Dharmendra Jore: Let's close India's gender gap with political will

Nov 06, 2017, 06:23 IST | Dharmendra Jore

We must first treat women at par with men while mulling female-specific policies, if we want to empower women

We must first treat women at par with men while mulling female-specific policies, if we want to empower women

India has moved to the 108th place, behind neighbours China and Bangladesh, on the World Economic Forum's (WEF) Global Gender Gap index. India's latest ranking is 10 notches lower than its reading in 2006 when the WEF began measuring the gender gap based on major areas - health, education, the workplace and political representation.

The report cited less participation of women in the economy, and low wages as primary reasons. It said India has closed 67% of its gender gap, less than many of its international peers, and some of its neighbours like Bangladesh ranked 47th, while China was placed at 100th. Overall the global gap has actually widened, finds WEF.

Unaware of what WEF would unfold in its report, I was privileged to interact with participants of a workshop, mostly women working in media in various parts of the country. The organisers of the workshop, a non-profit 'Population First' that has instituted the prestigious 'Laadli' award for gender sensitive news reporting, and Mumbai Press Club, didn't expect endorsement for conclusions that this event would arrive a day before WEF made its report public.

Workplace blues
The conclusions, of course, were very representative of what ails the country where women still get dictated on what they should wear, speak and get involved in. The spectrum of participation - from Jammu & Kashmir, up north to down south - helped in understanding what hampers plugging the gender gap. Workplace gender divide was one of the most fiercely discussed topics. The WEF report said the case is worse in terms of workplace global gender divide and it will take at least 217 years to close.

India is one of the countries that may exceed the WEF estimate, if we go by assessment of professionals, who based their observations on what has been happening at their offices and other work places that they get to visit, when on reporting assignments.

Media no different?
Most pertinent question that the 30 participants asked in unison was: Why does a progressive and influential industry like the media - print, electronic, cinema et cetera - continue to be dominated by men?

A response that it wasn't the case in Mumbai, Delhi or Pune where women were equally responsible and efficient in running the show as workers and leaders, was countered very strongly. "Why are women not hired for media work in Srinagar?" "Parents in Madhya Pradesh allow daughters to learn mass communication, but bar them from doing late night assignments." "Why don't media houses in non-metro cities like Indore, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad give as much professional responsibility to women?" "And if women are hired, why can't they get a salary that matches the earnings of a male working in the same capacity?"

A senior participant from Indore said she did not find a single female, because their families did not permit them to work for an awareness programme that was planned in a theatre form. "Females may be allowed education, but it is unfortunate that they are not allowed to use the learning to earn, and have their own social and economic status in society," she said. Along with media rooms, many other sectors were dissected. The conclusion was same: Generally, women are not welcomed to work with males, and if at all they get jobs, they aren't treated in the same vein at work places.

Where's the political will?
According to the WEF report, India faces its greatest challenges in the economic participation and opportunity pillar, where the country is ranked 139th, as well as health and survival pillar, where the country is ranked 141st.

India's gender gap is wider in political empowerment despite women getting 50% reservation in local self-governments. The reason for failure could be attributed to the denial of free hand to women in powering decision-making process. A female sarpanch of a village panchayat is either dictated by her husband or by her male deputy. Same pressure tactics are used at all levels of local self-governments. Will a similar reservation, if given in state Assembly and Parliament, work for the betterment of women?

For majority of the women in India empowerment remains a distant dream even in the 21st century. It seems that the primary problem lies in our governance that depends on decisions that are taken without treating women at par with men while thinking about female-specific policies. Firstly, we need to plug the gender gap at the top of the political and administrative ladder.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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