Glaring gender divide

By Shutapa Paul

India ranked abysmally in the WEF Global Gender Gap Report 2017. Who is to blame?

India’s ascent in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index has come as a much-needed relief for the Indian government that has been on the backfoot due to a slowing growth and the loss of jobs. India moved from 130 to 100, breaching the top 100 rankings mark. International rating agency, Moody’s Investors Service has upgraded India’s ratings to Baa2 from Baa3 after 14 years.

While this has brought cheer to the economy, another ranking has gone by unnoticed. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2017 by the World Economic Forum (WEF), India ranked 108 out of 144 nations. India was at the 87th position last year; a staggering descent that has made India one of the worst places for women in the world.

At the crux of India’s poor performance in closing the gender gap has been the amount of “unpaid work” that is undertaken by women. 66 per cent of women’s work is unpaid in India compared to 12 per cent of men’s work. Women in China have it better with 44 per cent of women’s work being unpaid compared to 19 per cent for men. This problem, while acute in India, is not restricted to it. Developed countries such as the US and UK too fared miserably on the count of unpaid work by women. Even the global average annual earnings for women was $12,000 while for men it was $21,000. It is not just men’s pay in Bollywood that should be up for debate and redressal, women across the spectrum are earning less than their male counterparts. India has been failing half of its population and shockingly moving backward on this crucial index.

We have been labouring under false assumptions. A global Ipsos survey earlier in January, this year, said that online respondents in India believe that there is gender equality in the country. And what a farce that has turned out to be! I cannot help but wonder how great a contribution our social setup and mental conditioning has made to this lopsided situation. At certain social levels, we discourage women from working altogether. From childhood, a woman is taught to be financially dependent on men. They are encouraged by their families, friends and even teachers to have interests beyond professional ones. A financially independent woman is a threat to society. With mental conditioning and peer pressure, many accept this as a given. For the ones who dare to break the social mould and want to be the bread-winner and in many instances, are forced to be one, it is a road fraught with trials and tribulations. Dismal working conditions and the lack of safety for women, especially in late night shifts, exacerbates this anomaly. Housework though continues unabated and eventually forms a part of the “unpaid work” that busies a majority of women in India.

We as a society still scorn a woman who is ambitious and career-driven. The woman, and obviously not the man, is expected to play second fiddle to the relationship. An ensuing child would then be the death knell to the woman’s job. Men are not expected to quit when they have children but resent women over maternity leaves. Their performance and priorities are questioned, and competence and interest in work are found suspect. Eventually, for various personal, social and professional reasons, hardworking, deserving women quit their jobs. Young, ready-to-marry women are passed up for recruitments in well-paying jobs when the bosses feel that a young woman worker would get hitched soon and quit her job anyway. And, we still wonder why so few women are in the company boardroom?

Several initiatives including government ones have strived over the years to bring more women into the workforce. But what we need is a rewiring of our mental make-up. It should not only be okay for a woman to be career-driven, it should be actively encouraged. From an early age, women must be made to see that they do not have a one-dimensional role to play in life, which is mostly about living in the shadow of the man and bearing him children. Women, especially young girls, must believe that they too can contribute to society and that their quality of life can be better if they are financially independent. Empowering women is also making them realise that there can be a balance where a man and woman work together to build a life. It is up to both men and women to bridge this gender gap, and in India, men have a greater role to play in this.

(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal.)

Source: Millennium Post

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