Women Empowerment in India: Significance and challenges

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It is said “You can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its women”. Empowerment literally means ‘To invest with Power”. In context of women’s empowerment, the term has come to denote women’s increased control over their own lives, bodies and environment. Women empowerment is the process of treating women with same status as that of men in all fields of the society.The empowerment of women is a multi-dimensional aspect which demands active participation of various stakeholders in a developing nation like India. Social, Economic and Political empowerment inter alia, including education for women, health of women, mobility of women, participation of women in various fields and also protection of women against Gender based violence are major pillars of creating an enabling environment for empowering women overall.

Achieving gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls, rests upon unlocking the full potential of women in the world of work. According to the World Bank, India has one of the lowest female participation in the workforce and it’s decreasing (from 35% in 1990 to 27% in 2014). Moreover, 25% of urban women quit their jobs after giving birth to their first child.When economies are geared towards achieving women’s rights and gender equality, the benefits, such as fairer societies and greater economic growth, accrue to everyone.

Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work implies not only empowering female entrepreneurs and business owners, but also recognizing women’s unpaid care, domestic work and the overwhelming majority of women in the informal economy.A study conducted by the Harvard Business Review on the ‘Battle for Female Talent in the Emerging Markets’ observes that in spite of the presence of many qualified and ambitious women in the BRIC (Brazil,Russia, India and China) countries and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), female talent is underleveraged in emerging markets, suggesting – “…the inducements to languish or leave reflect both entrenched cultural perspectives and modern complexities’’.

Among other issues, unfair discrimination at the work place and care giving responsibilities of women are some of the reasons why women are pulled back from the workforce. If they do manage to stay in work once they have married and have children, most stay in mid-level jobs. The trend of placing qualified young women to lower entry positions in comparison to their male counterparts with the same qualifications is very much a reality. Female employees tend to be concentrated in entry or middle level positions, that is, the more senior the position, the lower the percentage of women. Women occupy a very small minority of the senior professional managerial or leadership positions.

While the India Gap Review Report has shown 0% of women on company boards or as CEOs, a 2010 study by Mckinsey puts this at 5% in India. India is in the bottom half of the global rankings and holds the 112th position out of 134 economies in terms of the Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI2010). Assessing gender gaps in labor force participation of women has shown that the gaps are minimal in the twenties and the widest gap is found in the 30-34 up to 50-54 age groups.

The Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) therefore, ask for a rebalancing of the situation. They call for deliberate policies to ensure that women are given opportunities to enter into leadership positions, for training and education to improve their status in comparison to men, have better work conditions with ensured health, safety and well-being, and are free from discrimination. It calls for institutions and companies to become better advocates of gender equality within their sphere of influence, in their supply chains and in communities.

The interesting part is that the WEPs are not restricted to women alone but also include men in pushing for such changes in the workplace, marketplace and community.There are a whole host of initiatives that need to be taken on by companies to ensure that WEPs are implemented within their spheres of influence. This not only includes those engaged with the supply chain but also members of the communities within their spheres of influence.

Companies are currently measuring and reporting different indicators dependent on subjective priorities within the organisations based on WEPs. Effective and engaging collaboration is the key for better implementation of women empowerment. Former UN Secretary General said “When you embrace these Principles, you join a great and gathering movement to unleash the power of women and change the world … by working together based on shared values, we can advance the common good”. 

By Meenakshi Batra
Chief Executive – CAF India

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