Deepening SDG 5 monitoring from an intersectional lens

Ranjani K Murthy

Examining the SDG 5 tracker ( after a field visit and interviews with women/girls and men/boys from economically and socially discriminated groups in the states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, India, I felt the urgent need for strengthening monitoring mechanisms for tracking SDG 5 from a gender and intersectionality lens- without which it may not be possible to track which women are achieving targets, and which women are not.  Further, stereotypes about women and girls of certain communities can be broken. I illustrate my arguments taking examples from India, but they can be extended to monitoring SDG 5 from an intersectional lens elsewhere too.  

To give an example, Indicator 5.1.1 is whether or not legal frameworks are in place to promote, enforce and monitor equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex.  However, for women and girls form the bottom decile, Scheduled Castes[i], Scheduled Tribes and people living with disability whom I met, non-discrimination on the basis of these identities was as important as discrimination on the basis of sex/gender; and sometimes they experienced unique intersectional discrimination like “marriage” of SC women to Goddess Yellamma (and then forced into sex work), kidnapping of ST girls living in remote areas when they go to school, forced hysterectomy on girls with disability by parents etc. In other countries racial and gender discrimination needs to be seen monitored together

Indicator 5.2.1 is the proportion of ever-partnered women and girls aged 15 years and older subjected to physical, sexual or psychological violence by a current or former intimate partner in the previous 12 months, by form of violence and by age. Using an intersectional lens to monitoring, can break several myths. There is a common perception amongst Hindus (the dominant community in India) that Muslim women (minority in India) are “backward” when compared to Hindus.   Statistics from India suggest hat intimate partner violence (physical, sexual and psychological) is lower amongst Muslims sex ratio at birth is higher when compared to that of Hindus.

Indicator 5.3.1 is on the proportion of women aged 20–24 years who were married or in a union before age 15 and before age 18.  In some of the tribal communities in India, it is not uncommon for girls and boys above 15 to live together, and try out the relationship, but under the eyes of adults.  This is not the practice amongst non-tribal communities. As long as they adopt contraception to avoid teenage pregnancy, there is a need to rethink whether cultural imperialism is being imposed through targets.  Yet another is that false cases of child marriage are put by parents of dominant caste when their daughter run away/marry a person against their wishes (often from some other community).  The numbers on child/early marriage have to be adjusted accordingly.

Indicator 5.4.1 is the proportion of time spent on unpaid domestic and care work, by sex, age and location.   The proportion of time spent on unpaid domestic and care work varies not just by sex, age and location, but also by economic standing, caste, gender identity, ethnicity etc.  Women from the top economic decile in India spend much less time on domestic and care work than those in the bottom. Scheduled caste women usually belong to the bottom economic strata, and are not only constrained by lesser access to water, clean cooking fuel and toilets in their hamlet, but not allowed to access water points, roads to collect cooking gas etc. in the dominant caste habitat.  Transwoman are another discriminated group, leading to greater domestic work. Similarly, Scheduled Tribe women’s work load is immense, living in remote areas and having lesser access to basic facilities. Thus, inequalities in access to water, clean fuel, sanitation can be a good indicator of discrimination too (Indicator 5.1.1)      

Indicator 5.5.1 is the proportion of seats held by women in (a) national parliaments and (b) local governments. This again by can disaggregated further by caste, ethnicity, religion etc.  As there is reservation in local government for SCs and STs these categories intersectional data may be available. This observation equally applies to the indicator 5.5.2 on the proportion of women in managerial positions.  Hierarchies of race, caste, class, abilities and marital status can persist, even when women occupy position of power.

Indicator 5.6.1 is the proportion of women aged 15–49 years who make their own informed decisions regarding sexual relations, contraceptive use and reproductive health care.  In India, and perhaps globally, the questions under demographic health survey are getting modified to reflect this. Yet in India, and several countries, sexual relations outside marriage are frowned upon for women. Sexuality of people of diverse sexual orientation is again frown upon. There is a need to capture this diversity and discrimination through studies that adopt purpose sampling and mixed methods.  

Indicator 5.A.1 is the proportion of total agricultural population with ownership or secure rights over agricultural land, by sex; and (b) share of women among owners or rights-bearers of agricultural land, by type of tenure. This indicator stands out as it captures not only share of women amongst owners, but proportion of agriculture population who are owners. The Agricultural Census of India provides disaggregated data across sex, caste, ethnicity and headship and can be used for monitoring progress from a gender and intersectional lens.    

To sum up, the objective of gender equality and women’s empowerment can never be achieved unless the most oppressed women are reached and access & outcome parity is achieved across intersecting identities. Elimination of intersectional discrimination faced by women of particular identities is essential.  The monitoring of SDG 5 has to change accordingly. The Voluntary National Reviews of countries need to be beyond sex disaggregation and coming up with solutions; to a more nuanced analysis



[i] Scheduled castes and Scheduled tribes are recognised by the Indian Constitution as the most disadvantaged socio-economic groups.  Scheduled Caste is the official name given in India to the lowest caste considered ‘untouchable’ in orthodox Hindu scriptures and practice. Some of the Scheduled Castes refer to themselves as Dalits, or oppressed.  According to the 2011 Census they constitute 16.6% of the population.  Scheduled Tribes are an indigenous people officially regarded as socially disadvantaged. Scheduled tribes constitute 8.6% of the population (

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Comment by Rituu B Nanda on August 3, 2022 at 17:19

I have worked on the issue of brick kilns. The whole family is involved in the work but the woman is not recognized as a worker. The consolidated wage  goes to the man who is considered head of the family. Bonded labour and child labour are common. As brick kilns are located outside the city they are deprived of access to several services. 

Your work is amazing, Ranjani! I would like to learn from you how to use this lens in implementation.

Comment by Ranjani K.Murthy on June 9, 2022 at 14:08

Dear Rituu

In total agreement with you. Yes disability lens and migrant lens very important. I am returning from visiting brick kilns in Tamil Nadu and the condition of migrants, in particular children and women is pathetic. 

More later


Comment by Rituu B Nanda on June 6, 2022 at 23:15

Brilliant Ranjani! I particularly found the intersectionality lens very powerful. Thank you so much!

Exploring this from lens of migrants and those with disabilities will also be powerful.

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