Exploring the potential of Indian Women

Neelam Choudhary
The economic survey 2017-18 had a pink cover with a purpose. It was to show support for women, who now comprise an impressive half a billion of Indian population. There was mention of as many as 21 million ‘unwanted girls’ due to the so called  preference for sons’. It was stated that time has come to correct the gender inequality, which is part and parcel of true development. Recently, World Bank’s vice president for the South Asian region, Annette Dixon didn’t draw the long bow when she stated that India’s economic growth shall improve by at least 1.5% if 50% of its women join the workforce. Speaking at Economic Times Women’s forum, she also took up the cudgels on behalf of the women, while commenting that working women have a tendency to invest their earnings in family’s development (in a better way, as compared to their male counterparts); and that intergenerational benefits are   substantial. Many deliberations took place, including with regard to what holds women back.
It was identified that family is one of the barriers to women’s moving out. Without a support system, women can’t think of facing the challenges of life boldly. There are few success stories showing  father, mother and even daughter responsible for women’s entry or comeback into workforce. Captain Kiran  Sangwan narrates her story, when she joined as a pilot with Indigo and was questioned by passengers stating ‘uda legi kya?’ Shashikala Sinha, a project Director at DRDO, took a break when she entered motherhood. But her daughter enabled her re-entry into work life. Most of these successful women advise potential women workers, as well those already in workforce to take heart and face challenges. This race can’t be won hands down. There are many other barriers, including rigidities at workplace. When a typical women (with no permanent help) starts her day at workplace, it is in a way her second shift, with the first one as hectic, demanding her full attention, as the latter, where, too, she is expected to be up and doing. But her razor sharp focus on her self set goals helps her win laurels in the field chosen by her.
Many a time, this distinction remains invisible to others e.g. her role in the care economy. But the results of her participation in the workforce have started trickling in. The figures depicting expected gains may take people by storm.IMF chief Christine Lagarde reminded India of this potential, by projecting a gain of 27% for the GDP, if India’s women participate in workforce  as much as men. But  the actual  figures are disappointing. Within a decade, women in work declined from 36% in 2005-06 to 24% in 2015-16. Its attribution to women’s higher education (and hence non-participation in low paid jobs) doesn’t provide the complete answer. According to World Bank estimates, Indian women in workforce contribute 17% to GDP, even less than half the global average. So the potential can be tapped by taking timely and effective steps at different levels, so that our ‘meta preference for sons’ doesn’t lead to unwanted girls’ scenario, as they are ‘wanted’.


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