In­dia’s Gen­der Chasm Re­tards the Econ­omy

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page -

Women hold up half the sky. This is not a moral or so­cial ar­gu­ment — it is es­sen­tially an eco­nomic fact. But women are largely ab­sent from In­dia’s work­force. With a gen­der gap of 52.1%, the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­ga­ni­za­tion has ranked In­dia 121st among 131 coun­tries on the ba­sis of fe­male labour force par­tic­i­pa­tion. Mul­ti­ple re­ports and stud­ies point to the pos­i­tive im­pact that in­creased par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in the labour force would have on the econ­omy. If In­dia could close the wide gen­der gap in em­ploy­ment by 2025, the econ­omy could gain by as much as $1 tril­lion. Women are cen­tral to mak­ing growth more in­clu­sive, to re­duc­ing in­come in­equal­ity, thereby mak­ing growth more sus­tain­able. Women can be game changers. To ac­tu­alise this po­ten­tial, the fo­cus must be on empowering women in gen­eral, ed­u­ca­tion, eas­ing en­try into the work­force and pro­vid­ing sup­port to bal­ance work and fam­ily. While school­ing is a fun­da­men­tal right for all, more must be done to re­duce the dropout rate among girls and help them com­plete full 12 years of school­ing. Im­proved ac­cess to schools, and bet­ter san­i­ta­tion are essen­tial to achieve this goal. Labour mar­kets should be more flex­i­ble — eas­ing the move from the in­for­mal to the for­mal sec­tor. Fi­nan­cial in­clu­sion and im­proved ac­cess to credit will al­low women to pur­sue eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The gen­dered priv­i­leg­ing of women in rais­ing fam­i­lies must give way to par­tic­i­pa­tive ef­fort by both par­ents, who should both be el­i­gi­ble for child­care leave. Gov­ern­ment, pol­i­cy­mak­ers and work­places must work to­gether to pro­vide af­ford­able and high qual­ity child­care. The gov­ern­ment’s “beti bachao, beti pad­hao” cam­paign must move be­yond slo­gans to em­pow­er­ment in prac­tice. Pop­u­lar culture must change, not just state pol­icy.

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