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Why Are Women Excluded From Leadership Roles In Public Administration?

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Public administration is the substratum of government and the central instrument through which national policies and programmes are implemented. In an ideal world, the quintessence of public administration is steered by various principles of fairness, justice, accountability, equality and non-discrimination. The idea of such a model of governance is to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment as part of the civil service workforce.

Race for Equality
According to the Article 21, universal declaration of human rights, says, “Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives and everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.” Is it true? or Is it an obfuscation created just as all the “hers’ ignored in the declaration?

However, the present global scenario is not the same. Instead of being the pushing force towards the implementation of internationally agreed goals on women’s empowerment, gender equality and many other human rights standards, in many developing and developed countries, public administration is often looked as a patriarchal institution. The tradition of gender biases, attitudes and practices are followed to ensure minimal participation of women, especially in the leadership and influential decision-making roles.

According to the Article 21, universal declaration of human rights, “Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives and everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.” With the existence of such equal dogma, public administration is still not tapping the full potential of the country’s workforce. Talking about a country like India, women represent nearly half of the population which gives them an equal chance of equal participation which significantly impacts the women’s economic empowerment. In this article, we will be focusing upon the main trends, challenges and barriers which are affecting the gender equality in public administration as well as how much women’s participation is relevant in the present scenario.

Gender Equality In Public Administration

As noted in the introduction, there is no comprehensive global baseline through which certain trends can be observed regarding the presence of gender equality in the public administration. There is some encouraging absolute number of women in public service, but not necessarily in the position of high-level authority or across all sectors uniformly. Women represent 30% of public administration in many countries, but their participation varies greatly from 75% in countries like Ukraine to as low as 12% in India.

Another interesting fact was observed by the Ernst & Young across the G20 major economies. According to them, women account for 48% of the public sector workforce, whereas they still represent less than 20% of the public sector leadership. It was very significant to dig further into what is the actual number of women participating in the public administration. According to the UNDP global report, in many countries where men and women are equal in number for representing the public sector, women tend to be grouped in the junior, less prestigious and low pay scale positions. They were more clustered in traditionally considered “soft” or “feminized” sectors such as health, education, culture and tourism. In most of the core as well as other semi-periphery countries, women are underrepresented. Sectors like security, finance and planning are majorly dominated by men.

Although from the very beginning, this write-up has focused on the decision making position at the national level, the pattern of women participation in the local government is worth highlighting. For most people, local government plays a very crucial role in impacting the livelihood of common people than the national parliament; especially when the local government delivers the key service. In such cases, women participation is higher at the sub-national level than the national level, which ensures greater women empowerment and gender equality. With more participation of women and gender-balanced boards, research has reflected efficient and ameliorating governance.

The European Commission had published data showing that companies with the highest number of women on their board had a 41% higher return as compared to the companies with no woman on their board. The management consulting firm McKinsey & Company has also found that during 2005 and 2007, companies with the most gender-diverse management teams had 17% higher stock price growth compared to the other average industry. With such positive facts and figures, it is said that average women participation is nearly 30% in the public administration, whose goal is to ensure a better standard of living for the citizen as well as the overall development of the nation.

Now, it is clear that public administration has still not accepted the full potential and talents of women. The explanation of why women are still underrepresented in the decision-making process is still based on certain assumptions which lack a rational basis. Both men and women have their capacities, competencies which drive them toward life goals and their willingness to take responsibility in their professional sphere of life. Besides, women are also influenced by the broader, socio-cultural gender-based values and norms. It has been seen that gender equality and women empowerment benefits not only women but also their own families, community and country. Likewise, gender equality in public administration is not only going to benefit women but the civil society as a whole.

The current decision-makers, men, should encourage and involve more in equal representation issues. It is critical that awareness-raising efforts must include male leaders and staff so that each element of public administration can be capacitated to become more involved in gender equality. With tenacious efforts and speculation over time, women’s participation and leadership can be a reality where women’s talent and full potential will be respectfully recognised. Such recognition will reap a benefit to all elements of the public administration.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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