurturer-role that women played in a family. The man’s decision was always the final word. Gender parity was not a norm in families across societies.
- Marriages in which the woman earned more were less likely in the first place and more likely to end in divorce.
- Women who out-earned their husbands were more likely to seek jobs beneath their potential and do significantly more housework and child care than their husbands, perhaps to make their husbands feel less threatened. The norms in our families’ act as a huge deterrent to achieving gender parity.
- Stereotypical thinking and Patriarchal mindset is the biggest challenge.
- Declining child sex ratio (CSR), the practice of gender-biased sex selection, and child marriage.
- Domestic violence against women is also high.
- Women being exposed to violence by their partners
- Judicial remedies or police reforms, though absolutely necessary, are mostly curative, rather than being preventive.
- Benefits like maternity leave or related facilities will not be accessible to her in the informal sector
- We cannot achieve gender parity if religion, one of the strongest forces in most societies, continues to turn its back on women.
- The agenda of creating a planet 50-50 cannot come true if religion, religious leaders, and faith actors remain outside the conversation.
- Need to create avenues and opportunity with conscious effort for empowering women rather than giving freebies.
- Gender Neutral laws.
- Implementation to full potential of laws is the key.
- Infrastructure to be put in place and proper efforts to go ahead.
- Favouring women gives rise to inequality in society so even men should be given avenues.
- Article 15 should be considered and positive discrimination should be there wherever needed.
Achieving gender parity is not about organizing awareness programmes and pasting a few posters in offices. It is all about fundamentally altering beliefs upheld by the two strongest institutions of any society: the family and religion. To bridge the power gaps between men and women SDG Goal 5 i.e. eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against women in the public and private spheres and to undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources and access to ownership of property, must become a priority for all nations.
Reference: Hindustan Times
Women comprise the majority of frontline healthcare workers globally, meaning that female representation is vital in tackling the coronavirus crisis. 70% of the world’s healthcare staff are made up of women, but only 25% of global leaders are female. Without women in these positions, women’s issues could fail to be addressed throughout the crisis. As the world battles the pandemic, it cannot be a coincidence that countries headed by women — Taiwan, Germany, New Zealand — are doing comparatively well.
Instances in COVID-19 Crisis where women have led:
- In Taiwan, President Tsai Ing-Wen’s early intervention, including screening passengers from Wuhan, limited the outbreak to 393 infections and six deaths.
- Angela Merkel’s Germany has witnessed a high rate of infections, but relatively low deaths.
- New Zealand’s Jacinda Arden’s insistence on a four-week lockdown has resulted in 1,300 cases and nine deaths.
- Four Nordic countries, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland, all led by women, have done well in containing the virus, writes academic Leta Hong Fincher for CNN.
Women are better crisis-managers:
- With low representation in public life, women often have to be better than men to make it to the table in the first place.
- The disease impacts everyone but gender inequities that existed before the pandemic have now been “exacerbated”, says a United Nations Women report on the first 100 days of the pandemic.
- Worldwide, 70% of health care staff is women — often in jobs that are underpaid and overworked.
- In some Indian districts, accredited social health activists and anganwadi workers are going door-to-door to provide nutrition.
- women comprise the bulk of the world’s frontline health workers, shouldering the burden of strenuous work, while increasing their own risk of infection.
- With the novel coronavirus, women have played a central role: take China, where 90 percent of the nurses and nearly half the doctors are female.
Challenges faced by women:
- With more than 465,900 cases and over 21,000 deaths worldwide at the time of writing, the stakes are too high to disregard women’s voices.
- It is women who now deal with the additional burden of care work.
- It is women who face job losses in sectors where they are overrepresented: Tourism, textile and garments, and the informal economy.
- And it is women who face a surge in domestic violence under the extended lockdown.
- Times of crises can exacerbate gender inequalities, like access to paid work, or leave women vulnerable to poorer health outcomes, like during the 2014 Ebola outbreak where resources diverted from obstetrics care contributed to a spike in maternal deaths.
- The 2020 Global Health 50/50 report, which evaluates gender parity in global health organizations, shows that decision-making bodies are still predominately male, and if current trends persist, gender parity at the CEO level is still 40 years away.
- As the virus continues to spread, governments, research labs and health facilities should commit to ensuring that women in leadership is not the exception, but the norm.
- Collecting sex-disaggregated data must also be prioritized so we can better understand the unique impact women as compared to men.
- we must build the systems to support women’s leadership in global health before the next disaster strikes.
- We can do this by equipping women with the skills, training and opportunities to rise to the top, and advocating for systemic changes – like closing the pay gap – to change the face of global health leadership.
Solving health emergencies like COVID-19 demands the best minds the world has to offer – in health systems strengthening, therapeutic R&D and more. We know diverse teams lead to more innovation, and neglecting half the talent pool limits our ability to make life-saving choices. As new COVID-19 cases emerge daily, we have no time to lose. Prioritizing women’s voices in the response will set us up for a more equitable, healthier future while saving lives today.
Reference: The Hindu
The Government recently has issued two ordinances: One, an amendment to the Members of Parliament Act, 1954, which will reduce the allowances and pension by 30 per cent with effect from April 1, 2020. The reduction will be applicable for a year. Two, the MP Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) fund has been suspended for two years (2020-22), and the money will be given to the Consolidated Fund of India. These measures are purportedly to save costs as the nation tackles the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some of the lacunae in Parliament today:
- During the crisis, as per the Constitutional roles of MPs their foremost task should be deliberating on the actions and policies to be taken to manage the epidemic.
- It should involve evaluation of the costs and consequences of various alternatives.
- MPs should make efforts to figure out ways to have committee meetings and even the meetings of the full House through technological means such as video-conferencing.
- The Indian Parliament before getting adjourned in view of the pandemic, even as the crisis was unfolding, was debating the establishment of a Sanskrit University and an Ayurveda institute, and that of regulatory boards for aircraft, Indian Systems of Medicine and Homoeopathy.
- The Finance Bill was passed without any discussion on the last day.
- There was no discussion on the possible implications of the coronavirus epidemic and policy measures to tackle it and also the Parliament failed to recognise the pressures on the Budget when it was passed.
- Since then, there has been no committee meetings.
- In brief, it seems that Parliament has failed to rise up to the occasion to play its role as the oversight body mandated to check the work of government on behalf of citizens.
Benefits of suspension of MPLAD:
- The cancellation of MPLADS for two years, on the other hand, is a welcome move. In financial terms, there are savings of nearly ₹4,000 crore per year.
- While this is not insignificant, the larger benefit is that this will help Members of Parliament focus on their roles as national legislators.
- MPLADS creates several issues of accountability and jurisdiction.
- It violates the principle of separation of powers, both horizontally across different organs of state, and vertically across different levels of governance.
Opportunities that can be explored during the current time:
- the Parliament should explore how technology can be used to improve its efficiency.
- Much of the daily paper work such as filing questions and other interventions have been digitised while protocols and infrastructure may be needed if meetings have to be held through secure video-conferencing.
- Other issues such as pay and allowances for Members of Parliament need to be discussed.
- The Members of Parliament should be provided with office space and research staff. They should be compensated in line with their duties as national legislators.
- For example, the pay (₹1 lakh per month) and allowances (₹1.3 lakh per month) pale in comparison to that of U.S. Senators (pay $174,000 per annum plus allowances over $3 million per annum).
- At the same time, hidden perks such as housing in central Delhi must be made transparent — few democracies provide housing for legislators or civil servants; they are paid well and expected to find housing on their own.
- During the crisis, Members of Parliament should be deliberating on the actions and policies to be taken to manage the epidemic, and the costs and consequences of various alternatives.
- They should also be trying to figure out ways to have committee meetings and even the meetings of the full House through alternate mechanisms such as video-conferencing.
- Public debates need to be encouraged on issues that impact the working of our legislatures.
- They also need to hold them accountable for their work as national legislators
Given the massive budget of the Central government, i.e. an average monthly budget of ₹2.5-lakh crore, the above cuts seem cosmetic in nature. To put it in perspective, the United Kingdom has increased the allowance for Members of Parliament by £10,000 to help them manage extra costs of working from home. The need of the hour is that MPs should oblige with their mandated Constitutional roles. Therefore, in the future, public debates on issues that impact the working of our legislature should be taken up and at the same time we need to hold the executive accountable.
Reference: Hindustan Times
The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments began the process of creating the requisite layer of PRIs and urban local bodies at every State. Panchayati raj institutions (PRIs) are simultaneously a remarkable success and a staggering failure, depending on the goalposts against which they are evaluated. The Keralites’ collective resilience and solidarity across religious and political divides set the state apart, be it the floods of 2018 and 2019 or the current coronavirus pandemic.
It was in Kerala where the first Covid-19 case in India was detected on January 30, and exactly two months later, the state had 235 cases, the maximum number reported in the country. Fast forward to April 16, the state recorded 394 confirmed cases, 245 recoveries and two deaths.
Role and Importance:
- A democratic form of government must be sustained by a system of vigorous local self-government institutions.
- Local government institutions provide an opportunity to the people to participate freely and actively in the governance and policy making which they formulate for their respective areas.
- These are necessary to encourage and foster initiative, independence, and enterprise on the part of the people.
- While inaugurating the first local self-government minister’s conference in 1948, our late Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru said “local government is and must be the basis of any true system of democracy. Democracy at the top may not be a success unless built on its foundation from below”.
- Laski said “local government offers the best opportunity to the people to bring local knowledge, interest and enthusiasm to bear on the solution of their problems.
- It not only relieves congestion at the centre but it also checks the increasing power of democracy. It stands positively for the distribution and diffusion of power leading to administrative de- concentration and de- centralization. Being closer to the original base, it finds solution for local problems more efficiently (No ‘one size fits all’ approach).
Kerala’s fight against COVID-19 at local self-government level:
- If bureaucracy that may prevent access of volunteers for the assistance to the public sector in different countries, Kerala Government has always proved that it is possible and indeed their services are as precious as that of expert health assistants.
- During the past two flood disasters (occurred in 2018 and 2019 monsoons in Kerala), it was the help of tech-savvies of different district headquarters, that helped the whole processing of identification, rescue and the relocation of the flooded people.
- In the same manner, the Government of Kerala formed immediately a Social Volunteer Force (Sanndhasena) which saw a registration of 292851 people aged between 18 to 65 (mostly between 20 to 50).
- The whole group is enforced in 5 different activities and coordinated by the Local Self-Governments and by the District Head Quarters.
- These volunteers are the driving force of “Community Kitchens” who distribute daily meals to the aged persons and those of real in need during the locked down period.
- Local government officials and ASHA health workers are doing the groundwork of finding people who are infected and making sure their contacts are also in isolation.
- In order to manage its slew of measures, and to strengthen their functioning at the grassroots level, the government has roped in the manpower associated with various state programmes like Kudumbasree, a women-empowerment initiative; ASHA, a community-health organisation; and the Integrated Child Development Services, a government scheme for children.
Measures Need to strengthen local self-governance:
- Urban Local bodies:
- Metropolitan governance systems are needed in million-plus cities. There is a strong case for having a two-tier governance structure where all local functions are transferred to the ward committees and citywide services, such as transportation, water supply, sewerage, etc., are vested with the city council or regional authorities.
- Each city needs to be recognized as a distinct unit of the economy. In larger cities, City Economic Councils can serve as a clearinghouse.
- Central Government has started the Rashtriya Gram Swaraj Abhiyaan. The campaign is undertaken under the name of “Sabka Sath, Sabka Gaon, Sabka Vikas”.
- It aims to draw up Gram Panchayat Development Plans (GPDPs) in the country and place them on a website where anyone can see the status of the various government’s flagship schemes.
- Gram Panchayats have been mandated for the preparation of GPDP for economic development and social justice utilizing the resources available to them.
- Government of India formulated E-Panchayat Mission Mode Project for e-enablement of all the Panchayats, to make their functioning more efficient and transparent.
- Social Audit: The power of social audit was proven by Jan Sunwai in Rajasthan. Transparent, third party Social Audit can enable people to hold the representatives accountable.
- Citizen Participation
- Ward committees and area sabhas should be activated with a technology- enabled ‘Open Cities Framework’ and the use of digital tools for feedback and reporting.
- In case of Gram Sabhas, their functions and roled must be clearly defined as in the PESA Act, to enable to function effectively.
Local self-government institutions are expected not only to provide for the basic civic amenities for the safety and convenience of the citizens but also mobilize local support and public cooperation for the implementation of various programmes of welfare. Another benefit of the local government is that the transmission of power from bureaucrats to the democratically formed local government has positively checked the influence of bureaucracy. Thus it can be said that the local government ensures close relationship between the people and the higher level of governments through this device of communication.
Reference: Indian Express
Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) is a medication used for the prevention and treatment of certain types of malaria, specifically for chloroquine-sensitive malaria. It is also used in treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and porphyria cuanea tarda. The government of India banned export of hydroxycloroquine, with immediate effect to ensure sufficient availability of the medicine in the domestic market on April 4. The US President warned about “retaliation” if India did not heed his request for the drug. Following this India partially lifted a ban on the export.
Reasons for HCQ in demand:
- The International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents (IJAA), reported that Azithromycin (antibiotic) added to hydroxychloroquine was significantly more efficient for COVID-19 elimination.
- However, the study was flagged as being too small to draw a definitive conclusion.
- By late March, Trump had begun to call the drug a “game changer”, and has since been pushing it.
- At the end of last month, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) issued an advisory recommending the use of hydroxychloroquine in asymptomatic healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients.
- ICMR also allowed doctors to prescribe it for household contacts of confirmed COVID-19 patients.
- However, the government has stressed that the drug can only be used in COVID-19 treatment on prescription, and that it should not instill a sense of “false security”.
- In March, Following the ICMR’s advisory on the drug, various patients and healthcare professionals are learnt to have stocked up on hydroxychloroquine.
- The drug was then moved to a Schedule H1 status, which means patients who need the drug would have to get a fresh prescription every time they needed to purchase it.
HCQ- a silver bullet to address the ongoing pandemic?
- The drug shows antiviral activity in vitro against coronaviruses, and specifically, SARS-CoV-2.
- Further, the study suggests that prophylaxis (treatment given to prevent disease) with hydroxy-chloroquine at approved doses could prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection and may help to improve viral shedding.
- Clinical trials are under way in China to know whether the drug can be used for treatment.
- At the same time, research in other parts of the world has sparked interest in a more expansive use of the anti-malarial medicine.
- A study by Chinese researchers, for instance, showed that the drug speeded up the recovery of COVID-19 patients who had suffered pneumonia.
- Experiments on the drug have also yielded promising results in France. Some experts have called for more tests before hydroxychloroquine is held up as a cure for COVID-19.
- But some of the early naysayers of the drug, including the US Food and Drug Administration, have now come around to recommending its use in emergency situations.
- Hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 palliative, by all accounts, seems to be a work in progress.
- However, in a world embroiled in a grim struggle against COVID-19, reports of the early success of the drug have generated hope especially in the US, the country hit hardest by the pandemic.
- In such a situation, it is critical that India’s decision on the US request be an informed and considered one.
India has one of the lowest manufacturing costs in the world – lower than that of the U.S. and almost half of the cost in Europe. As the country plans to intensify the battle against the novel coronavirus in hotspots, the GoM’s decision must be based on consultations with a wide range of experts — scientists, public health and foreign policy experts and representatives of the pharma industry. India should look up to and invest in biotechnology. India’s biotechnology industry, comprising biopharmaceuticals, bio-services, bio agriculture, bio-industry and bioinformatics is expected to grow at an average rate of around 30% a year and reach $100 billion by 2025. To ensure health security of Indian people, revival of R&D and public sector API manufacturers through bodies like CSIR is necessary.
6. Policy action is the need of the hour to bridge the growing gap between irrigation potential creation and that actually utilized with path-breaking command area development. Comment. (250 words)
Reference: Economic Times
A recent ministry of earth sciences (MoES) report says that large parts of the country, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, have been witnessing “significantly decreasing trends” in rainfall patterns over the last three decades. It suggests pressing need to boost proactive policy to better manage water resources both at the Centre and in the states.
Present Water Crisis in India:
- Water levels in India’s major reservoirs have fallen to 21 per cent of the average of the last decade.
- Fifty-four per cent of the country’s groundwater is declining faster than it is being replenished.
- There is a crippling dependence on monsoon rains to replenish most of India’s key water sources– underground aquifers, lakes, rivers and reservoirs.
- Close to half the country, about 600 million people, face severe scarcity year after year.
- A June 2018 Niti Aayog report forecasts water demand will be twice the present supply and India could lose up to 6 per cent of its GDP.
- India’s water table is falling in most parts; there is fluoride, arsenic, mercury, even uranium in our groundwater.
- The groundwater and sand extraction from most river beds and basins has turned unsustainable.
- Tanks and ponds are encroached upon.
- Dug-wells and borewells are constructed with alarming impunity to slide deeper and deeper to suck water from greater depths.
- Water is being diverted from food-crops to cash-crops; livelihoods to lifestyles; rural to urban— mismanagement is a bigger reason for the drought.
- Water shortages are hurting India’s ability to produce power and 40% thermal power plants are in areas facing high water stress, a recent World Resources Institute report says
- Not only farmers, urban dwellers in cities and towns across India are also staring at a never seen before drinking water scarcity.
- Residents in the arid Thar desert of Rajasthan are spending Rs 2,500 to buy 2,500 litres of water which they share with their cattle.
Policy actions needed:
- The way ahead is to step-up recharge of aquifers and groundwater resources, even as we better allocate resources for surface irrigation systems and their maintenance.
- The rational pricing of water for irrigation brooks no delay. In parallel, the reasonable rational pricing of urban water supply is required to modernise and augment the network.
- Further, we need to shore up resources for water treatment and reuse. Note that only about 2% of urban centres have both sewerage systems and sewage treatment plants. This need to very substantially change going forward.
- The rejuvenation of rivers, as envisaged in the National Water Framework Bill, needs legislating. The destruction of catchment areas and river flood-plains have adversely affected river flows nationally, which needs reversing.
- We need concrete steps to reverse the build-up and consequent destruction of catchment areas and river flood-plains, to augment discharge channels and boost water flow to effectively prevent flooding, including in urban areas.
There is a need to modernise the regulatory framework for accessing groundwater soon after massive expansion in mechanical pumping led to the realisation that recharge could not keep pace with use.
Reference: The Hindu
The World Health Organization (WHO) refers to telemedicine as “healing from a distance“. It is the remote delivery of healthcare services. It is the use of telecommunications technology and information technologies to provide remote clinical services to patients. Physicians use telemedicine for the transmission of digital imaging, video consultations, and remote medical diagnosis
Recent developments made in Indian Telemedicine:
- Indian Space Research Organization made a modest beginning in telemedicine in India with a Telemedicine Pilot Project in 2001, linking Chennai’s Apollo Hospital with the Apollo Rural Hospital at Aragonda village of Andhra Pradesh.
- The efficacy of telemedicine has already been shown through the network established by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), which has connected 22 super-specialty hospitals with 78 rural and remote hospitals across the country through its geo-stationary satellites.
- ISRO has also provided connectivity for mobile telemedicine units in villages, particularly in the areas of community health and ophthalmology.
- The setting up of the National Telemedicine Taskforce by the Health Ministry of India, in 2005, paved way for the success of various projects like the ICMR-AROGYASREE, NeHA and VRCs.
- Telemedicine division of MoHFW, GOI has set up a National Telemedicine Portal for implementing a green field project on e-health establishing a National Medical College Network (NMCN) for interlinking the Medical Colleges across the country with the purpose of e-Education and a National Rural Telemedicine Network for e-Healthcare delivery.
- AROGYASREE is another internet-based mobile telemedicine conglomerate that integrates multiple hospitals, mobile medical specialists and rural mobile units/clinics. The project is an initiative of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
Benefits of Telemedicine in India:
- India only has one government doctor for every 1,139 people, whereas the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a ratio of 1: 1,000.
- The shortage of doctors is limiting face-to-face consultations among patients. Secondly, India also has a shortage of hospital beds, which makes hospitalization tricky.
- Telemedicine will reduce the time of consultations and improve the quality of healthcare services in urban as well as rural areas, removing many of infrastructural challenges.
- Telemedicine is a sector that bridges the healthcare gap between rural India and urban India.
- In rural India, where the access to medical facilities, specialists’ opinion and advance healthcare amenities are limited, telemedicine acts as a healthcare provider bringing access to the specialist doctors to these areas.
Challenges to telemedicine:
- Unclear Policies
- Because technology is growing at such a fast pace, it’s been difficult for policymakers to keep up with the industry.
- There is great uncertainty regarding matters like reimbursement policies, privacy protection, and healthcare laws. In addition, telemedicine laws are different in every state.
- Fewer Face-to-Face Consultations:
- Several physicians and patients are finding it difficult to adapt to telemedicine, especially older adults.
- Physicians are very concerned about patient mismanagement.
- While advances in medicine have made it more efficient to use technology, there are times when system outages occur.
- There is also the potential for error as technology cannot always capture what the human touch can.
- Technology Is Expensive
- Healthcare systems that adopt telemedicine solutions can attest that it requires a lot of time and money.
- Implementing a new system requires training and sometimes staff members find it difficult to welcome this change.
- Practice managers, nurses, physicians, and more have to learn how to utilize the system so that practices can see the benefits.
- Although telemedicine is expensive in the beginning, healthcare systems should see a positive return on investment over time due to more patients and less staff.
Technology plays a crucial role in fight against COVID-19. The pandemic has contributed to the understanding of various ways in which available technologies can be put to better use and presented people with multiple opportunities to harness these devices, techniques and methods to get on with life in the time of lockdown. Among the primary uses is telemedicine that can help reach patients where access to medical care is difficult. While unleashing the full potential of telemedicine to help people, experts and government agencies must be mindful of the possible inadequacies of the medium, and securing sensitive medical information; such cognizance should guide the use of the technology.