India, Stories, Women

Data: What Does NFHS Data Say About Women Empowerment Related Indicators?


The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) provides important data on indicators crucial for measuring women’s empowerment in India. On the occasion of the International Women’s Day, we look at a few important indicators and their progress between NFHS-4 and NFHS-5.

International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on 08 March to honour and recognize the achievements and contributions of women worldwide. The day is dedicated to raising awareness about gender equality and advocating for women’s rights. It provides an opportunity to reflect on progress made, acknowledge challenges, and call for continued efforts to ensure equality in all aspects of life. The theme for International Women’s Day may vary each year, reflecting the evolving priorities and concerns in the global effort towards gender equality. The theme for 2024 declared by the United Nations is “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress,” which underscores the significance of gender equality, women’s and girls’ empowerment, and their rights to healthier lives.

Observing Women’s Day serves as a reminder of the ongoing pursuit of Sustainable Development Goal 5, fostering a world where gender equality prevails, and women and girls are empowered in every facet of life. It emphasizes the need to end discrimination, violence, and harmful practices based on gender. The goal aims to ensure equal opportunities, rights, and participation for women in all aspects of life, including education, employment, and decision-making processes. 

NFHS captures data on Women’s Empowerment related indicators as well

The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) is instrumental in capturing comprehensive data crucial for women’s empowerment in India. Six key factors are assessed. These include ownership of physical assets like bank accounts, land and housing, and mobile phones. Participation in critical household decisions like healthcare for themselves, household purchases, and visits to family or relatives is also considered in the survey. The employment status of women over the past year and access to menstrual hygiene products have also been assessed in the survey. While not exhaustive, these indicators offer valuable insights into the status of women in India and help identify specific areas for targeted interventions and policy improvements. 

In this story, we look at how states perform in some of these indicators pertaining to decision-making and ownership of physical assets as per the latest NFHS-5 (2019-21) and the progress since the previous NFHS-4 (2015-16). 

The data for this analysis has been taken from Dataful. It should be noted that the specific age group for women surveyed is often defined as 15 to 49 years (considered reproductive age group), unless otherwise mentioned. 

Target 5.A of SDG 5 aims to “undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance, and natural resources.” In line with this SDG, the NFHS report assesses the share of women owning a house and/or land be it alone or jointly with others. 

Only one in five women owned land or house in Delhi

At the national level, only about 43% of the women-owned a house/land. The share was about 38% in urban areas and over 45% in rural areas. Huge variation is visible across states despite the equal rights to inherit property across genders and encouraging women to own property through government policies like PMAY. While nearly two-thirds of the women in states like Karnataka and Telangana owned property, the share was just around 22% in Delhi (about one-fifth). At least half the women owned property in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Punjab in contrast to less than a quarter in Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Uttarakhand. 

Further, the share of women owning property has dropped in 16 states/UTs in five years between the fourth and fifth rounds of the NFHS. These include Odisha, Maharashtra, Delhi, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, and Bihar.

Significant improvement in share of women holding bank accounts 

Having a bank account is a tangible indication of women’s empowerment, signifying financial autonomy, access to resources, and active participation in economic decision-making. The NFHS report provides details of the share of women in the said age group holding a bank or savings account that they use.

There has been a significant improvement on this front in five years. At the national level, the share of women owning and operating a bank account was about 53% in 2015-16, which increased to 78.6% in 2019-21. The improvement was more significant in rural areas where the share increased from 48.5% to 77.4% as compared to urban areas where the share increased from 61% to 80.95% during this period. The Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, Direct Benefit Transfer, and other microfinancing initiatives may have helped this increase in share. As of February 2024, over 51.9 crore bank accounts have been opened under PMJDY

Between the two surveys, the share of women owning and operating their own bank accounts increased by more than 50 percentage points in Bihar, the state with the highest number of beneficiaries under PMJDY. Similarly, a significant increase is also seen in the states of West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh, which also have a significant share of beneficiaries under the scheme.

More than 50% of the women in India owned and used mobile phones

At all Indian levels, more than half the women had mobile phones that they themselves used. The share is about 69% in urban areas and 46.6% in rural areas. The surge in mobile phone usage in the country can be attributed to a combination of factors, ranging from technological advancements and affordability to increased internet penetration and adaptation to digital means.

At the state level, the share of women having a mobile phone that they themselves use increased across all states except Haryana. While the share was more than 80% in the states like Kerala, Sikkim, and Goa, the share was below half in Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh. 

More than 99% women in Nagaland were involved in decision-making in three areas

The active involvement of women in decisions related to health, major household purchases, and visiting relatives serves as a critical indicator of their autonomy, well-being, and overall progress toward gender equality within a society. In Nagaland, more than 99% of women were involved in decision-making while the lowest participation was in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh with 82.7% and 84.1% respectively. 

Involvement of women in paid labour is low and hasn’t improved significantly since 2015-16

Women who worked and received cash payments in the last 12 months as an indicator suggest that women are actively participating in the workforce and receiving direct financial compensation, which can be considered a measure of economic independence and control over their financial resources. At all India level, only about one-quarter of the women had worked and received compensation. More than 40% of the women in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Manipur, and Tamil Nadu were involved in paid work in the last year. Only marginal improvement since 2015-16 was observed in this indicator.

Women continue to face challenges in earning income and owning assets

The above indicators clearly show that women continue to face challenges in generating income, and their ownership of assets, such as property or financial resources, is limited. Addressing the evident challenges in women’s income generation and asset ownership requires comprehensive strategies, including initiatives to enhance economic opportunities, promote financial literacy, and ensure equitable access to resources. Even though there are schemes and policies to promote the same, concerted efforts are necessary to ensure that the benefits reach women across the country and the SDG targets are met in the next five years.

UN has identified areas for immediate action

The UN has also identified five key areas that require immediate action:

  • Investing in the empowerment of women is not only a necessity for upholding human rights but also a fundamental building block for the creation of inclusive societies. An additional $360 billion is needed per year to achieve gender equality.
  • Due to COVID-19 and conflicts, 75 million more people are in severe poverty since 2020. Urgent action is needed to prevent 342 million women and girls living in poverty by 2030.
  • Due to conflicts and soaring prices, 75% of countries are expected to reduce public spending by 2025, negatively impacting women and essential services.
  • Despite leading efforts, feminist organizations receive only a meagre 0.13% of official development assistance.
  • The existing economic system unfairly impacts women. Advocates suggest transitioning to a green economy and care society to empower women’s voices.

About Author

A bachelor’s degree in mathematics and master’s in social science, she is driven by ardent desire to work with this unique combination to create her own path instead of following the herd. Having served a stint as the college union chairperson, she is a strategist who is also passionate about nature conservation, art and loves solving Sudoku.

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