Women empowerment in Indian Economy

Rebalancing India’s Economy

As history dictates, women globally,have faced an uphill battle on an uneven playing field to earn the right to be treated as equal citizens, both legally and socially. In India, discrimination and marginalisation is evident even in political and economic involvement, access to education and decision-making positions. While the feminist movement has made great strides, struggle is still prevalent today. In 2019, the hindrance for women to thrive in the workplace is certainly not the lack of qualification or ability. Everyday sexism, lack of transparency, gender wage gap and sexual harassment is the tip of the ice berg.

It was Melinda Gates who said, ‘When we invest in women, we invest in the people who invest in everyone else.’ In order for India’s economy to progress, we need to create an empowering environment that promotes women at all levels to reshape the conversation, change the dynamic and make sure that their voices are heard. In a deeply patriarchal society, one may ask the question, ‘Why is there a need for equal female representation in the workplace?’ The answer lies in the statistics.

The current female population in India is 48.4%. From this, the labour force participation rate for Indian women is a meagre 28.5%. This means that there are 235 million missing workers. An unbalanced ratio that certainly puts India (the second largest economy in the world) at a developmental disadvantage. We have made humble progress in closing the gender gap in the last decade, rising from the rank of 98th to 87th in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report. It aggregates a range of indicators from health and education to economic and political participation. If we were to rebalance and equalize our workforce, the IMF estimates, that India would be 27% richer, effectively turning into a developed nation. This unrealized contribution of women is one unfortunate reason why 60% of India is still in poverty.

The Working Woman

Oxford Dictionary defines success as ‘the accomplishment of an aim or purpose’. Who/What defines this yardstick to measure success in the workplace is open to interpretation. Is it the amount of zeroes in a salary? Or the field of authority in one’s possession? Or even the capacity to balance a personal and professional life? Our conversation with various female employees at Capri holding different positions, having had unique experiences in the world of Finance, revealed that there is a shared link. The appreciation for being accountable for the decisions made by them i.e. the ambition and monetary independence earned through the role of a working woman. ‘In the next 5 years, I see myself as the head of the Administration Department. I want to become stronger within my own identity and achieve all the goals I set for myself’ says Charu.

Work-Life Balance

We have all heard the saying, ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy (or Jill a dull girl!)’. Maintaining a work-life balance is essential for productivity, holistic living and mental health. For women employed in typically male dominated industries, finding this balance can be an idealistic fantasy. Extended office hours, pressure to work harder than male counter parts for equal recognition and the challenge against remaining in a subordinate position to prioritize household responsibilities can be the dominant deterrents. ‘A routine work day makes me feel that 24 hours is not adequate. Time passes so fleetingly; it is hard to grasp the speed of the passing days. It’s only home to office and office to my home’ says Priyanka.

Parental Responsibility

Employers are required to provide 26 weeks of paid maternity leave, while they are not obligated to provide paternity leave. This creates the stigma of a ‘motherhood penalty’ for working women. Additionally, this influences hirers to prefer men over women to reduce the burden of the added wage. Along with this, Indian mothers are expected to shoulder the burden of domestic duties. By creating flexible work hours, childcare benefits, on-site day care facilities to be utilized by both parents would promote equality, reduce stress, and promote an efficient employment approach and lifestyle. This also enables an inclusive and women-friendly work environment.

The Concern for Safety in the Workplace

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act was enacted in 2013 by the Indian Government. It covers all women, irrespective of their age or employment status and protects them against sexual harassment at all workplaces both in public and in private sector, whether organized or unorganized. At the time of employment, women should be made aware of their rights and how to apply them. A secure human resources department, having transparent procedures in place and a ‘prevention is better than the cure’ mentality already fixes a lot of problems.

Small steps for change

The Ministry of Women and Child Development has invested over Rs.300 crores in the past 15 years to empower rural women. The initial underprivileged women gain access to skills, markets and business development services. As a result, they have experienced greater food security, better access to finance, and higher incomes that benefit themselves and their families. Last year, Prime minister, Narendra Modi launched the Amma Scooter Scheme – the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Government’s flagship programme – in Chennai. In this initiative, the state government offers a Rs 25,000 subsidy for women to buy two-wheelers for an easy and safe commute to work. Women are able to secure positions at the village council level and are being included in decision making alongside men in rural parts of India.

“IN THE FUTURE, THERE WILL BE NO FEMALE LEADERS. THERE WILL JUST BE LEADERS.” — SHERYL SANDBERG