Gender, social change, and urbanisation in North India

Policy brief State Effectiveness, State and Women's Economic Empowerment

  • In the coming years, India will seek to reap the benefits of a demographic dividend that will maximise the growth potential of its economy. However, this potential dividend will likely be squandered if half of the country’s population—namely women—face continued steep barriers to social and economic empowerment.
  • This study examines how gender, urbanisation, and social change interact, drawing on new survey data from the north Indian urban clusters of Dhanbad (Jharkhand), Indore (Madhya Pradesh), Patna (Bihar), and Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh).
  • The findings suggest that physical distance plays a significant role in constraining women’s economic empowerment. Requirements to travel large distances for most jobs place a prohibitive cost on women entering the labour market.
  • Kinship structures and a household’s physical surroundings explain significant variation in women’s autonomy and mobility. A woman’s position in the household emerges as one of the most significant factors as does a household’s urban/rural location.
  • Future policy should be geared toward investing in safe, efficient transport for women in urban spaces. Making travel in urban spaces less onerous is likely to generate significant opportunities for female entry into the labour market.