Neetu Kapasi – AMPPP Batch 2020-21

Why equality is important at home, workplace and society

Women characterise roughly half of the world’s population but merely 26.5 per cent are part of the workforce globally, as per ILO World Employment Social Outlook Study, 2018. The situation in India is grim. The sharp reduction from 33.1 per cent in 2011-12 to 25.3 per cent in 2017-18 was reported by the 2018 Economic Survey. Periodic Labour Force Survey 2018-19 reported 20.5 per cent women labour force participation in the urban areas. Merely 17 per cent of India’s GDP is from paid work by women, compared to that of 40 per cent in China. India ranks 120 among 131 countries in female labour force participation rates (as per the World Bank). 14 per cent of India’s elected Members of Parliament are women (despite 33 per cent seats being reserved for women), still behind that in Pakistan and Bangladesh. What does this tell us?

The fact that women remain underrepresented in the workforce, discriminated at home and not respected in the society is well indicated by multiple studies and surveys. Gender equality is a human right. Yet, gendered opportunities, structures and customs continue to privilege men over women and in return negatively affect us all. Be it low female workforce participation rate, illiteracy rate amongst girls, increasing domestic violence or crimes against women, percentage of female foeticide, gender pay gap or horror stories of dowry deaths; all these narrate how for centuries women have been suppressed. If we continue like this, it will take us a hundred plus years to get to a gender equal society or nation. This is not all, the cost of gender suppression is huge for households, workplaces or nations and unless action is taken, it will pull down growth prospects. These differences in behaviour and accomplishment based on gender are commonplace. Gender based discrimination is a clear human rights violation and limits access to healthcare, education, and work opportunities.

This also makes it loud and clear how not many of our policies or reforms are directly targetting to bridge this challenge or even acknowledging the gap. In India, how is that we are planning to be USD 5 trillion economy in the coming years without addressing this issue. The roadmap to India’s growth in terms of GDP or political agenda has no mention of how the gender gap would be bridged. What does it tell us about the choice our political parties are making? What are you doing to bridge this in an individual, organisational and societal capacity? By not working on equality are you violating this human right or not practising your responsibility?

On top of that, the COVID pandemic has worsened underlying disparities like gender inequalities and racial discrimination even deeper. Changing the status quo that disadvantages half of our population is everyone’s moral imperative. Although progress towards gender equality has been far too slow, let us not give up hope and stay optimistic and responsible for making the picture change. Let us contribute to making it possible for the gender gap to be shortened by a few years. The big question is how do we make a start?

Your action and commitment counts

 Equal treatment is our Constitutional right, yet how many of us take the responsibility to make a difference? As an individual, business, society, community, or nation we must exercise this and start with ambition or goal. A small goal or big audacious goal to change can be your starting point. We must all take responsibility to advance gender equality in the workplace and in the homes, we should also collaborate to build a strong movement amongst civil society players. We must come forward to build our equality ambitions, communicate them, share progress, challenges and initiatives, demand and join hands to co-create policies with the government and start campaigning around equality topics. Like a magnet, this will inspire and engage more organisations, leaders and individuals to make equality as their business or life goal and exercise their right to create a positive movement and impact on making the world an equal place. This must start with you!

Gender inequality is your agenda too

 The gender gap is common and seen throughout a women’s life.  A lot of this is happening within the four walls of our homes. This has a direct impact on women’s economic and social potential and challenges their work opportunities and potential. COVID has only amplified existing gender inequalities, increasing domestic violence, increased their dropout from the workplace, taking the country back on decades of growth, making it clearer that we must empower women at and in-homes and make recovery plans for the economy with gender equality at its heart. True gender equality anywhere is difficult to imagine without redistributing household and childcare responsibilities, as well as, eradicating any kind of aggression or violence against women in the homes. Have you thought about this at your workplace or home? Are your practices and policies equal at work or home? Are you sharing her workload and all responsibilities in a 50-50 manner? How are you bringing the women back to work or helping her get back to work? Have you ever thought about how your action to create an equal workplace or home and lead with a good example is so crucial for your children or next generation? You must start today!

Mountain of challenges on the way

 Unequal distribution of household responsibilities: women are engaged in unpaid tasks at home. The list is long, and the evidence are many. This pulls them back from work or hinders them in unleashing their potential. This may curb their ability to make independent decisions in life. During employment, they are often not able to compete with their male counterparts by investing long hours into paid work, which may impede their succession. Harmful stereotypes and societal biases about female and male skills, competencies, qualities stemming from family roles also influence the types of functions assumed by women, their salary outcomes, and the perception of their leadership skills. Have you thought about this in the context of your own home or workplace? Are you doing your part in making your home and workplace equal?

Let us see some reasons why this challenge is prevailing. Parenthood and its impact: parenthood brings its own set of responsibilities. Withdrawing women from work. Maternity leave policies are equally responsible for making childcare the sole responsibility of a mother. Is your organisation having an equal parental leave policy? Have you thought about taking leave to help her get back to work or provide support in childcare?

Many studies (like this from UN women) have shown that a home is a dangerous place for women. Domestic violence has not spared any society or nation. At the same time, studies show a correlation between violence against women and socio-economic crises. During this ongoing pandemic, domestic violence against women has only heightened stress levels, loss of employment and disconnected them from the workplace, families, and home. Given how universal it is, there are both victims and committers in every workforce and home. Have you thought about it in context to your home or workplace?

You must start taking action today

  • Build a long-term view on how you can work on bridging the gender gap. Do take immediate steps..
  • Set ambitious goals to bridge the gender gap. Support her, trust her and empower her to lead.
  • Take pride in taking actions at all levels – home, work, society. Everything counts. Remember small steps to change can cause a movement.
  • Lead with an example and inspire more on this journey with you, be it friend, co-worker, or leader.
  • Demand collaboration and stay vigilant to stay on the goals and make progress. Exercise your right and responsibility and don’t take your eyes off that goal to be an enabler of equality.
  • Create equal policies to make women equal at work and home.
  • Incentivise good practices and be part of creating them – job opportunities for women, equal skill capability building or training, breaking of stereotypes and employing women in roles of power without the bias, trusting and empowering them, offering parental leave for both men and women, choice of part-time jobs or flexible work hours, building infrastructure with health and security at its core and so on.Don’t wait, start today!

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“The views expressed in this article are personal. Neetu Kapasi is a student of the Advanced Management Programme in Public Policy at the Indian School of Business.”