— by Nirupama Subramanian
Something is rotten in the state of our nation when it comes to women’s rights.
The labour force participation of women in India actually fell from 36.7 per cent in 2005 to 26 per cent in 2018, as per a report – Empowering girls and women in India, from the consulting firm of Deloitte.
The National Crimes Research Bureau states that crimes against women increased by 7 per cent in 2017 taking the total from 3.3 lakhs to 3.6 lakhs.
With 78 women Members of Parliament in a house of 543, we are at 12 per cent representation, much lower than the global average of 22 per cent. Countries like Rwanda, Andorra and Bangladesh have a greater proportion of women leaders.
Why is India, a democratic nation, with good legal reforms that support women, not doing well when it comes to equal participation of women in the economy and society? Whether it is in the corporate sector, entrepreneurship or political leadership, women are lagging behind men.
There are two broad categories of factors that keep women from a larger, more impactful presence at the workplace and in the public domain.
External: The socio-cultural factors and prevalent patriarchal systems do not facilitate the entry of women into the workforce. The bulk of domestic and care work falls to the woman and most of this work is unpaid. According to the 2019 Oxfam report, Mind the Gap – State of Employment in India, Indian women do a cumulative 16.4 billion hours of unpaid work everyday. Indian men do 56 minutes of household work daily versus 353 minutes of household work by women as per OECD data. If this work were taken into account, Female Labor Force Participation would jump to 81 per cent. Indian women are caught in a bind. They are forced to stay at home and do the work that has neither economic value nor social respect. Because of this, they cannot go out and do work that has economic value.
Women who do go out to work face other challenges. Sexual harassment is a persistent threat. The recent MeToo movement highlighted the prevalent and insidious nature of this beast. Data from the Ministry of Women and Child Development states that sexual harassment of women increased by 54 per cent from 2014-2017. This, despite the fact that a survey by the Indian Bar Association found that 70 per cent of women don’t report cases of harassment. Despite legal measures and establishment of POSH councils, women do not feel safe going to work and being at work.
Another hurdle is the social expectation from mothers combined with inadequate childcare facilities. Many working women hit the Maternal Wall and drop out of the workforce after their first child. Workplaces are not supportive or geared to allow a working mothers freedom and flexibility of childcare. Just as men are not involved in domestic work, they do not play an active role as fathers. A recent survey by TimesJobs found that 90 per cent of working women and only 10 per cent of men thought of quitting their jobs because of childcare issues.
The recent horrific gangrape of a Hyderabad veterinarian shows all that is wrong in the society and system-unsafe streets, lack of adequate public transport, violent abusive men, inadequate police patrol and unsympathetic authorities. Even if a women is ‘allowed’ to work by her family, she has to fight an exhausting battle with the world.
Internal: As a result of being subjugated to years of patriarchy, women themselves have biases and mindsets which act as challenges. As per a Social Attitudes Survey by Economic and Political Weekly, 40 per cent of both men and women believe that a woman whose husband is earning, should not work. Many women voluntarily opt to be stay at home mothers since they believe that this is the primary role and responsibility of a woman. A recent report by Google and Bain & Co – Powering the Economy with HER-Women Entrepreneurship in India, found that 69 per cent of women felt that cultural and personal factors were the biggest barriers to their growth as entrepreneurs. Lack of confidence, self-doubt and a perceived gap in skills of networking, team building, risk-taking and financial management were factors that women experienced as impediments.
Going back into the Pardah or Ghunghat and staying within the four walls of the home is no longer an option for women today. The new economy demands equal participation. A 2018 McKinsey report says that increasing women’s participation at work by 10 per cent can lead to an increase of $770 billion in our GDP. If we want economic prosperity and social justice for all, change has to happen at an individual, social and institutional level. As women gain confidence to step out of the home, men need to make way.
Nirupama Subramanian, Cofounder at GLOW- Growing Leadership of Women and Co-founder at My Daughter is Precious.
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