The other half

Snapdeal sets up Women's Day store   -  Business Wire India

India needs to walk its talk on women’s empowerment

International Women’s Day is not just a day for social media messages, but a day to take stock of the progress the world has made in treating women as men’s equals and of the measures taken to empower women financially, politically and socially. It is also a day to celebrate achievements, individual and collective, of women, and to pledge to continue the efforts to get women a better deal. The task is not easy, either in India or elsewhere. Rather than catchy slogans, serious political and legislative intervention is required to supplement the efforts of civil society and the women’s movement in this direction. Just about a quarter of all women in the working age group in India are engaged in any work outside their homes compared to three-quarters of men, and many well-qualified women have opted out of the labour force in recent years. Some have chosen to be stay-at-home mothers and home-makers for want of support systems to look after young children or ageing parents, while many others have left their jobs due to stressful conditions at work. Safety at the workplace and during their commute is a major concern that discourages women from venturing out to take up work.

In fact, the factors that will encourage more women to join and stay in the labour force are well known and so are some of the measures required. To the credit of the Government, it has taken some measures to encourage the participation of women in economic activity — the changes to the Maternity Benefit Act 1961 will help working women with young children return to work and the Ujjwala scheme for providing LPG connections liberates poorer women from some of their everyday drudgery. The construction of toilets in schools has helped reduce drop-out rates among girl students. Measures such as effective policing of public spaces and addressing misogyny are required to help women come out of their homes. But the Centre alone cannot be responsible for improving the lot of women. State and local governments as well as political parties have to play an active role. Political empowerment of women, for instance, is one area where parties need to build a consensus. Ensuring greater representation for women in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies through statutory reservation is one such measure that must be legislated at the earliest. The Rajya Sabha had passed the Bill in 2010 but it lapsed in the Lok Sabha in 2014.

Financial inclusion and empowerment of women is another area that needs to be addressed. An overwhelming 80 per cent of women entrepreneurs depend on their own funds to finance their ventures while less than five per cent get institutional support. India Inc also needs to dismantle the glass ceiling and pave the way for women to play a greater leadership role.

Published on March 08, 2018
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