Happy Women’s Day!

Let’s strive for an equal world this Women Day

I find the theme for this year’s international women’s day on March 8 – “Each for Equal” – quite compelling. Finally, we are talking about a gender equal world with no overtones of feminism or clamour for women’s rights. This theme is steeped in human values of equality, dignity and fairness to all, and that’s precisely what all women movements should be eventually about. An equal world is a fair, just and inclusive world. It is a world that respects diverse talents and perspectives. It is a world that believes in sustainability and in shared prosperity.

Coincidentally, in a landmark judgement recently, the Supreme Court of India has paved the way for women equality in Indian Army by doing away with discrimination on the basis on years in granting permanent commission between men and women officers. Women officers will now have parity on getting command postings, promotions, ranks, benefits and pensions. In doing this, the court categorically stated that the discrimination was based on stereotypes and socially ascribed roles of gender and emphasised the need to remove restrictions and bring about true equality in Army. This is a historic step. Hopefully, some other hitherto male dominated professions will also see gender equitable policy changes.  

“Equal” means that there are equal work and growth opportunities as well as “equal pay”. Women are paid less as is believed that they are likely to put in less working hours, and are less competitive, are less efficient (daily wagers in construction sector) and also because they are likely to have more career breaks. But things are changing for the better. There is growing awareness on pay parity in corporates. In sports too, prestigious events like the Australian Open and Wimbledon have started offering equal prize money to both women and men winners; though some popular sports like cricket and football still have to catch up. In the Hindi cinema world (“Bollywood”) too, conversations about fee parity between male and female actors are being heard. 

But the world is nowhere close to achieving gender equality. As per the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 released by the World Economic Forum last December that benchmarks 153 countries, global gender parity stands at 68.6 per cent. This indicates an average gender gap of 31.4 per cent which the study says will take 99.5 years to close if the current gap continues. Among the four parameters picked up for analysing the gender gap – political empowerment, health and survival, educational attainment and economic participation – the largest disparities exist is in political empowerment followed by economic participation. In fact, the economic gap has widened than before with a wage gap of 40 per cent and income gap of 50 per cent. Regionally, the gender gap in western Europe is the smallest and Iceland is the most gender equal country in the world for the eleventh time in a row.

As for India, the Report has nothing much to celebrate. The country’s ranking has dipped from 98 in 2006 – the first year of the study – to 112 in 2020, indicating that other countries are doing much more to fix the gender gap than India. Worryingly, India continues to score low on health (this rank has dipped from 103 to 150 indicating it is among the last four) and economic participation (this rank has dipped from 110 to 149 indicating it is among last five). This is appalling. We simply cannot afford to let one-half of our population languish and be deprived of economic wealth and well-being. 

To ensure inclusive growth, many aspects need to be set right. Women need to take leadership roles in politics get elected in Lok Sabha and take up ministerial positions. At village and block level, they must be encouraged to panch and sarpanch positions and head various local committees. They need to be in senior corporate leadership roles and sit on their company’s boards. They need to contribute equally in the labour work force. They must have presence in all professions be it technical education, sports, defence services, as well as upcoming fields. The role of government and work places in creating facilitating policies and environment cannot be understated.  Needless to say, for all of this to happen, violence against women and girl child must stop. Women must feel safe to pursue their livelihoods and move about freely. 

It will also require women to overcome stereotypes, fight biases, change narratives and broaden their perspectives. What will certainly work will be creating an inspired sense of sisterhood towards each other through robust inter-women networks, mentoring platforms and support groups. That means women bosses encourage their women subordinates to come up, and that mothers stand up for their daughters’ equal right to education and right to inheritance.     

In sync with this year’s theme, this women’s day let each one of us women aspire to be “one among equals”. It is also important that we celebrate our roles, our identity, our accomplishments and the distance thus travelled in bridging the gender gap. Several events are being organised in the city to mark the occasion. The one I have signed up for is the all women marathon at cyber hub by Gurugram administration. See you girls at the start line!

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