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Fostering Economic : Empowerment of Women

Fostering Economic : Empowerment of Women
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It’s been 70 years that women have been granted equal rights under the constitution but the paradox between theory and what we practice is quite unpleasant.

It's been 70 years that women have been granted equal rights under the constitution but the paradox between theory and what we practice is quite unpleasant.

Women who have been elevated as goddesses culturally and projected as great warriors, caregivers and change makers in our history, still struggle for their equal rights and for their conformity socially and economically.

The debate around their rightful place continues to ignite heated arguments. A recent report by Deloitte stating the exponential decline of women from the workforce is a reminder of the unpleasant paradox that we conveniently choose to ignore.

Majority of the jobs are still dominated by men. More than a third of all job advertisements in India explicitly specify the preferred gender of the prospective employee, which more often is male.

Six in every 10 such workplaces, employers prefer male candidates. On the other hand, women continue to be preferred for low-quality and low-paid informal jobs as pointed out by a World Bank Report released in March 2018.

In the same year, around 2.3 million women lost jobs in urban regions and 6.5 million in rural areas. The situation is equally bad in both rural and urban regions. Despite greater literacy among women and readiness to take up jobs and challenges, why is it that women still have to struggle and squeeze themselves in to claim their place?

India is primarily a patriarchal society and the answer to the above question can be easily traced to the institutionalization of patriarchy. Men are considered as the primary bread-earners and women are stereotyped to more auxiliary and supportive tasks.

The cultural notion that women are the weaker sex has burrowed its roots deep and has encroached the economic and financial independence of women. Societal norms, lack of education, and pre-fixed gender roles among many other factors eat into a women's opportunity for economic freedom.

Our country's economic boom has been praiseworthy. It has shown continuous strides in most indicators of development. However, we have also witnessed a sharp decrease in the percentage of working women from 36 per cent in 2005-06 to 24 per cent in 2015-16.

Globally, on an average, women contribute close to 40 per cent to the GDP in their respective countries, whereas in India, women contribution stands at less than 15 per cent.

India can potentially improve its economic growth rate by 1.5 per cent, if 50 per cent of women are part of the workforce. It becomes increasingly important to ensure India's workforce includes females in equal number, for both societal and economic progress.

The historical preference for men can't be undone instantly. What is required is a change in the behaviour within the society along with better economic opportunities for the upliftment of women.

Affirmative action has great potential to bring about gender diversity both in public and private corporations. These actions at workplaces can be identified as a policy or programme designed to counter discrimination against women. These policies can ensure that institutions are non-discriminatory in their hiring and selection practices.

Positive discrimination will enable policies that are necessary to correct historical injustice. The world has witnessed more aggressive reservations, like the ones in countries like Norway, Italy, the Netherlands and most recently Germany, where the biggest companies have been ordered to ensure that 30 per cent of the supervisory board constitutes of women.

However, India's story is different. Merely providing entry into institutions and job opportunities will not suffice. India witnesses a huge number of women dropouts from workplaces.

Mandatory supplementary measures like counselling, workplace safety and other measures targeted at eliminating gender discrimination can be efficiently used to reduce the dropouts. India needs to strengthen its existing laws and also enact additional legislation to outlaw discrimination in employment and pay.

The private sector along with the government has a crucial role to play. Their effective collaboration can efficiently bridge the gap in the skill set of women and generate better livelihood opportunities for them.

Skill development and livelihood-based programs, especially through financial and vocational training, can positively promote economic empowerment of women. With approximately 280 million more people joining India's job market by 2050, it is important that we work towards mitigating the inequalities.

With a combined effort from both public and private sectors, economic empowerment of women is an achievable task.

All we need is a change in behaviour and perception! Perceive women as equals and they will be treated likewise.

(The writer is CEO of Fiinovation)

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