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Forget Corporations, Even Non-Profits In India Don’t Address The Gender Gap

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Bela Roy (L), teaches the local Bengali alphabet to prostitutes in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta March 7. Voluntary organisations say most prostitutes are from socially and economically backward sections of society. Many prostitutes in Calcutta are participating in rallies on the occasion of the International Women Day on Wednesday. JS/TAN - RTR20PC
Image credit: Reuters/Jayanta Shaw.

The Companies Act 2013 mandated that a publicly listed company, which has five or more directors, must have at least one woman director. Even when surveys show that companies with better representation of women perform better, they are loath to shed their biases. It appears then that patriarchal notions persist even if markets and profit argue against them. A new report further explicates this.

Not-Profit Organisations Not Transformative Enough

Dasra, a philanthropy foundation, sought responses from 328 ‘non-profits and hybrid organisations’ across various sectors on the representation of women and their approach to addressing gender within their organisation and organisational work. The results of the survey aren’t promising.

While 9% of such organisations do not even track their outreach separately for each gender, a significant 37% had less than 50% outreach to women/girls. Moreover, 68% run ‘universal programs’– to use the report’s language – that do not take into account what the specific needs of each gender might be. This is what, the report argues, is a gender-blind approach. While these organisations might claim to not discriminate on the basis of gender, their reluctance to take into account or address the gender roles imposed by society, the specific needs of women, or the biases and privileges of men–we should know–is likely to favour the privileged gender or maintain the status quo.

The Link Between Impact And Gender Lens

The report, perhaps because it is prepared for people who offer grants to such social organisations, also tries to emphasise that ‘impact’ or ‘profit’ is favoured by better gender representation. The reason behind making this argument is that if organisations learn that ‘impact’ increases and that even profit-making companies improve their performance with the inclusion of women, they are likely to shed their biases against women. Therefore, the report accuses the 68% organisations that consider ‘gender diversity and equal opportunities’ alone as the greatest benefit of addressing gender in their work and workplace for having a “limited understanding of the fundamental link between adopting a gender lens and increasing program impact.”

Citing other surveys too, the report wishes to emphasise that such an approach also leads to increased ‘program impact’, higher funder interest, better decision making, etc. But this is also perhaps a slightly problematic aspect of the report. This knowledge of the ‘fundamental link’ is useful and organisations should be aware of it, but the question the report eschews is whether a ‘gender lens’ should be forsaken if there was only, say, a minimal increase in impact or funder interest. Should we not seek gender diversity just for the sake of it, after all these years of oppression and under-representation?

This is important because the report encourages, although no survey is provided in this regard, organisations to take an intersectional approach and also address marginalisation resulting from caste, class, religion, etc. Now, the surveys that the report cites to imply that impact increases when gender-lens is employed are surveys that show that profit-making companies are more successful with such an approach. But an intersectional inclusion, at least in India today, might require some form of affirmative action, which a lot of profit-making companies think is detrimental to business or a shift towards ‘non-meritorious’. In that case, it is important to also explicate, further maybe, that an organisation perhaps may not immediately be in a win-win situation. That it may have to do what might appear initially as some ‘striving’. Even if a non-profit or hybrid organisation has more impact with an all-men team, this ‘striving’ has to be done, because men have historically had a lot of privileges that can enable them to be more fruitful at work.

Women In Higher Positions In Non-Profits In India

Other aspects of the report are rather expected, although there has been not an unfounded surprise at these biases being present even within non-profits. Greater than 50% of manager and above positions are held by women in only 15% organisations led by men. 75% women-led organisations, on the other hand, have more than 50% women in manager and above positions. Equal representation in Board positions is present only in 8% men-led organisations.

That money flows in the direction of gender privilege is also made evident again through this report. Among the organisations surveyed, those with a budget of less than Rs. five crores and led by men are almost equal to those led by women in the same budget bracket. However, only 20% of organisations with a budget greater than Rs. five crores are led by women as against 38% being led by men.

We just celebrated the International Working Women’s Day this year, which now remains abbreviated to IWD or International Women’s Day. A lot of corporations pledge support to the cause of women empowerment, gender equity, and so on every year on this occasion or otherwise. The non-profit and the profit-making organisation work in a symbiotic relationship a lot of the time and one would hope that they had at least set the ball rolling by now. But as time and again it is reiterated, as via this report, there seems to have been no progress in this much-needed social transformation.

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  1. Batman

    WHY A FEMALE BOSS DOES NOT WANT TO HIRE WOMEN

    I don’t want to hire any more women.

    Yes, I said it. You cringed when you read it and I cringed when I wrote it, and even more so when the thought first occurred to me. I am a woman, a feminist, a mother, and a passionate entrepreneur. I don’t just stand for equality – I have crashed the glass ceiling in every aspect of my life. I get extremely angry when I come across articles that insist there are gender differences that extend beyond physiology. I am fortunate to have had female role models who taught me through their own examples that I can accomplish absolutely anything I desire.

    Over the years, I have hired outstanding women – educated, intelligent and highly articulate. Yet, I am exhausted. I have become profoundly tired of being a therapist and a babysitter, of being drawn into passive-aggressive mental games and into constantly questioning my own worth as a manager. I have had several women who quit to stay home to “figure out what to do next”. No, not to stay home and care for children, but to mooch of a husband or a boyfriend while soul searching (aka: taking a language class or learning a new inapplicable skill that could be acquired after work). Incidentally, I have not had a single male employee quit with no plan in mind.

    I have had women cry in team meetings, come to my office to ask me if I still like them and create melodrama over the side of the office their desk was being placed. I am simply incapable of verbalizing enough appreciation to female employees to satiate their need for it for at least a week’s worth of work. Here is one example to explain. My receptionist was resigning and, while in tears, she told me that although she was passionate about our brand and loved the job, she could not overcome the fact that I did not thank her for her work. It really made me stop in my tracks and so I asked for an example. “Remember when I bought the pictures with butterflies to hang in the front? And you just came and said ‘thank you’? That is a perfect example!” – “Wait”, I said, “So, I did thank you then?” – “Yes! But you did not elaborate on what exactly you liked about them! Why didn’t you?” She had bought them with the company credit card and I actually did not like them at all, but I digress.

    I have developed a different approach for offering constructive criticism to male and female employees. When I have something to say to one of the men, I just say it! I don’t think it through – I simply spit it out, we have a brief discussion and we move on. They even frequently thank me for the feedback! Not so fast with my female staff. I plan, I prepare, I think, I run it through my business partner and then I think again. I start with a lot of positive feedback before I feel that I have cushioned my one small negative comment sufficiently, yet it is rarely enough. We talk forever, dissect every little piece of it, and then come back to the topic time and time again in the future. And I also have to confirm that I still like them – again and again, and again.

    I am also yet to have a single male employee come to my office to give me dirt on a co-worker or share an awkward gossip-like story. My female employees though? Every. single. one.

    When I opened my company, I was excited for many reasons. One of them was wanting to make it an amazing place for women to build their careers. After all, we were two women, both mothers with very small children, opening a company in a very competitive industry. I was going to celebrate the achievements of my female hires, encourage them to find their voices, celebrate their pregnancies and year-long maternity leaves, be understanding and accommodating when they would have to juggle work/daycare/school schedules. Yet, I had no idea that the problems women faced in their workplace were often far removed from the typical inequalities feminism continues to address. It is not men who sabotage women and stump their career growth – it is women themselves!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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