Can Covid-19 open doors for working women?
As India slowly begins battling its way out of the pandemic with its vaccination drive, new models of work and innovative thinking on the part of employers can create positive outcomes for women. Women have suffered tremendously during the pandemic, but there may well be some silver linings.
India’s social structures, which force a woman to move to different locations depending on her husband’s job or remain behind with families in villages or small towns to take care of the household, have resulted in millions of women either having to stay out of jobs, drop out or miss opportunities to acquire the appropriate skills or educational qualifications to build a career.
A range of sectors now allow employees to work from anywhere. This can benefit women, for whom lack of mobility and distance to office, not to mention household chores, have meant a decrease in career opportunities. Flexibility in the workplace will give them more choices, though this transformation will take time.
If location and time are not factors, more women are likely to stay on in a job after having children, which gives them continuity in service and hence better chances at career progression. New work models will bring, apart from more work from home opportunities, possibilities of fewer days a week in the workplace for many.
But this is not enough, for women also need support structures if they are to be truly productive. This is a good time for workplaces across the spectrum to consider crèches so that women who do have opportunities but are held back by child care responsibilities can put themselves into the job market.
The government has been proactive in getting the economy back on track. The issue of giving women the right tools to not just empower themselves but also make a significant contribution to the economy should be a priority. If health care and social support systems improve, some of the burden of care-giving at home can also be lifted from women, leaving them to pursue their own aspirations. Employers should actively look at reskilling women already on the rolls and the government should offer more support for women who wish to acquire the educational skills to meet the demands of the labour market today.
Though it may be a bit premature to say that mindsets have changed, there is definitely greater realisation now, after the onset of the pandemic, even within patriarchal structures, that women have had to bear a disproportionate burden of housework and care-giving for the young, elderly and sick.
This could lead to greater male participation in the household. Economic pressure will also push more women into the job market and they should be able to access resources, information and skills with much greater ease than was the case before the pandemic.
The Start-up India and Skill India schemes should target women much more aggressively now. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose words have proved transformational in many areas, should use his popular radio broadcast, Mann ki Baat, to emphasis the need to get women back into the workforce and make the workplace more conducive to those already in it. This would ensure that India does not lose out on so much talent waiting to be tapped if only the conditions are enabling. On this International Women’s Day, a pledge to bring women back into the workforce should be India’s top priority.
The views expressed are personal