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International Women’s Day 2019: Gender equality is a matter of visibility, it needs to go beyond reservation

It’s 2019, which means it is 50 years past the inception of the women’s movement in the US, and over 70 since India became independent. The current Narendra Modi government is credited for giving India it’s first woman defence minister, while the Congress is banking on Priyanka Gandhi to up its prospects in Uttar Pradesh. Yet, there is a feeling of underrepresentation of women in politics, the workforce and everywhere else. Why?

As per the Election Commission, there are only 11.8 percent women MPs in Lok Sabha, and 9 percent MLAs across the nation. A survey by citizen’s collective Shakti conducted on a mobile app Neta revealed that 82 percent voters want more women representatives in the next Lok Sabha.

 International Women’s Day 2019: Gender equality is a matter of visibility, it needs to go beyond reservation

Representational image. Reuters

If a look is taken at female labour force participation (FLFP), a World Bank report found that the rate in India fell to 27 percent in 2017 from 37 percent in 2006. India’s FLFP rates are among the lowest in the world, well below what is observed in neighbours Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

Ahead of the International Women’s Day, the National Alliance of Women's Organisations on Wednesday released, what they called, the ‘Womanifesto’ for the consideration of parties for the upcoming Lok Sabha election. Among the 44 demands put forth were the allotment of at least 33 percent tickets to women in the polls, and the reservation of one-third seats in all internal committees of parties for women.

It also called for the creation of one crore jobs for women in the next five years and the inclusion of women in all decision-making bodies dealing with climate change and environment. “The Election Commission must make it mandatory for parties to have at least 33 percent women members so that political parties with fewer women can be de-registered,” The Hindu quoted Joint Women’s Program’s Padmini Kumar as saying at the press conference as the activists criticised the BJP-led government for failing to keep its promise of getting the Women’s Reservation Bill passed in the Parliament.

The Bill, which seeks to reserve 33 percent seats in Parliament and state Assemblies for women, was passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2010. It eventually lapsed in 2014 after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha.

In February, senior Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia said at an event for Anganwadi workers that his party will pass the Bill in the first session of Parliament if it is elected to power at the Centre. Meanwhile, Odisha drew praise from the United Nations for passing a resolution for 33 percent reservation for women in the Assembly.

While these developments are clubbed under efforts towards women’s empowerment, India is past the time when reservation can be claimed to be the only solution to tackle the lack of representation in all fields. The demand for gender equality is also a matter of visibility for women.

At the ground level, women still have to deal with social norms that restrict their opportunities. They are expected to fit in the framework designed by a patriarchal society while dealing with the gender pay gap. Safety and security still play a huge role in their decision-making. Despite the challenges, all that women ask for are equal opportunities based on their merit.

At an event on Thursday, Supreme Court judge Indira Banerjee explained why she feels reservation undermines women’s capabilities. “When I was elevated as a judge in the Calcutta High Court, for four and a half years, I was the only woman judge there. Male colleagues on the bench would say it on my face that I got a benefit because I was a woman, The Times of India quoted her as saying. “I don’t think I was elevated as a Supreme Court judge because I was a lady; I happened to be a lady.” In the age of quota politics, the problem with is that our lawmakers continue to shy away from the real issues that ail women.

Several western countries have understood the importance of women’s participation in areas of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). To increase their involvement, awareness activities are held to encourage girls to consider a career in STEM, sometimes by also involving female practitioners. Such practices should also make way to India, where there’s a need for greater visibility of female role models in most fields.

In a 2018 paper published by the World Economic Forum, IMF chief Christine Lagarde and Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg said that India's GDP can boost by 27 percent by raising women's participation in the labour force to the same level as men. It is worrying that little is being done to being women’s workforce participation on par with men’s.

Initiatives that give women access to better educational and career opportunities will unarguably go a long way as far as women’s empowerment is concerned. What the government needs to adopt is increased sensitivity and an understanding that women aren’t weaker vessels.

Reservation, in any aspect, should anyway just be seen as a short-term solution. If India actually takes steps to empower its women considering the dynamically-changing times, its efforts too will yield favourable results.

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Updated Date: Mar 08, 2019 13:33:36 IST