Women in Bangladesh and India – what Amartya Sen wanted to say
Amartya Sen has recently (actually he’s talking about it for a while) commented that Bangladesh has taken over India in human development – at least in a couple of key health indicators and gender equality. I will try to add graphs and pictures to describe that, and also add another country (Nepal) stat to show that it’s not an accident.
The first and foremost, let’s look at the workplace. It’s a no-brainier that women in Nepal and Bangladesh participate in work more often than that in India. Too see it in charts –
This has lead to more empowerment of women in Nepal and Bangladesh and that is the root cause of health related developments. This pattern stays forever, i.e. Nepal > Bangladesh > India was always there. This is mostly because lack of respect and openness in Indian society to allow women to work. I can put statistics about Pakistan and show they are doing worse in all those.
The next one is the most-discussed – the under 5 mortality rates.
The link between these two parts of the stats is obvious. The first part implies that more women in workforce leads to more empowerment of women and that again leads to better maternal health and that again implies more childcare. Bangladesh and Nepal did it better than what India did. Nepal, as predicted from the earlier statistics, did even better than what Bangladesh did.
This also effected in more generic statistics, such as Life expectancy.
Bangladesh was already ahead of India but was able to hold on to that gap. Meanwhile, Nepal did a catch-up, in fact a rapid one, to start below India and get to where Bangladesh is. Nepal deserves every bit of praise for achieving all that. But remember, it all stems from the first one – women are more likely to participate in work.
So, does it conclude that future of Indian social and health indicators are doomed. The answer is no – there are still grounds for development. But for the foreseeable future, India is likely to lag Bangladesh and Bangladesh will lag Nepal in all basic health indicators. This is despite India has more income per-person and more physicians per 1000 person than either of the countries. The fundamental reason is the empowerment of women.
There’s a tendency among news media and leftists to criticize India’s growth and point out that all money is going to a few hands. I see no such proof in numbers. Poverty rates are falling and people under poverty are getting better social security than there used to be a couple of decades ago. All that is made possible because Govt now has more money from tax revenues to invest in social development. I can see it in charts –
As we see in charts, there’s no significant difference in the poorest 10% income share of Nepal and Bangladesh compared to those in India. The share is falling slowly but offset by a healthier growth rate on the top. Also, to maintain context, this numbers in South Asia is one of the best in the world – Finland, Norway or other egalitarian countries are all close or sometimes even worse.
Hence I conclude that its women’s empowerment and not the growth or inequality is the key to getting better at basic healthcare. The problem is, this is a part of culture and it takes a while to change. To accept women at every workplace, people and popular mindset needs a sea-change from where it is right now. It takes time to improve conditions of women in a country with a culture of infanticide, discrimination and sexual abuses. For all practical purposes, Bangladesh and Nepal are going to finish the literacy and healthcare race ahead of India as well.