Between 1990 and 2015, Himachal Pradesh went from having one of India’s lowest labor force participation rates for women to having the second highest in the country. Strong government support for women, including urban public-sector hiring, robust healthcare expenditures, financial inclusion efforts, and gender-targeted income smoothing for rural agricultural workers, helped bring greater numbers of women into the workforce.
Other factors have also contributed to women’s economic empowerment in Himachal Pradesh. Distribution of land across social groups in more equitable in Himachal Pradesh than in other Indian states, due in part to land reform efforts in the 1950s and 1970s that extended property ownership to nearly 80 percent of all rural households in the state. Meanwhile, tuition-free education, free textbooks, and village education committees have increased school enrollment among preteen girls and improved literacy rates among women.
Among married women, 90.8 percent of those in Himachal Pradesh reported participating in household decisions, compared to 84 percent for all of India.
The national government’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act established a program to assist rural families during agricultural low seasons by providing guaranteed wage work. Within two years of the program’s launch, the proportion of days worked by women in Himachal Pradesh had increased from 13 percent to 46 percent.
Elements: Financial inclusion, decent work opportunities
In 2012-2013, Himachal Pradesh’s decision to spend 1.57 percent of its GDP on health (one of the highest expenditure levels in the country) established a strong health infrastructure in the state. Roughly 82 percent of villages have a health sub-center within 3 kilometers, 93 percent of which have auxiliary nurse midwives on staff.
Element: Family planning
In 2010, Himachal Pradesh instituted the Beti Hai Anmol program to provide an incentive for girls’ educational attainment and delayed marriage. Girls enrolled in the program receive a bank account with Rs 5100 that they can access once they reach age 18 (provided that they have not married).
Element: Delayed marriage
Himachal Pradesh significantly improved enrollment and retention of girls in schools by exempting girls from tuition fees and establishing Village Education Committees composed of at least one-third women. These reforms helped the state boost literacy rates among women to 88 percent and raised school enrollment among girls age 7-11 to 99.8 percent. The state also maintains one of the lowest dropout rates in all of India.
Earlier reforms increased land ownership in Himachal Pradesh’s agricultural communities, which in turn helped increase the economic value and quality of work in these areas. Women’s increased participation in agriculture, when combined with time-saving infrastructure improvements such as easy access to water and fuel, increased the impact of initiatives that improve income predictability for those in the agricultural sector.
Elements: Property and assets, decent work opportunities
The government’s substantial commitment to women and girls was reflected in its infrastructure investments. New health clinics, toilets in schools, and improved access to water and electricity in rural areas had immediate positive effects on the lives of women and girls. Taken together, these investments helped create a built environment that better supports women’s economic empowerment.
Women in Himachal Pradesh had a long history of participating in activist efforts focused on issues ranging from environmental advocacy to temperance. This past activism created a solid foundation for community mobilization in support of women’s economic empowerment. Local communities also organized to hold individual households accountable for sending girls to school, which led to a 94 percent attendance rate for girls age 5-14.
Greater numbers of women in elected positions and public-sector jobs likely played a role in Himachal Pradesh’s transformation. Although women won only 7.35 percent of Himachal Pradesh’s legislative seats in the 2007 election, this percentage is one of the highest in India. In addition, the lowest level of government, the Panchayati Raj, requires gender parity in its membership.