Gender Gap: A Bridge Still Far

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 11 Mar 2019

Moin Qazi – TRANSCEND Media Service

All lives have equal value. No matter where they live on the planet. No matter what state, city, and country you’re born in, whether you are male, female.”
– Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The Gates Foundation captures in its mission goal the true spiritual concept of human creation. But today we know that not all lives have equal opportunity. Gender remains a critically important and largely ignored lens to view development issues across the world.   Gender inequality is not only a pressing moral and social issue but also a critical economic challenge. India has a larger relative economic value at stake in advancing gender equality. However, despite some significant gains, some gaps remain. Although India has narrowed the divide between men and women in primary education and health sector, it doesn’t measure well in major metrics for measuring gender parity.

Gender equality refers to the rights, responsibilities, and opportunities of women and men, girls and boys. It does not imply that women and men are the same, but that the interests, needs, and priorities of both women and men should be taken into consideration while recognizing diversity across different populations.

Gender discrimination continues to be an enormous problem within the Indian society as well. Traditional patriarchal norms have relegated women to a secondary status within the household and workplace. This drastically affects women’s health, financial status, education, and political involvement. Women are commonly married young, quickly become mothers, and are then burdened by stringent domestic and financial responsibilities.

India was placed at 108th position in the Global Gender gap Index 2018 amongst 149 countries, behind China and Bangladesh and 10 notches below its own position in 2006. The unpaid care work of women amounted to 291 minutes daily in rural areas and 312 minutes in urban areas as compared to men who spent 29 minutes and 32 minutes in urban and rural areas respectively. Data available closer home substantiates this fact.

What does the empowerment of women entail? At a basic level, it means gaining control over sources of power like material assets, self-assertion and ability to take part in making decisions that affect their lives. For this, women must have equal opportunities, capabilities, and access to resources. This would obviously mean a redistribution of the existing power relations and, finally, a challenge to the patriarchal ideology and male dominance as the concept of women empowerment is linked with gender equality.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, fully empowering women would add some $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025. But despite decades of laudable policies and   efforts, the world has   failed to close the   gender gap.

Economic empowerment means, in its basic idea, the ability to monetize one’s skills and talents. But for most women – particularly women in developing countries – access to the formal labor market is restricted by a host of social, cultural and political barriers.  Agriculture is among the most ubiquitous forms of female entrepreneurship. But, although women produce most of the world’s food, they own less than one-fifth of the world’s farmland.

Women are still perceived as an important capital-bearingobject, both in how they are seen as a “subordinate, confined to domestic and caring roles behind closed doors, and how they are portrayed d as a “sexual” form through popular culture. A recent study by OECD found that women in India work nine hours a day on average, compared to seven hours a day for men. Most of this time is spent on unpaid activities, such as household work and care giving for the elderly or for children, leaving little time for paid labour or social and leisure activities. This scarcity of discretionary time is referred to as ‘time poverty’ For example, nursing and care work is largely a female occupation and is often undervalued or seen as a natural female trait.

Women face worse prospects in almost every aspect of their daily lives – education, employment opportunities, health or financial inclusion. As the report notes,

We live in a world in which women living in poverty face gross inequalities and injustice from birth to death. From poor education to poor nutrition to vulnerable and low pay employment, the sequence of discrimination that a woman may suffer during her entire life is unacceptable but all too common.”

Women experience barriers in almost every aspect of work, including:

  • Whether they have paid work at all;
  • The type of work they obtain or are excluded from;
  • The availability of support services such as childcare;
  • Their pay, benefits, and conditions of work;
  • The insecurity of their jobs or enterprises and
  • Their access to vocational training

Women bear the greater brunt of poverty. In India, where a patriarchal system is deeply entrenched, only 13 percent of farmland is owned by women. The figure is even lower when it comes to Dalit women who are single. About 12 percent of India’s female population is classified as single, including women who are widowed, divorced, separated, and older unmarried women, according to the 2011 census. About 41 percent of households headed by women in India do not own land and make a living through casual manual labour. Removing obstacles to land ownership could improve women’s economic and social prospects faster than almost any other policy prescription.

All women, regardless of their marital status, need access to education, good jobs, and support for domestic duties. Both widows and married women deserve freedom from culturally entrenched marital practices that degrade and commodify them, as well as legal protection from their husbands’ debts. Although transforming long-held laws, beliefs and practices may be difficult, it is the only way to keep price tags off women and ensure that they have dignity as well as true economic agency. It has been said that women who are closest to the world’s most pressing issues are best placed to solve them. In many countries, women are adjusting to large-scale economic changes through community-based grassroots organizing efforts. But can women be expected to use local solutions to clean up and compensate for larger economic problems without also being allowed to influence larger decisions?

What needs to be changed? Improvement in access to quality education for girls can boost their future income, save mothers’ and children’s lives, reduce rates of child malnutrition, and reduce overall poverty levels. For all interventions, the fundamental logic is plain: If we are going to end extreme poverty, we need to start with girls and women.

Discrimination against women and girls is a pervasive and long-running phenomenon that has bedevilled Indian society at every level. Socially prescribed gender roles that have become deeply entrenched continue to hold women back. Cultural institutions in India, particularly those of patrilineality (inheritance through male descendants) and patrilocality (married couples living with or near the husband’s parents), play a central role in perpetuating gender inequality and ideas about gender-appropriate behaviour. A culturally embedded parental preference for sons – emanating from their importance as care providers for parents in old age – leads to poorer consequences for daughters.

Women work tirelessly to end poverty and hunger in their families. But it can take much more than hard work. They need new tools to create their own paths forward. They need opportunities that can overcome economic, cultural and gender barriers. It needs multi-sectoral cooperation to create breakthrough ideas and solutions to break down economic, social and technical barriers.

We have for long made paternalistic decision to “protect” these women, thereby eliminating their ability to solve issues that they face. Why couldn’t they decide for themselves how to manage their own situation? Why couldn’t we equip them to decide how they can take their own decisions? The key levers for change, from the ground up, are clearly female education and women’s access to income.

Fortunately, the world is now awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution. Melinda Gates, who is now spearheading a major campaign for a proper time balance for the women, particularly the poor, commends three R’s: “Recognize that unpaid work is still work. Reduce the amount of time and energy it takes. And redistribute it more evenly between women and men”.  Women are far more likely than men to spend money they have under their discretion on the education of their children, the health care for their family and improving their housing. They   tend to invest their financial resources in their homes, the nutrition and health of their families, the education of their children, and their communities.

Women and girls play a lesser recognised role as drivers of growth and progress and powerful agents of change. Gender remains a critically important and largely ignored lens to view.

Women bear the greater brunt of poverty. In India, where a patriarchal system is deep what needs to be changed? Improvement in access to quality education for girls can boost their future income, save mothers’ and children’s lives, reduce rates of child malnutrition, and reduce overall poverty levels.

Providing women with more number of better opportunities to fulfill their social, economic, and political roles is now deemed so essential for reducing poverty and improving governance that women’s empowerment has become a development objective in its own right. The key levers for change, from the ground up, are clearly female education and women’s access to income. Women approach the future with creativity optimism and determination. They take economic ups and downs in stride. They show calm in the face of adversity. Above all, they work hard.

We live in a world in which women living in poverty face gross inequalities and injustice from birth to death. The global statistics on poverty are numbing. The real brunt has always fallen on women and sometimes it is very cruel. Women are commonly married young, quickly become mothers, and are then burdened by stringent domestic and financial responsibilities.

Women and families the world over work tirelessly to end the poverty and hunger in their lives. But it can take much more than hard work. They need new tools to create their own paths forward. They need opportunities that can overcome economic, cultural and gender barriers. It needs multissectoral cooperation to create breakthrough ideas and breakthrough solutions that break through and break down economic, social and technical barriers.  We live in a world in which women living in poverty face gross inequalities and injustice from birth to death.

Empowerment has led to a number of positive changes in women’s own perceptions of themselves, and their role in household decision making women’s self-image and self-confidence was enhanced when they received training on women’s rights and social and political issues. This is a truly uplifting signal of the role women will play in building our future sustainable economy.

The female labour force participation rates (FLFR) in 2011-12 as per NSSO (68th round for 2011-12) was as low as 15.5% as compared to 56.3% for men. Further as per NSSO data, the disparity in average wages per day between men and women ranged between 37.5% in rural areas and 28.32% in urban areas. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) in its Consumer Pyramids Household Survey (CPHS) observed that he FLFR in 2018 was down to 11%. The few women who did go out to find work found it even more difficult to find employment as seen from the unemployment rate of 14.9% against 4.9% for men in 2018.

The Economic Survey 2017-18 reiterates that s that there is ‘feminisation’ of agriculture sector with women taking part in multiple ways as cultivators, entrepreneurs and labourers.  Feminization may be more of a fall back measure necessitated by the  migration of  rural to men  to urban  areas or death of the husband rather than one out of  by choice.  Traditionally, women have played important role in ensuring food security, diversification through animal tending and backyard poultry and preserving local biodiversity. Family farms could not have survived without women playing a committed role, though they may not be counted as the head of the operational holding.

The Agricultural Census 2015-16 revealed that the share of female operational holdings increased to 13.87%   holdings compared to 12.79% in 2001-02.It also brought out that the average farm size for female holdings is 0.93 ha compared to 1.08 ha for overall.  Further, about 52% of female holdings are of less than 0.5 ha category; operating 12.28% area.

The Executive Summary of High Level Committee on the Status on Women, 2015 emphasizes that “there should be a significant increase in the gender equality investments in India, across Ministries and Departments. A comprehensive need mapping, district upwards, should be the basis for planning for future. A life cycle approach, social equity approach and an approach that covers all dimensions of empowerment should be used so that no group of women is left out”.

For all interventions, the fundamental logic is plain: if we are going to end extreme poverty, we need to start with girls and women. They are the ones who have the grit to lift families out of the pit. People who have pioneered successful social programmes   recognized this potential and sought to evoke it.

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Moin Qazi, PhD Economics, PhD English, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment  and a member of NITI Aayog’s National Committee on Financial Literacy and Inclusion for Women. He is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker. He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades in India and can be reached at moinqazi123@gmail.com.

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 11 Mar 2019.

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