Better policies necessary to cure gender inequality
LEVELLER NEEDED: Women represent only 29% of the labour force. More than half of the work done by women in India is unpaid, and almost all of it is informalUpdated: Apr 04, 2020 19:30 IST
To commemorate International Women’s Day this year, Time magazine released 89 new Time covers to address the imbalance of the magazine over the years. Till 1977, the Time cover was even called “Man of the Year” which got replaced with “Person of the Year”. Even then men continued to dominate. This exercise conducted by Time is very significant and it got over 600 names from which the 89 were shortlisted. They include politicians, scientists, activists, sportswomen, artists and others who have contributed greatly in their fields and in many cases made a difference. All it took was the effort to look for them. This list is long overdue.
Last week, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) shared the Gender Norms Social Index with data from 75 countries covering 80% of the world population that showed that there are deep ingrained biases against women across the world. The data shows that while men and women vote at similar rates, only 24% of parliamentary seats are held by women and there are only 10 female heads of government out of 193. Women in the labour market are paid less than men, and are much less likely to be in senior positions: less than 6% of CEOs in S&P 500 companies are women. And while women work more hours than men, this work is more likely to be unpaid care work.
These facts are very interesting because they point to deep biases which will need a lot of work to get past. We all hold biases which we don’t question. The fact that Time did not have a woman on the cover for more than 75 years shows bias, because clearly it is not that there were no deserving women. Some of those included women who were well known even in their times – Virginia Woolf, Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo, Rosalind Franklin, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Rosa Parks, Golda Meir, Simone de Beauvoir and Indira Gandhi. among others. The number of women hidden figures in Indian history is also a long list and we need to recover her-story as well.
In India, the statistics on women’s equality and visibility are not very encouraging. Women represent only 29% of the labour force. More than half of the work done by women in India is unpaid, and almost all of it is informal.
Though they comprise almost 40% of agricultural labour, they control only 9% of land. Further, nearly half of India’s women do not have a bank account and 60% of women have no valuable assets in their name. In addition, they are victims of violence with the rate of crimes against women at 53.9%.
On the one side are these statistics on women’s equality and empowerment in India, while on the other side we are seeing changes in our cities.
In Gurugram, women are visible in both in the formal and informal workforce. To increase these numbers, we need better policies as well as enabling conditions such as good public transport and safe public spaces. But good policies also need strong implementation. Last year, the education department announced free bus rides for all girl students of state government schools. Unfortunately, many schools did not send the requisite details about the girls to be able to avail of the benefit. Such a scheme, if well implemented, can lead to less female dropout from schools, which, in turn, can result in more girls in higher education as well as in the work force.
In Delhi, the free bus ride scheme for women has resulted in increased ridership of women, particularly from the lower and lower middle classes. While no evaluation has yet been done, anecdotal evidence has been positive. Women workers in India are known to walk even up to 5km to access their workplace, as per the last census data.
Gendered inequality is a global concern and it is estimated that, at the current rate of progress, it will take 108 years to achieve gender equality. I don’t think women are willing to wait another century for equality!
(The author works on issues of women’s safety and rights in cities)