With over one-fifth of the world’s population living in the region, South Asia has the world’s largest poor people. A large segment of the population lives in rural areas on subsistence agriculture. The Geneva based United Nations Development Programme has categorised four countries of South Asia region, viz., Bhutan, Bangladesh, Maldives and Nepal as the least Developed Countries (LDCs). The remaining three countries, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are categorised as Developing countries. In the last three to five decades, the countries of the region have made planned efforts to overcome some of the problems associated with low industrialisation and mass poverty. As a result, significant changes have taken place in their economic structure. The share of various sectors in national income in respective economies has also undergone a change.
Changes in the economic structures of the region has been rapid in the last two decades, that is, from 1980 to 2000. The share of agriculture has rapidly declined (barring in Pakistan) and that of services has gone up in all the economies (barring in Bhutan) ‘ while the industrial sector has remained stagnant. Although the contribution of agriculture to GDP has gone down from 40 percent in 1980 to 25 per cent in 2001, agriculture still provides employment to more than half of the employed people in South Asia.
Education is also important because it directly contributes to economic growth. In the present context of rapidly globalizing world, education (knowledge and skills) is also necessary to compete in global markets. In this context, South Asia presents a dismal picture. With nearly half of the world’s adult illiterates, South Asia is the most illiterate region in the world.
Women, on the basis of gender, have always been discriminated in almost all societies of the world. But, discrimination against women in South Asia is far worse than in most other developing countries and is perpetuated by the deeply embedded system of patriarchy. As we noted in the above sections, right from their childhood, women are deprived of an equal access to education, health care, nutrition, and even the basic economic right of earning a living.