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Sharon Buteau

Sharon Buteau

Executive Director, LEAD at Krea University

Sharon Buteau combines expansive experience of over 18 years in research and international development, with over 7 years in the field of digital financial services and financial inclusion. Sharon is deeply passionate about finding effective solutions to promote enterprise growth and development, and realising the untapped potential of micro and small businesses.

At LEAD, Sharon focuses on bringing the right combination of talent, expertise and stakeholders together to ensure that investments and efforts are perfectly aligned with the desired goals. Sharon holds significant expertise on how to leverage co-creation, collaborative processes, as well using the power of data from the ground up can improve socio-economic outcomes for individuals, households and enterprises. She has in-depth knowledge in “right-fit research methods” and significant experience in the domain of financial capabilities and well-being, and small business and entrepreneurship development.

Sharon started her journey at LEAD in 2008, when she arrived in India with a strong desire to improve society by producing impactful knowledge that can bring positive change. Prior to joining LEAD, Sharon was an economist with Analysis Group in Montreal Canada.

Sharon holds an MSc in Economics from the Universite du Quebec a Montreal, as well as an MA in Social Research Methods from the London School of Economics.

Safe mobility: A way to empower women

Gender-aware transport systems, key to women’s economic empowerment

A country’s progress is defined not just by economic growth, but also by the improved living standards and wellbeing of all citizens. Within the ambit of fundamental human rights, the right to free movement is very crucial and can be achieved only through provisioning of safe mobility for all irrespective of their social identity. Simply put, this means that everyone should have the freedom to travel and access public spaces without feeling the threat of any form of violence.

India is rapidly urbanizing and cities come with the promise of economic growth and prosperity. However, due to lack of gender sensitive urban infrastructure planning, men and women have starkly different experience of the city. This is true even in the case of the urban transport sector which does not always cater to the needs to women passengers. Strengthening this argument further, a work in progress at IWWAGE finds that one of the factors adversely affecting female workforce participation is the unavailability of safe and affordable modes of transportation. It is crucial to bridge this gap because absence of reliable transportation options reduces women’s career prospects, reinforces poverty, and further exacerbates inequality.

The three major elements which influence women’s mobility and accessibility are cost, personal security, time poverty, as well as cultural perceptions and spatial location. According to a recent ITF study, women are more likely than men to use public transportation globally because they lack access to private vehicles and moreover they are even more susceptible to assault in public areas. The ‘safety’ and ‘security’ of transportation are the main determinants of women’s mobility behaviors and choices. An ILO study stated that women’s capacity to participate in paid work is positively correlated with transportation-related infrastructure and services. Women have more bargaining power over their mobility within the household when they have access to affordable and safe transportation. Before and during the pandemic, ORF conducted a survey of 4262 women from 140 Indian cities to determine the effect of safety concerns on women’s mobility over a ten-month period. It was found that about half of the women (around 56%) believed that public transportation is unsafe and about the same number has experienced sexual harassment while using a public transportation system. Moreover, 52 percent of women had turned down an opportunity for education or employment because of risky transportation.

Continuing the earlier point, Girija Borker’s study revealed that women have a significantly higher trade-off when choosing a college as compared to male students. Borker found that women are more likely to choose a college that is 25 percentage points lower in the quality distribution, for a route that is deemed to be safer as compared to men, who are willing to attend a college that is 5 percentage points lower in the quality distribution for a similar safer route. Choosing lower rung colleges adversely affects employment prospects and placement salaries, which further perpetuate the gender disparity in the job market. In addition, women have to bear ‘pink tax,’ a term used to elucidate the extra amount paid by women for safety and they typically spend INR 18,800 more per year on commuting compared to their male counterparts for a route that is safer, which aggravates the economic hardship and decline in female labor force participation.

On a global level, several steps have been taken to provide safe mobility for women. For instance, in 2015 in the pursuit to make public transport safe for females in Papua New Guinea, a ‘Meri Seif Bus’ has been offered as part of the ‘Safe Public Transport for Women and Children Programme’ with tracking systems and three uniformed bus crews for a safe mobility. Similarly, other countries like Tokyo in Japan, Malaysia, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Jakarta in Indonesia among others have started women dedicated coaches in bus or trains for ensuring safety and prevention of sexual harassment against women.

In the Indian context, the Delhi government in 2019 made DTC bus rides free for women passengers in order to combat the safety issues. It aimed to encourage females to use public transport. In terms of equality, affordability, and convenience, providing women free bus trips in Delhi is a significant advancement. Free bus fares for women make transit more accessible to Delhi’s female population, reducing their financial burden. This provision contributes to closing the gender gap in transportation access, making it easier for women to reach their destinations with more ease and safety. The state economic survey reports that the number of female passengers availing free rides has climbed from 193.2 million to 217.1 million from 2019-20 to 2020-21. In 2021-22, more than 30 million women have availed free bus rides despite COVID restrictions. If we carefully evaluate the scheme, we can see that it ticks the pricing and accessibility boxes but might be neglecting the safety issue, which still remains a major concern. It is undeniable that it provides women with greater protection than walking or taking autorickshaws. However, there is a need to strengthen this effort by taking measures for improved safety so as to meet its initial goal of providing secure and affordable transportation to women in Delhi.

Given that women’s growth and development – both in terms of social and economic aspects – is so closely related to transportation, there is a compelling case for designing woman-friendly transportation systems and employing more women in the transport sector. This would help create an atmosphere that makes them feel safe and secure throughout their entire journey. A few examples include providing appropriate street lighting along the route to the following stations, lively waiting areas where they feel at ease, and dependable drivers and public transportation staff. There should be women police personnel in all major transportation hubs, including bus stops, train stations, and congested walkways, along with live traffic monitoring by a dedicated task force at the closest traffic station to record actions and take immediate necessary steps. There should be appropriate channels for women to report harassment or other problems they encounter when using public transportation, such as a hotline number and this service needs to be regularly monitored to identify lapses corrective measures that need to be taken. Additionally, nighttime patrols can help improve women’s perceived safety.

The Indian government has put in place other measures such as the ‘Women and Child Helpline’ and the establishment of ‘Women Special’ buses and trains in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra to ensure the safety of female passengers. But, this alone is not sufficient. Adopting a more holistic approach, it is essential to include women at all stages of public transport system development, including planning and decision-making as well as leadership roles in civil society and government organizations. This is crucial to better understand and address the day-to-day issues and lived experience of women. Equitable transportation is critical for everyone because it promotes inclusiveness and respect for human rights while also fostering sustainable urban development. Merely providing cheap/free rides will not fully serve the purpose unless it is backed by robust measures to meet safety and other gender-specific requirements.

Suchika Gupta is a Research Associate at IWWAGE with an interest in developmental issues and seeks to work in areas of evidence-based solutions for policy formulation.

Gender Responsiveness of Union Budget 2023
Gender-responsiveness of Union budget 2023

Dipa Sinha is an Assistant Professor at the School of Liberal Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD). Before joining AUD, she worked with the Office of Commissioners to the Supreme Court, Centre for Equity Studies and Public Health Research Network, and is actively involved with the Right to Food Campaign. She has worked on issues related to food rights, nutrition and public health. Dipa was a member of the Project Team for the report on Nutrition and Food Systems (Committee on World Food Security, FAO).

The talk focused on spending by the government which has an impact on women, especially in the social sector. The two takeaways from the Union Budget:

  • Crowding-in of investment and reduction of fiscal deficit. The question arises as to which sector the spending has been being cut.
  • One of the seven priorities (Saptarishi) is the empowerment of women as one of the agenda

India’s current macroeconomic scenario shows a K-shaped recovery; growth slowdown (a pre-pandemic trend) and stagnant real wages. The excess capital spending seems to be made  at the cost of expenditure in the social sector. Moreover, the components of capital expenditure where investment has increased are:

  1. i) Energy – laying of pipelines
  2. ii) Transportation – construction of highways

iii) Communication – postal services and other services

It must be noted that increasing capital expenditure does not directly create employment as the sectors are mostly mechanized. It does not directly and immediately create employment. Though it can be argued that it can revive the economy in the long run. This holds true for the social sector as well. Thus, it can be questioned why to choose capital expenditure over investment in the social sector. This is where the vision of the government about growth and development is clearly visible. When capital expenditure is expanded, investment is mainly made at the top and reaches the bottom gradually. Thus depending on trickle-down economics works in favour of large corporations and there is no direct focus on generating employment. On the other hand, increasing spending in the social sector will directly increase employment opportunities as it is a labour-intensive sector. This would increase their basic expenditure as money will be spent on basic necessities (like soap, and toothbrushes). Thus helping revive the economy too.

Given that inclusive development is one of the saptarishis, health, and education could have been the focus areas where the government could have increased budgetary allocations. This would have been inclusive in nature and increased the productivity of the economy. Also, the tax on corporations after adjustments is regressive in nature. Large corporations effectively have lower tax rates imposed on them than smaller ones. The payment to the Food Corporation of India has been reduced and they have been asked to borrow from the open market. The latter portrays a picture of inefficient functioning which necessarily need not be true.

Some of notable points regarding spending on various schemes as seen in the latest budget are:

  • Increase: Jal Jeevan Mission
  • Almost no change: Saksham Anganwadi, Poshan Abhiyan, a scheme for adolescent girls, National Social Assistance Programme
  • Decrease: Mid-day meal scheme, Samarthya, ICDS, MGNREGS, PM-POSHAN
Key Takeaways

The extent to which an increase in capital expenditure can lead to employment generation is questionable. Since spending is mainly on highways and railways, which are capital-intensive sectors, an increase in wage work is unlikely. The priority of the government is to maintain the fiscal deficit which will keep the foreign investment intact and which will contribute to decent ratings by international organizations and parameters like ease of doing business. An alternative could be to spend on schemes like MGNREGA or on food subsidies which can revive demand. Also, improving public and health infrastructure can lead to human development which will in turn increase productivity and generate employment opportunities.

Watch the recording here

Please find the full presentation here.

Women in STEM in India
Women in STEM in India


Dr Nandana Sengupta, Assistant Professor at the School of Public Policy, IIT Delhi, joined us on Jan 11, 2023to discuss the status of women in STEM in India. She talked about her personal journey, enveloping literature related to top women in STEM and discussions about the supernumerary seats scheme.




  • She talked about the stereotypes that she faced in school, the rampant gender divide in educational and professional settings citing an example of how women’s roles even in liberal institutions are often limited to “academic housekeeping”
  • She highlighted certain statistics: India’s 135 (out of 146 countries) in Gender Parity Index (WEF, 2022); 14% base rate of STEM faculty; 43% female STEM graduates; 29% worldwide average; no female head of IIT, ISER, IISc and other decision making bodies like JEE, GATE etc.
  • The literature review concerning what women had to face in STEM can be divided into four areas:
    • Entry: investment in women’s education is less prominent; certain disciplines being considered masculine; parents are less favorable to send daughters to far away institutes and nature of exam
    • Experience: lack of role models; absence of infrastructure like toilets; norms around socializing; women’s tendency to apply for jobs that they are 100% certain about
    • Retention: nature of roles assigned to women in organizations not at par with skills and qualifications; dual burden of managing home and work;
    • Leadership: Lack of networking, mentorship and leadership opportunities
  • There is a reason to look at engineering field and the gender gaps in this field because
    • Engineering field is the future of the job market
    • The scope of engineering graduates occupying higher administrative positions, thereby encouraging women in STEM will lead to more women in administration

Deep Dive: Supernumerary Seats

  • She spoke about the Supernumerary scheme i.e. Increase in female representation in IIT classrooms at least by 20% by 2020 without substantially affecting seats for male students
  • Further, she threw light on the proportion of women in BTech being low as compared to other courses with ST candidates remain low overall across the courses
  • The important findings from the study is that the supernumerary scheme has increased the number of females admitted to IIT with IIT Madras receiving the highest number of female students; regional variation with South India admitting more female students even in non-zonal IITs and few recommendations including reporting of data should be improved; clarification of algorithms; break the narrative of lower standards and seat stealing; support for beneficiary students, adoption of intersectional lens

Policy implications and other efforts

She further covered some policy level action that can contribute to making STEM fields accessible for women-

  • Fellowships: Rukhmabai grants and short film grants on women in STEM
  • Publications to educate people about the situation of women in STEM

The seminar ended with a fruitful discussion among the audience and speaker along with sharing of personal experiences.

Watch the recording of the seminar here


Please find the full presentation here.