Equality between women and men is accepted as a way of life in Europe, while in India, it gets just lip service.

Earlier this year, when I was at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, one of the interesting sessions I attended focused on pursuing policies that would allow more women to enter the workforce, occupy positions of decision-making in the government and other related positions of power, across the world.

The session titled Six Global Challenges, One Solution: Women arrived at the consensus that one of the most effective ways of combating unbridled global problems, such as illiteracy, poverty, unemployment and economic recovery, was by bridging the gender gap.

Rightly so, as women make up over half the world's population. And their participation in and contribution to the political process are both imperative and indispensable. In fact, it is a fundamental right.

Gender Equality

In this context, the nations of the European Union are striving incessantly to realise the very values upon which they were founded: Democracy, equality between women and men and an undivided, progressive Europe.

These values constitute the backbone of Europe's social democracy that, in turn, not only provides the rational foundation for its survival but is also accepted as a way of life.

Indeed, the increased representation of women in the European Parliament has raised the level of democratic representation of the citizens of the EU and helped Parliament incorporate a gender perspective into all areas of its work.

in European Parliament

In 2010, the balance between the sexes in the European Parliament and at other legislatures around Europe reveal that women make up around 53 per cent of Europe's population and occupy 35 per cent of the seats in Parliament.

According to a report by the European Commission, 20 countries around the world had 35 per cent or more female MPs. Among those, eight are in the EU — Sweden (47 per cent), Finland (44), the Netherlands (40, Denmark, Spain, Belgium, Germany and Austria (all, around 37 per cent).

India's ranking

The Davos session that released the annual Global Gender Gap Report 2010, issued by World Economic Forum, indicated that India stood at 112 among 134 countries worldwide. Despite the fact that India has women in leading positions in politics, this has not really heralded a new age of gender equality.

Iceland topped the Global Gender Gap rankings showing greatest equality between men and women, followed by Nordic countries Norway, Finland, and Sweden.

The WEF's annual Global Gender Gap Report assesses 134 countries on how well they divide resources and opportunities amongst male and female populations. Gaps are measured in the areas of economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment, and health and survival.

The report and the discussions that ensued in the session sounded the alarm for India and similar laggards to take urgent steps to make women as equal partners in the society and eliminate gender inequality. A strong message from the world community, not to be ignored.

Gender imbalance

It is a fact that many countries of the world, hitherto ruled by men for centuries, have been going through a period of political and economic turmoil.

India is no exception, thanks initially to the Muslim rule, the British colonisation and the post- Independence male chauvinism. The Arab countries primarily, and India in particular, need special mention in this context.

In India, degeneration has set in and is so deep that many people have started asking for a women-takeover. The Anna Hazare movement, (may his tribe increase!) highlights how cruel and cold-blooded male administrators of the country are.

Motherly care

I am of the view that it is high time for countries like India, Pakistan and much of the Arab world to be administered at least in the higher political level and at the bureaucracy by women for some time till men re-invent some equanimity and level-headedness.

People of these countries, especially the poor need ‘motherly concern and care', which only mothers can give. While men think with their head, the women do it by the heart. And, this makes for a lot of difference.

Now is the time for the women in India to demand an end to their unjust marginalisation and deprivation, be it the girl child in the womb, or at any level of schooling, housewives or office-goers.

A change cannot come about by relying on the lip service of men and their pseudo condescending exclamations. One look at the Women's Reservation Bill which has been hanging fire before Parliament for years, or the selection of candidates at election time by the political parties, is convincing enough to show the hollow intentions of the men.

Even Ms Sonia Gandhi, labelled as one of the most powerful woman in the world, is unable to get the Women's Reservation bill through because of objections from her male counterparts in Parliament in all the parties. A change can only come through an Anna type movement involving a large number of women. After all, reforms do not rain from heaven. They are grown in mother earth.

So, women have to snatch every inch today, here and now. And, sans affirmative action, India's gender gap will not significantly decrease in the years to come.

(This article was published on September 5, 2011)
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