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Give women leaders equitable access to resources

ByHindustan Times
Oct 11, 2023 07:05 PM IST

This article is authored by Naghma Mulla, Chief Executive Officer, EdelGive Foundation.

A country's development, prosperity, and economic resilience are inextricably linked with the equitable allocation of resources and responsibilities among its populace. Ensuring that women have equal access and control over crucial resources advances critical development goals. Access to these resources improves women’s participation in the workforce as well as their representation in decision-making roles – adding immensely to the economic development of the country.

Equality(Pixabay)

When we think of 'resources', we often focus on tangible assets like household income or access to finance or education. Yet, resources also extend to political realms, encompassing leadership skills, access to information, organisational abilities, tangible materials such as land and equipment, and even the invaluable asset of time. Beyond just economic and productive means, they also play a vital role in the political domain.

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In India, a longstanding issue is the pervasive gender inequality in terms of the allocation of resources to women. It is observed that there are several resources including land, education, and finance that women can neither access for their benefit nor exercise any decision-making control over – to the detriment of the well-being of families and communities. Time poverty in particular, where the resource of time is constrained, is pervasive across all sections of women due to unpaid caregiving work. Additionally, the lack of opportunities for mentorship and networking, low ownership of land, and subpar representation in decision-making roles further restrict women's career advancement and their ability to assume leadership positions in various sectors.

This gendered disparity in resource access and distribution of responsibilities has far-reaching economic implications. It limits women's participation in the labour market, which in turn reduces the potential for economic growth. A report by McKinsey Global Institute suggested that advancing women's equality could add $12 trillion to global growth by 2025. In a country like India, harnessing the full potential of women would significantly boost economic development. The World Bank estimates that even if 50% of women could join the workforce, India’s economic growth would increase by a considerable 1.5 percentage points to 9% annually.

Traditional roles and societal norms have resulted in a gender-based division of responsibilities, where women are disproportionately burdened with unpaid care and domestic work. This has largely limited their ability to participate in productive activities outside the household, affecting their personal growth and economic potential. Their access to essential resources such as education, health care, finance, and technology remains inequitable compared to their male counterparts. For instance, the time women and girls, spend fetching water leaves them with little or no time to attend school or utilise any income-generating opportunities. International Development Enterprises (IDE) has projected that Indian women cumulatively dedicate 150 million workdays each year to the task of collecting water, which is a form of unpaid work. This is tantamount to a national income loss of 10 billion annually.

Addressing these disparities and propelling women to decision-making roles is not just a moral imperative but a necessity for the country to meet its development goals. For instance, take the case of Arpana Adhikary, who serves as a district coordinator for the Swachh Bharat Mission in the Barpeta district of Assam. Faced with a lack of male engagement in toilet construction, Arpana trained 22 women from self-help groups to be masons. These women have since facilitated the construction of numerous toilets, significantly improving sanitation levels in Barpeta and driving positive social change for many families. This case highlights how women in leadership positions can drive inclusion and enable other women to be decision-makers at the grassroots level.

· Efforts should be made to promote equal distribution of domestic responsibilities between genders.

· Workplace policies which encourage and incentivise the participation of men in care and domestic work can be an effective means of taking the sole burden of caregiving off women and giving them the liberty to spend their time as per their needs. An example of such a policy is paid paternity leave which not only helps reduce burnout for working women with children but also helps men bond with their children.

· The government, in partnership with non-governmental organisations and the private sector, must develop and implement policies and initiatives aimed at reducing gender biases, increasing women's access to resources, and fostering an environment conducive to their leadership.

· At a macroeconomic level, efforts should be fortified to execute a gender mainstreaming strategy that incorporates gender perspectives in the allocation of resources. Tools such as gender analysis, gender-impact assessments, and gender-responsive budgeting make it possible to understand societal norms around gender and identify the probability of negative impact on gender equality that a certain decision might have. Accordingly, revisions in existing policies and allocation of finances (to implement schemes where a part or the whole of a budget is reserved for women), will take us closer to the goal of eliminating inequities. It is also important to perform and distribute a gender-focused analysis of policies and programs related to macroeconomic stability, access to land, employment, and other resources.

· Government decisions on taxes and spending can greatly impact a country's economy and affect people's choices about work. Gender budgeting helps to highlight where gender inequality might be hidden in public policies and is a brilliant tool that governments must use to check if public spending decisions help or hamper gender equality. By considering the gendered division of resources, it can help identify areas where gender inequality persists and allocate resources in a manner that addresses those disparities. This in turn ensures that important gender-related issues like the gender pay gap and unequal participation in the workforce, leading to social and economic improvements are effectively addressed.

India’s economy needs to grow by an average of 9% annually if it is to reach the $10 trillion mark by 2030 – a target which will remain out of reach if more women do not join the workforce. The focus, therefore, should be on removing the barriers that hinder women's participation and leadership and enabling an environment that encourages their growth and contribution. The benefits of such actions would extend far beyond individual women, impacting families, communities, and the economy, and building a more resilient India.

This article is authored by Naghma Mulla, Chief Executive Officer, EdelGive Foundation.

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