A few hundred people are running in half-marathon in upscale Noida to promote what a multitude from various districts a few hundred miles away is running with, to make an unexpected gain of Rs. 2 lakh in the most unbelievable way by sending a filled up form dispensed across Poll Bound Uttar Pradesh for just Rs. 5 to10.
The two polar opposite news doing the rounds highlight the flabbergasting awareness and effect ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’- the noble campaign which was rolled out on 22nd January 2015 by Narendra Modi - has made in millions of minds in myriad ways.
But do our women really need a handholding to progress and achieve parity in employment and opportunity? The statistics are stark and answer is affirmative. Only 23.7 per cent of eligible Indian women are part of the workforce compared to 75 per cent of men. In urban areas, this number drops further to only 16 per cent. For men, the comparable number is 69 per cent. Even for those women who are part of the workforce, the unemployment rate is high. 8.7 per cent compared to 4 per cent for men.
The result - India ranks abysmally low in terms of economic participation of women. The Global Gender Report 2016 by the World Economic Forum ranked India at 136 out of 144 countries.
The fifth annual Employment-Unemployment Survey published in September 2016 acknowledged the problem, noting that encouraging more women to join the workforce is critical to the nation’s ability to benefit from the so-called demographic dividend.
Among the schemes that the government has used to push female employment are programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), where one-third of the employment opportunities are set aside for women. Successive governments have also long supported schemes like STEP, or Support to Training and Employment Programme for Women, which was launched in 1986-87.
Outside the government sector, organisations like SEWA, or Self Employed Women’s Association, have tried to encourage women to earn a living by starting businesses of their own. Equally, self-help groups and microfinance firms have pushed lending to women, who end up using funds for more productive means.
Despite all this, the progress over the years has been limited.
Between the second employment-unemployment survey conducted in 2011-12 and the latest round in 2015-16, participation of women in the labour force has declined and unemployment has risen.
As the education level among girls has improved and as aspirations have risen, more and more women want to be financially independent. However, it shows that not enough jobs are being created which can absorb more women workers.
Reason enough, India is far behind peer countries in terms of the economic contribution of women. According to a November 2015 report by McKinsey Global Institute, women contribute just 17 per cent of India’s GDP compared to the global average of 37 per cent.
India is also far behind most countries like China and even lags regions like Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.
Women in India only represent 24 per cent of the labour force that is engaged in any form of work in the market economy, compared with an average of 40 per cent globally.
Gender parity would have pushed India’s economy in a much better position.
McKinsey estimated that complete gender parity in India could add $2.9 trillion to the country’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025. This would be 60 per cent more than the business-as-usual GDP by 2025, said the report.
Even if full parity is not achieved, the gains could be substantial. If India comes on a par with the “best-in-region” in terms of gender equality, $700 billion could be added to the country’s annual GDP by 2025.
The enabling conditions to achieve this are daunting - from ensuring equality at work, to providing essential services and a supportive legal and political empowerment.
Gender parity is also an inevitable and prudential step to break deeply embedded patriarchal societal belief and enable women socially.
With ‘Beti Bachao, Bet Padhao’, the full marathon run only starts to reach this goal of gender parity and women empowerment in India. And there are miles to run to win this marathon.#WOMANUFACTURING
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