70 years since Independence, the state of women in India though having been evolved to an extent is still very much behind other countries’ women population, let alone their male counterparts. With a rank of 108 in World Economic Forum’s gender gap index and a rank of 130 in Human Development Index, having adolescent birth rate of 23 i.e. 23 out of 1000 girls between the age group of 15 to 19 deliver a baby, and only 39% of women population having secondary education, India’s growth remains not just unequal but unjust to its women population. The sorry state does not augur well for a country competing for a global spot being the 5th largest economy and chest thumping on becoming one of the superpowers in the world.
It is crucial that India’s growth is made inclusive without leaping ahead leaving behind the women population. Emancipation of women in our country has been through various phases, from eradicating Sati to ‘permitting’ women to enter the sanctum of the temple. Observed from outside, all the measures seem to be ‘granted’ rather than ‘accessed’. It is high time women be made the authoritative power to acquire whatever they want themselves. The shift in women perspective has to move from protection to power. This shall be possible only when women in grassroots level acquire equal access and power.
“Equal rights for someone doesn’t mean lesser rights for others”, they say. Same way, more jobs for women doesn’t mean lesser jobs for men. World Economic forum says “If women contribute as equal as men, our GDP will increase by 27%”, but the unsaid truth is women’s work is unaccounted and unpaid. Women’s unpaid labor alone equals 43 times the annual income of Apple Inc. That is the pathetic state of women in this country.
Why it is that majority of the women are termed “not-working” only because their work is not considered to be “working” at all. Whose mistake is that? While women are mostly engaged in the informal, unorganized sector, the ones in the organized sector are also hugely underpaid and overlooked.
In 1990 35% of Indian women were ‘working’ women but in 2018, the stats have come down to a shocking 27%. The trends look alarming. While our neighboring China has a whopping 56% of women in the age group of 15-24 contributing towards the economy, India’s recorded meager 16% tells us a different story. While it is argued that the majority of the women population has opted for higher studies, the reduction in the numbers cannot be ignored.
The main reason being, we have still not divorced our social stigmas associated with women. For example, one of the main reasons recorded for women quitting work after marriage is said to be to look after the baby. The onus of raising up a child is largely on women. Though we have better maternity leave offers with a paid 9 months leave, it is still not a clear cut method. A better effective approach is to unload the burden of women by mandating a compulsory paternal leave and making the men share the load.
It has a double advantage that men will be equally responsible from the beginning and employers will not refrain recruiting women over the fact that they will get a break post-marriage, as the break will become common to all the employees irrespective of gender. An extra advantage for women is that they will not be targeted for missing out, a very common problem faced by women across the globe as they miss out promotions immediately after a break. This will be considerably reduced – as the missing out becomes common and hence more understandable for everyone.
More women self-help groups need to be formed in rural areas to engage more women to become financially independent. This need to be given special importance as the primary concern has to be accounting all the work done by women in contribution towards GDP. As per reports of 2016, only 14% of business in India are run by women. In that too, a majority of the business is operated single-handed, which means small scale business shall be boosted by promoting easy and interest-free loans to woo more women to register their business and become job creators, putting them on top echelons of the society. 48% of women entrepreneurs still do not have a bank account and 75% of women-operated firms (excluding Northeast and UTs) are stagnant as per National sample survey reports.
As the elections are around the corner, national parties seem to be promising 33% reservation for women in Government jobs. This should not be stopped at this and just left as yet another election gimmick. Pooling more women in job sectors have to be the primary concern for any government as it directly yields more human resource utilization left unexplored largely. In private sectors, though reservation shall not be enforced, indirect measures shall be adopted by giving special benefits to private firms having equal employment ratio of men-women. This will encourage private firms to hire more women and thus making a balance in the job sector.
It was the visionary leader Biju Patnaik, who introduced women reservation in politics, by reserving seats in local bodies’ election. Eventually, the 33% reservation in local bodies has become constitutionalized in the country. However, since 1996, the women reservation bill in parliament is stalled for a mind-boggling 2 decades and on. It is a question of the century, whether the bill will see the light of the day anytime soon.
India has had only 334 women MPs ever since independence, which is less than 2/3 of elected representatives in a single Lok Sabha. This explains a lot. Women participation in the current parliament is a meager 11%. We are lagging behind countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, etc. on this front. India is one of the countries to have exercised franchise for women well ahead of other countries, but still, the political representation has not gained equal momentum.
The women reservation bill which was supported unanimously by all the parties while not in power, however, has never materialized into the paper. It is not surprising though as it just represents the patriarchal system we live in. While everyone claims to be in for women empowerment, no one (read men in deciding authority) wants it anyway. The bill saw male MPs tearing papers, raising slogans and rushing to the well of the house every time it was brought.
While the UPA-II managed to pass it in Rajya Sabha, it could not be cleared in the lower house owing to lesser support. However, the same opposition NDA included it in its 2014 election manifesto and came to power. Even though the Congress assured its full support, the NDA did not pass it and the Parliament sessions were concluded and all the parties had the nerve to include it again in their manifesto. Who are they fooling anyway? Now with BJP and TMC having reserved tickets for women, all the national parties making tall claims on women reservation have once again shunned away from doing something they could actually do themselves.
Anyhow the parliament favored another unexpected reservation just at the last moment to ensure the votes of economically poor unreserved. While no research has been done to substantiate the reason for 10%, the bill was passed with much fanfare without any hindrances. Apparently, a simple proof of having 50% share in population which is mostly underrepresented and exploited is still not a reason good enough for reserving 1/3rd women in politics.
Studies have found that women legislatures have outperformed male legislatures in India. UNU-WIDER (United Nations University-World Institute of Development and Economic Research) based its study in India for 4 election cycles i.e. a period of 20 years on the performance of Indian legislators. Some findings are as follows:
Last but not least, all the discrimination against women boils down to one thing – women are more vulnerable to social injustice. While the laws are always there in the paper, it has never been easy for women to accessorize it, rather it was the perpetrators who have always managed to escape. Thanks to our age-old tradition of slut-shaming women and whatever-it-is-he-is-a-man syndrome.
Every day India records 106 rape cases and every 4 out of 10 victims are minors. And in 95% cases, the perpetrators are blood-related. While it is well known that most of the rape cases are unrecorded in this country, the recorded cases have actually increased after the Nirbhaya case. However, only 1 in 4 rape cases is convicted. The country needs stringent laws for violence against women.
Compassion for women comes only when they are raped. Otherwise, they are just insignificant and never heard. The most important reason for violence against women is the normalization of degrading women and having a reckless attitude when it comes to dealing with women. There have been various instances on women coming under the attack of derogatory remarks. Even women in powerful places like politics have never ceased to escape this ill fate. The Parliament and state assemblies have seen multiples cases of women coming under the flak of sexist remarks and actions by their male colleagues. The maximum action taken on such issues is removing those words from the records. This is the highest form of the travesty of justice. Only bringing them to books and making their actions accountable will reduce this menace. We need special laws and corrective measures on such accounts.
While Indian judiciary has become revolutionary lately by decriminalizing section 377 – embracing homosexuality and decriminalizing illicit relationship out of wedlock, the one that is still inhumanly violating the basic human rights of women is not even an offense – the reason being criminalizing marital rape will destroy the institution of marriage in this country. Since when did institution of marriage become a validation to rape women? It is time we do away with such injustices being shoved down in the name of one-sided culture and morals.
India cannot grow only with a 50% population. Equal space is what is an indication of a developed civil society. India can no longer hide behind the tokenisms of first woman this and that as full-fledged emancipation of women. India cannot achieve an international feat with the current gender gap. Let us not keep ignoring the elephant in the room.