“A quota leads to action. Action leads to training” – Carlos Ghosn, C.E.O of Renault-Nissan alliance.
ThisÂ view was echoed by the speakers at the 44th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, where, apart from ‘promotion of women’s leadership roles’ which seemingly ‘boosts business profits’ and aims atÂ ‘creating environments more conducive to women’s input as it makes good sense from the perspective of business, politics and ethics’, stress was also givenÂ by all speakers alike on ‘setting Quotas and targets to include women’ which leads to ‘new breakthroughs in Gender Equality’. This recommendation perhaps makes sense in light of India’s almost paradoxical success story at being able to be among the 20 best performing countries as regards to the SubIndex of Political Empowerment, inspite of faring poorly at all other indicators, thus ranking a dismal 114 out of 142 countries as per the W.E.F’s 2014 Gender Gap Index report. But the notion of replicating this quota scheme in other fields of life holds dangerous implications in a country like India, which is already strife with Anti-Reservation protests with popular opinion not in favour of the already existing multitude of reservations. India ranked an impressive 15, making it the highest ranked country in years with female head of state (over 50 years) indicator, a feat only rivalled by Iceland which has taken the top spot on the index consecutively since 2009. It is less of voluntary conscientious political participation and more of legally mandated privileges (the 33% quota) that has helped India save face in the International Media. With out-of-work actresses, devoid of any political knowhow, making up a good chunk of M.P’s and M.L.A’s getting elected from constituencies they hardly ever visit, political ‘Empowerment’ is perhaps a misnomer.
The silver lining is the suggestion made by the report that Indian women in local Govt. roles make decisions with better outcomes for communities than men do, when charged with budget decisions. Obtaining more resources for their constituencies despite having significantly lower education and relevant market experience, these women surely come up as competent representatives.
This index, first introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006 as a framework for capturing the magnitude of gender-based disparities and tracking their progress, benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, political, education and health criteria. On the criteria of economic participation and opportunity, India was ranked 134, which is not a surprise given only 14% of the companies questioned have 40% or more women among their employees, mainly present at the entry and middle levels of management with only a few attaining senior management level. This, apart from the lowest number of firms with female participation in ownership, and also the highest difference in the male and female R&D personnel. Most companies do not even track salary gaps. Despite the clear wage gaps between men and women, only 4%of the companies surveyed are attempting to monitor salary gaps. “Women, as half of the human capital of India, will need to be more efficiently integrated into the economy in order to boost India’s long term competitive potential. The World Economic Forum’s survey of some of the biggest companies of India shows that,to achieve this integration, Indian companies will need to set targets, improve policies to close salary gaps and promote work-life balance,” said Saadia Zahidi, Co-author of the Forum’s Global Gender Gap report 2009 and head of the Forum’s Women Leaders and Gender parity Programme.
The 114th position makes India the lowest ranked BRICS nation and one of the few countries where female labour participation is shrinking – a recurrent trend if we are to believe a 2009 report by Nancy Lockwood of Society for Human Resources Management, the world’s largest human resources association with members in 140 countries, wherein it is cited that notwithstanding the rapid increase since the 1990’s, the female labour participation in India is still lower than men; out of India’s 397 million workers in 2001, 114 million were women with a wage gap ratio of 1.87. In manual ploughing operations, women earned Rs55/day compared to men’s Rs103/day. The shrinking labour force participation could have been interpreted as a positive development (better educational opportunities would ensure a deviation from manual labour) had it not been for the female to male literacy ratio of 48% and 73% respectively, thus ranking India at 126.
A staggering difference of 300 exists between Indian men and women in case of average minutes/day spent on unpaid work – the highest difference among the 142 countries surveyed.
India had closed 93% of its health gender gap, 84% of its education gap, 41% of its economic participation gap and 27% of its political empowerment gap according to the Global Gender Gap report 2009. From thereon, it’s been downhill as India slips 13 places from its last year’s ranking of 101 with a drop (in absolute and relative value) on the health and survival index, compared with 2006. In stark comparison are some countries from even the Sub-Saharan region who have managed to close more than 80% of the Economic Participation and Opportunity Sub Index, 25 countries fully closing the gap in Educational Attainment and 8 countries – Bahamas, Belize, Brazil, France, Guyana, Latvia, Nambia and The Phillipines – fully closing the gap on both the Health and Education Sub Index.
The plight of Indian rural women with hundreds dying each day at childbirth and thousands more with no primary health care access is reflected on India’s rank of 141 on the Health and Survival Sub Index. The main criterion – a decrease in female to male ratio at birth.
The indifferent and incompetent health workers are the root cause of the non-implementation of the numerous schemes (The National Maternity Scheme/Janani Suraksha Yojana, JSSK, NSSK, RCH Phase 1 and 2, to name a few) meant for achieving the Millennium Development Goals of gender equity, reduction of child mortality, maternal health improvement etc.
As the world takes lessons from the Nordic Countries (consistent toppers of the index), considered as the pioneers in the field of gender equality, it remains to be seen if India can take cues from these countries’ political will to achieve gender equality through policies as groundbreaking (after the soviet area) as paternal leave (thus explicitly encouraging mothers to take up paid work) achieved through the public debate forum – a feat perhaps only possible for these Atheist majority countries.
With a U.N. study finding how some Indian laws such as the Goa Polygamy Law reinforce gender inequality, the gap between the equal rights to women as enshrined in the constitution, the preamble etc. and the situational reality of the status of women but naturally exists. With the newly appointed N.C.W chairperson already failing to keep her promise to send a notice against the Haryana khaps’ Talibani diktats, the government surely seems in no hurry to correct the situation.
With even U.S.A., the forerunners of the feminist movement, transcend from its ‘Bra burning’Â days to the age of ‘Victoria’s Secret’, the fine line between sexual liberalisation and female objectification easily gets blurred in India (proud emulators of anything Firangi especially Amreeki) with even the beacons of Indian journalism failing to live up to their names as exemplified by the Deepika Padukone – Times of India spat.
It will take India 81 years just to achieve gender parity at the workplace, says the W.E.F report. The participants at the ground level would perhaps beg to differ as it takes aeons to change the psyche of the society, and that too of one with its pillars of latent coercion and control firmly rooted in the soils of habit and religion with the vanguard of patriarchy.