At 27%, according to the International Labour Organization, India’s female labour force participation rate is among the lowest in the world. Despite the robust economic growth, rising incomes, falling fertility rates and improvements in female literacy, the participation numbers continue to decline and will not improve unless patriarchy is challenged.
According to a survey conducted by Safecity and SheThePeople.TV, less than half the women interviewed felt any change in female representation in the elections. The survey further revealed that women felt that even electing women representatives did little to guarantee representation in the parliament. That all politicians, irrespective of gender, make promises before elections and become selfish after, seems to be the general opinion among women in India. Take the most recent election, for example. While each party was busy trying to prove the other incompetent, all of them forgot about the issues faced by the population. The survey results stress upon the importance of women coming up and taking charge.
Even electing women representatives did little to guarantee representation in the parliament, feel the women who took Safecity and SheThePeople.TV survey.
When asked specifically about each party, statistics show that surprisingly, many women view the BJP as pro-women, when compared to the other parties. Out of those who commented, close to half of them felt that the outgoing BJP government (if not elected again) made substantially more effort for women-related issues and women-centric policies. The result is in contrast to the kind of image associated with the party and makes it seem more supportive of women than Congress, which trails slightly behind its rival. However, in general a significantly large number of respondents (almost 70%) felt that the previous government did not do enough to recruit more women into the workforce as compared to men. Contrary to expectations, AAP, a party that boasted of being an improvement over BJP and Congress, scores far worse in terms of promoting women in the workforce.
With the current lack of progress being made towards women empowerment, a general opinion is that maybe if women were involved more in the decision-making process, the rate of progress would be better. Women’s issues such as safety, most of all, need to be the top priority for whichever government takes power. One of the respondents said, “Our safety is a matter of concern, let’s not make it a matter for political reigning and do something for us!”.
70% of the respondents supported the stance and agreed that maternity leave did not make women unemployable, and that management in companies, which discriminated against women based on this parameter, needed to be taught otherwise.
Gender equality and pro-women schemes need be just as important as national growth and overall development. Women have expressed their concern about issues relevant to them. Maternity leave, for example, has always been a debate. While some felt that it supported women at a vulnerable time, several felt that it made women workers more prone to discrimination at work. Maternity leave as a concept is often thought to affect a woman’s employability and her growth curve. However, the debate was put to rest with this survey when more than 70% of the respondents supported the stance and agreed that maternity leave did not make women unemployable, and that management in companies, which discriminated against women based on this parameter, needed to be taught otherwise. Incentives have to be provided to give women more opportunities, but meritocracy has to be maintained.
The women of the country wish to be given a platform to voice their opinions. They want the government to produce opportunities for “talented and educated women to take charge”. At the same time, according to another respondent, minds and perceptions need to be “reoriented for change to happen”. Better representation in the parliament or more women at powerful positions might seem to be the answer, but what about the patriarchal beliefs and norms that we have inherited? We have been so conditioned to assume that patriarchy is the norm, that holding positions of power with the ability to make an actual difference is useless if the decisions are made with a patriarchal mindset.
Perhaps the need of the hour isn’t simply a quantitative change, but numbers combined with more capable hands and the drive to actually want to make the situation better. What can really save us isn’t a symbolic gesture but true will and perseverance to make the country better for the other half of the population too.
Nandini Arora, part of Safecity’s #WritersMovement, works as a Brand Manager in a Software Development company in New Delhi. Although married to numbers, her first love has always been books and writing. She regularly writes about issues such as women’s safety, Feminism, LGBTQ etc. The views expressed are author’s own.