There are close to 4 million "missing" poor women in developing countries each year, says a new World Bank report. India accounts for one million of these women.
Expressing deep concern at excess female mortality or "missing" females, World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development says, "About two-fifths of girls are never born, one-fifth goes missing in infancy and childhood, and the remaining two-fifths do so between the ages 15 and 59."
Gender equality is all about smart economics, as it can have a huge impact on productivity and economic efficiency, says the report, taking note of the gains made in narrowing gender gaps and access to education but growing disparities in certain areas.
Globally, women represent more than 40 per cent of the workforce, 43 per cent of the agricultural workforce, and more than half of the world's university students. "For an economy to be functioning at its potential, women's skills and talent should be engaged in activities that make the best use of those abilities", it says.
It calls for focussed domestic policy action by Governments, especially in the key areas of female mortality, access to economic opportunities and shrinking voice within households and society. Countries such as India need to check the abuse of new technologies for sex-selective abortions such as cheap mobile ultra-sound clinics despite laws against such practices.
Other major focus areas that the report outlines is strengthening land and ownership rights for women, providing child care either "directly by the state or through private sector, possible with public subsidies and regulation," having parental leave policies in place, improvement in infrastructure facilities such as drinking water and electricity to reduce the time spent on domestic chores etc.
Asked about reservation for women in the political sphere as policy tool, Dr Sudhir Shetty, Co-Director of the report, said: "Greater representation does ensure better allocation and is a productive instrument in the initial stages."
He said markets and institutions, too, needed to ensure that women get equal access to productive inputs, whether they are farmers, entrepreneurs or workers.