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Changing the world for women

In her recent session in Goa, Anuradha Das Mathur, Founding Dean, Vedica Scholars Programme for Women (New Delhi) discusses how the number of women in the workplace can and should be increased

Story: BHARATI | PAWASKAR | 12th September 2017, 05:28 Hrs

Why is a woman still generally perceived as a problem? Can she be a part of the solution? Can she contribute meaningfully to the society? How? Can education help in empowering a woman by making her financially independent? These were the questions that the founding dean of Vedica Scholars Programme for Women (New Delhi), Anuradha Das Mathur asked the packed audience in a brainstorming session on ‘Women, education and work: Plugging public policy gaps' held recently at the International Centre Goa, Dona Paula.
The workshop proved to be an vibrant, interactive dialogue between the audience and Anuradha who is also a senior advisor to the Albright Stonebridge Group and founder director at 9.9 Media, India's fastest growing niche media company. Pointing out that there is a huge focus on women education in the last two decades across the world, Anuradha asked whether it actually translates into economic empowerment. While 37 per cent of women contribute to the GDP worldwide, in India 17 per cent of women contribute to the national GDP. And though India ranks number one in primary education sector according to the World Economic Forum with 44.5 per cent women going for higher education, Anuradha put forth a crucial questions - how many of those who have acquired degrees opt for jobs and even if few take up jobs, how many of them continue after marriage and childbirth?
Women who do take up a job, have to deal with gender inequality and disparity in work - be it in the allocation of job responsibilities or the wages paid, she states. "Women do three times more work in the world than a man does, and in India they do 10 times more work than their male counterparts, but are they paid for what they do?" she asked, while pointing out that it's a fact in India that women get 60 per cent of men's wages no matter how capable they are.
With the world struggling with low growth and lack of ideas on what to do next, she further opined that there should be more focus on utilising the women force in a constructive manner and making them partners in development. "The society must offer dignity to women, but if they are financially, emotionally or psychologically dependent on men all their lives, it is likely that they may lose dignity at a certain point of time, because dignity and dependence do not go together. Hence women must find a way to become independent," appealed Anuradha.
The tendency to favour men especially when there are lesser jobs in the market also needs to change, she states, adding that the household responsibilities like cleaning, washing, cooking, childcare and elderly care should not be the responsibility of women only.
So how do we change the conversation from women, always portrayed as victims and liabilities, to looking at them as assets? In India, 18-32 per cent women work after childbearing. Women stop working because for them it is not possible to continue with the increased responsibilities at home after marriage and childbirth. There is no support system, both in the family as well as at workplace. Looking after the child becomes the sole responsibility of the mother. "It is here that the government can intervene and make a difference," points out Anuradha. The child is the responsibility of both, the father as well as the mother. There is the facility of paid maternal leave but with paid paternal leave and parental leave, the father also can look after the child, she suggests.
She also reiterated that India should look at examples around the world and accordingly learn on how best to take this forward, and illustrated the example of Japan where the government exercised a policy, as recent as five years ago, to bring in more women in working sector. After mandating on the national level, there was 66 per cent increase in the number of women at work in the age group 15-64. The impact of the policy was seen between 2013-17 when there was 10 per cent increase in the number of older working women (age 45-54) and the GDP per capita growth went up by 1.1 per cent. But while Japan, may be a positive example, she stated that not a single country exhibits total equality among its men and women population. In fact, it's an irony that in a developed country like the United States, there is no paid maternal leave.
"We observe acts of discrimination all over the world. Can India learn from other countries? There is no data in India regarding women. There is no such awareness of calculating the women in workforce. There is no institutionalised research. Actually, the census data can be used to design policy, but this is not a government problem. It is a social problem. We must learn how to look at the problem," highlights Anuradha.
When it comes to educational loans, the collateral property is reserved for the boy instead of a girl in India as it is mandatory for the boys to earn for the family. "Why can't we give a choice to men too, to leave the job if they don't like it? We can do so, when girls with higher education continue their jobs and support the family, just like men. If one member in the family is working, the other can think of taking a break," opines Anuradha. If conditions at work are improved and childcare / crash is made available where one lives or works, mothers can leave their babies in safe hands and work. Thus, childcare should be made affordable and fairer choices made available to the women too, so that they can continue to work and earn, instead of leaving their jobs and sitting at home, says Anuradha. The debate - nature v/s nurture will continue, but we can look at the issue with open mind and leave a breathing space for both, men and women, in their shared lives.

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