Bridging Gender Gap: RSTV – The Big Picture

Anchor – Teena Jha

Guests – Sunil Goel, MD, Global Hunt; Nupur Tiwari, Associate Professor, Centre for Public Policy & Planning , IIPA; Dr. Manohar Agnani, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Health, GoI;  Shailaja Chandra, Former Chief Secretary, Delhi,

Why in the news?

  • Every year on March 8, the world observes International Women’s Day.
  • The purpose is to reflect on the progress made by women in different fields.
  • To celebrate the acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in history and to call for action to bring about the necessary change towards gender equality.
  • The theme set by the United Nations for International Women’s Day this year is – Think equal, build smart, innovate for change with a thrust on working towards creating a gender-balanced society.
  • According to the Global Gender Gap Report, it will take more than 200 years for economic gender equality to emerge, and 108 years to completely close the global gender gap across politics, health and education.
  • On this edition of the Big Picture, we analyse the challenges towards bringing about gender parity, at home, at the workplace, and also in society.

Analysis by the Experts:

Recently, the International Labour Organization released a report and it said that in the past 27 years, the difference in the employment rates for men and women, has shrunk by less than 2%. Despite many years of effort, why do you believe that job opportunities for women have not increased steadily.

Shailaja Chandra, Former Chief Secretary, Delhi, weighed in with her arguments here.

  • I would put them into two baskets. Number one would be the basket of the informal sector. This sector is largely uneducated or poorly educated and has large responsibilities in the house and very little control over the spacing (in terms of time) between children, when they start a family. I believe that contraception is key to giving power to women.  
  • The other section is the formal sector. When we look at LinkedIn, there is a research study which says that they looked at 50 million Indian LinkedIn accounts, and found that 75% on an average, especially the high-technology areas are all with men, and not with women. In the first case, until women have the right to decide the size of their family, and not have unwanted child birth, they cannot do anything beyond that. Further, we still have a large unmet need for population stabilization and control. Secondly, women need education and they need it not just by enrolment in schools, but they need education in a broader sense. They are not getting that at the moment- going to school is not the only thing. There are many other ways by virtue of which they can be empowered to do something; to create and innovate.
  • In the formal sector, although women are coming in, they are being pushed in. When we have a mandate from SEBI, it is only then that we have 15% board membership being allotted to women. It is not as though it has come from the company, it has come because of a directive. Even in areas such as education, we find plenty of women in Arts and Commerce; however are they there in Science? The numbers in the Science field are really very low. This is because they are not allowed to be conditioned to do Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry.
  • There is a huge mindset policy change required to address these issues.

Women mostly because of societal pressure or because of the mindset choose to take up work opportunities in the informal sector and even today, globally and within India, men continue to dominate the top positions. Now, even if they are educated more than their male counterparts, since women are perceived to be care-givers, the onus is more on women. What do we need to do as a society, as individuals and as educated people to bring about a change in this mindset?

Sunil Goel, MD, Global Hunt, weighed in with his arguments here.

Today, when we look at things broadly, everyone decides personally and socially as to what their prime responsibilities are.  Today if we look at new age couples, they decide as to who is going to be at home and who is going to be at work. However, those numbers are very less. Today when we look at things from a mindset perspective, there are two orientations:

  1. An educated pool of people which goes to the formal sector
  2. The semi-educated group of people  
  3. The uneducated people

From a corporate perspective, every organization is promoting a healthy ratio of women in their workforce. When we look at statistics three years before, it used to be 18-22% even in the formal sector. This has gone up to a figure of 30-32% currently. Secondly, this larger workforce is coming at the entry level. The moment we look at the managerial levels, or the Vice President or board levels, the number starts reducing. What are the reasons for this? This is because for women, we as a society have conceived it mentally that women will take care of the families, bring up the children, and would be entrusted with the primary responsibility to bring up a family. This is naturally a very big responsibility- although a commercial weightage is not ascribed, there is a major role that this responsibility plays. However, today, as far as inclusion is concerned, two things are required. One thing is that there should not be any criteria per se. Many women don’t remain as career oriented individuals because of family pressure. Women look for jobs where they can contribute from home; they also look for flexible work hours. Unfortunately, every job doesn’t allow this. Thus, there are two initiatives that are needed for this: a) A self-drive from the entire workforce b) encouragement from the family, society and the corporations with whom they are employed with.

Everything put together, it makes for an environment where people can carry on. When women have a career break for about 2-3 years owing to pressures such as maternity, etc, their acceptance back into the corporate world becomes difficult. However, now, companies are coming forward and hiring them as well.

Another major issue is that of wage disparity. Citing ILO figures, on an average, gobally, women are earning 20% less than men. So, what according to you is a probable solution to this huge discrepancy?

Dr. Manohar Agnani, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Health, GoI, weighed in with his arguments here.

  • I believe that the best way to bridge the gender gap would be in terms of education. There is much scope in the area of secondary and tertiary education, but more so in the field of technical education.
  • Our country has bridged that gap in the area of primary education but when it comes to the area of employment, it is largely, the secondary and tertiary areas where the problems have been highlighted as above.
  • Lastly, until we see this as a mindset issue, i.e. we change the patriarchal mindset and our myths and misconceptions around the preference for son’s, etc. we would probably be discussing all these issues in an economic perspective.
  • However, the status of women, per se, has to be equal to that of men. Once this is achieved, then all the other issues that we are discussing, be it economic, or educational- they would all get eliminated.
  • Thus, we need to identify those gaps which are limiting the access of women in every field and bridge those gaps.

One of the reports that was published in the Financial Express says, “Advancing women’s equality could boost global GDP by almost 31%, which amounts to 28 Billion dollars in just about 5-6 years, which is 2025. But the snail’s pace at which the Economic gender gap is reducing- how do we aim to reduce it?

Shailaja Chandra, Former Chief Secretary, Delhi, weighed in with her arguments here.

Well first you need ownership of the idea that women’s employment is something that you want to achieve as a goal and not by chasing statistics.  

A country like South Korea, had invested in having a Ministry for Gender Competitiveness. The question to ask is: In every sphere, is there competition available from women? And if so, what happens?

Further, a woman needs a few things to be able to move ahead. These are:

  • Stable domestic arrangements:

If a couple is on a double income, then the couple must be prepared to put half of one person’s income only into domestic arrangements. If someone is a career woman, then one’s career takes first place.

  • Family Support:

A woman needs a husband, a partner, maybe in-laws as well who understands that she is doing it as a passion and as a career. The woman concerned is not working just with a view to bring money into the home. Her children will learn, and they will become better citizens. They should see that their mother is confident, that their mother has the ability to travel; that she can go abroad, come back.  

Further, children are very self-sufficient. They have confidence when they see that their parents are happy. If the parents are happy doing this, they adjust. The opportunities are definitely there if the husband and wife come together.

What transformative steps do you believe are required at the Government level for India to take a quantum leap towards gender parity?

Dr. Manohar Agnani, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Health, GoI, weighed in with his arguments here.

  • If we have representation of women in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI’s), in local bodies, in MLA and MP seats, evidence shows that the decision making by women is much better or superior than men.  On health, the indicators which have been attempted at measuring is again sex-ratio at birth and life expectancy. Statistics on “sex-ratio” at birth is something that our country has a concern of. The ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ scheme launched by the Government earlier in its term is a step in the right direction. Further, we are seeing the results now for example: in the sex ratios at birth and the child’s sex ratio. The overall improvement in ranking is largely due to the prevailing politics of the time.
  • The overall improvement is because of education, political empowerment and economic empowerment.

What do we mean by flexible work hours?

  1. Flexible work hours don’t mean that you work from 8am to 10pm, etc. Flexible work hours means that there is a task defined. He/she is tasked with the job to complete the task on time.
  2. I see a major role that technology can play in this area.
  3. As a matter of fact, for half of the work, one does not need to go into an office.
  • The whole idea of bridging the gender gap is a time taking process, however, if people start feeling more accountable, and if people help give support to the idea of working from any location, then these would certainly be steps in the right direction.   

Concluding Remarks:   

  • Government Initiatives are required and many things are happening around that.
  • We also see a number of developments in the Health Sector. Companies should also now start seeing women’s issues.   
  • Next, women should not be quitting midway in their careers.  
  • Today when we look at the Small and Large Micro-financing opportunities that are available for helping sustain the women entrepreneur and the many activities that are being carried out, there are definitely some encouraging signs that augur well for the future.
  • Also when we look at things from an opportunity perspective and when things move into the formal sector, people need flexible work hours.

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