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Are we missing a trick to faster development? With upright gait and steadfast look...
 
Are we missing a trick to faster development?
Indian women are struggling to achieve a work-life balance and are leaving the workforce at the fastest rate in the world. What are we doing about it?

Women empowerment and gender parity are terms that have now become stereotyped. Nevertheless, in a country still battling grass root issues like female infanticide, child marriage, dowry deaths and female illiteracy, a supportive society-family-government and employer policy is needed.

According to the International Labour Organization, the participation of Indian women in labour force has fallen from 37 per cent in 2005 to 27 per cent in 2014, leaving India 120th among 131 countries, the lowest among BRICS nations. Several factors prevent Indian women from entering the workforce and continue working after marriage and child birth. As a nation, we should strive to ensure that they partake in economic growth for which we need several measures. 

 

Educate a girl, you educate a family

Indian families, traditionally, prepare a boy for vocation and a girl for marriage. Irrespective of the economic status of the family, vocational education should also be seen to be an investment for the girl child. Girls should be encouraged to be financially independent, which alone can empower them and give economic strength to withstand problems like physical abuse, dowry harassment, divorce and widowhood. 

 

Marriage, maternity and childcare - biggest career disruptors

A 2017 report by the World Bank found that 19.6 million Indian women dropped out of the Indian workforce during  2004-05 to 2011-12. India also has the largest number of overqualified, educated housewives in the world. The first dip in the gender parity index is marriage followed by childbirth, managing teenage children and caring for aging parents. A supportive mindset from the husband’s family, along with sharing of domestic responsibilities between the couple, would ensure lesser dropouts. 

Also, a working woman in today’s context of nuclear families adds to the family’s income thereby ensuring better lifestyle and financial security. Maternity leave rules alone will not suffice. Factories, corporates and employers must provide day care facilities to working mothers. This will see a rise in the number of working mothers at all economic levels. 

 

Flexible working hours, safety and logistics

Till the time men realise the importance of their contribution to household work, women would remain primary caregivers. In this context, employers can look at providing flexible work hours and ‘work from home’ options to enable women to balance work and domestic responsibilities. If defined deadlines and deliverables are reached, period and location of log-in need not matter. Today’s technology indeed allows turning these measures a reality. This would also keep women emotionally content lest the stress of leaving a sick child or an aging parent unattended gets to them. 

Improved safety and transport measures for women, who work in night shifts, are an inevitable necessity. It would create a comfort level for women employees to take up such jobs without hesitation and employers also would not lose out on hiring better-qualified women employees for want of safety. 

In the words of Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace prize winner, “we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” A recent McKinsey Global Institute report states that achieving gender equality in India would have the largest economic impact than anywhere else in the world, for it would up the country’s annual GDP by 16 to 60 percent! As a nation, perhaps we are missing a trick to faster development? 


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