Struggle for gender equity continues

This year’s International Women’s Day focuses on the changing world of work for women. It envisions the achievement of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls by 2030. Globalisation, technological advancement and digital revolution have dramatically changed the world of work. It has opened up opportunities for women that can help them realise their full economic potential. But then, new challenges are also being thrown up by unstable livelihoods, environmental impacts and so on. Worldwide, the proportion of women in the workforce is growing. Worryingly, India bucks this trend. The percentage of working age Indian women in workforce rose from 35% in 1990 to 37% in 2005. It dropped to 27% in 2014. It is likely that many moved from paid to unpaid work. This is a matter of concern as paid work empowers women and improves their decision-making status in the family. Moreover, hiring more women makes enormous economic sense too. If women played an identical role to that of men in labour markets, global annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could be increased by 26% over the coming decade. India’s GDP would rise by 60% if gender parity is achieved at work.

The workplace is still gender insensitive, unequal and unsafe for women. Most are in low paid, low skill work with little or no access to social security. They are rarely in decision-making positions. Wages for women and men differ sharply. Globally, women make 77 cents for every dollar that a man earns for the same work. The gap is wider in Asia and Africa. The discrimination against wo­men is worse with regard to women with children; women are being penalised for being mothers. There are structural and legal barriers to women entering the workplace. And such barriers are widespread; 155 countries have at least one gender-based legal restriction on women’s employment and in 18 countries husbands can legally prevent their wives from working outside home.

Efforts to achieve gender parity at workplace need to be stepped up. Women migrant workers are among the most exploited in the country and their wages, working conditions and security must be enhanced. Parity in pay and perks, maternity leave and benefits, equal opportunities for upward mobility in the workplace, strong measures to protect women from sexual and other violence must be implemented diligently. Achieving gender equality at workplace by 2030 is not going to be easy given how deeply entrenched patriarchal ideologies are in our society, homes and the workplace. Still this is not a mission impossible. It is a goal worth striving for.

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