Global Eye In Dialogue

The complexity of ‘gender’: for a women-led development. In dialogue with Sunaina Kumar, Observer Research Foundation

The Global Eye in dialogue with Sunaina Kumar, a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and Executive Director at Think20 India Secretariat under India’s G20 presidency. At ORF, Sunaina works with the Centre for New Economic Diplomacy and focuses on gender. She has been a journalist for over 15 years and has reported on development and gender


How would you explain the theme of women-led development to our readers?

India has promoted women-led development as a distinct concept, a shift from the usual focus on women’s empowerment. The concept emphasises the role of women’s leadership in achieving inclusive growth and sustainable development. In women-led development, women are not just beneficiaries of development, they are key to achieving the 2030 Goals, as leaders and equal participants. It draws from a well-established approach in development theory, which calls for the participation of women in development planning and decision-making.

In the last few years, the G20 has recognised that the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis have impacted women and girls disproportionately in every part of the world. At the same time, these crises have shown the positive difference women’s leadership can make in building resilience in societies. Above all, gender equality makes for smart economics.

Given your role as Executive Director of the Think20 India Secretariat, has this theme been addressed, and how, in the preparation of the Indian G20 Presidency? What were the results of the summit in this specific regard?

The fact is, women are under-represented in decision-making and leadership in all G20 countries. Slowly but surely, gender has become central to the G20 agenda. We can trace its evolution from the 2014 summit in Australia, where G20 leaders committed to the Brisbane Goal, to reduce the gender gap in labour force participation, to the launch of W20 in 2015 in Turkey, and the setting up of G20 EMPOWER in Japan in 2019, alliances that work on strengthening women’s economic empowerment.

India took an approach to mainstream gender into all G20 discussions. It built on the work of the previous presidencies but also vaulted it further. One of the tangible outcomes of India’s G20 is the establishment of a new working group on the empowerment of women.

The Delhi Declaration devotes more space to gender than any declaration has done in the past. It commits to halve the digital gender gap by 2030, and improve women’s access to digital finance and microfinance. It promotes investment in affordable care infrastructure, increasing women’s participation in climate change mitigation and adaptation, and disaster risk reduction strategies, and leveraging innovative financing instruments for gender-responsive nutrition and food systems.

Finally, women-led development is linked to sustainable development, hence to the systemic sustainability of the world and worlds. ‘Gender’, therefore, becomes strategic. What do you think ?

The link between gender equality and sustainable development is implicit in the Delhi Declaration, which states that gender equality is of fundamental importance as a goal in and of itself, but also underlines that “investing in the empowerment of all women and girls, has a multiplier effect in implementing the 2030 Agenda.”

The 2030 Agenda places gender equality and empowerment of women at its core, at the same time it recognises the importance of women as contributors and drivers of change, and the need for more women involved in more sectors, from science and technology to strategies for climate change, food security and nutrition. Gender equality is crucial to human security, and in that sense, it is definitely strategic.