India plays an important role in my goals says Anita Bhatia of UN Women
Technology can help us leapfrog and get to solutions faster says UN Women’s Deputy Executive Director Anita Bhatia as she powers up efforts to remove gender stereotypes in society. The Indian-origin diplomat completed her Bachelor of Arts in History from Calcutta University and holds a Master in Political Science from Yale. She plans to use her extensive experience to not only address issues of bias and pay inequality, but also make the world a safer place for women and girls.
Speaking to SheThePeople.TV, the recently appointed Anita Bhatia shed light on how prominently India features in her goals for the coming five years and why we need to encourage women to be part of the workforce.
As you determine your goals for the next five years, how does India feature there?
India plays a very important role in my goals for the next five years, because of its huge capacity for innovation, and potential to generate models that would benefit women and girls in other parts of the world as well. However, there are also many areas where India needs to show progress and which require our attention – including addressing issues related to the declining child sex ratio, to the gender-pay gap and the decrease in women’s labour force participation, improving safety and security of women and girls in all spaces, and addressing social norms challenges, patriarchy, attitudes and stereotypes.
While there are these areas which clearly require our attention, we need to bear in mind that in a country like India – there are also many opportunities and homegrown solutions that we can leverage to help us address similar challenges in other parts of the world.
But, overall, there is no doubt in my mind that India can make a difference to the progress on gender equality, globally.
We are half a billion women but only 25% of us are part of the workforce. In many ways this is a huge lost opportunity. What can be done to bring women to work?
One crucial aspect is that everybody has a role to play in encouraging women to join/re-join the workforce. For instance, in many Indian households, women are discouraged from taking up jobs elsewhere and are restricted to traditional care-taking roles. We need to introspect such attitudes and stereotypes within our homes and societies that negatively impact women’s lives and our larger economy. We all need to become advocates for women’s equal rights, voice, choice and autonomy, and shut down negative perspectives and behaviours towards women and girls.
We need to bear in mind that in a country like India – there are also many opportunities and homegrown solutions that we can leverage to help us address similar challenges in other parts of the world: Anita Bhatia
Businesses and other large employers also play an important role in bridging the gender divide in the Indian labour force. There is a need to ensure equal pay for equal work, create safe and inclusive workspaces, accommodate infrastructure facilities like creches and feeding rooms at workplaces, provide flexi-work options, family-friendly policies and parental entitlements. It is also critical to invest in research and understand the future of work and how it impacts women. We need to provide mentorship, training and adequate funding to help them prepare for the future.
Women’s safety in public spaces is also of critical consideration when addressing women’s labour force participation. Women need to feel safe in their commute to and from their places of work.
Finally, girls education is the single most important tool for change, so we need to re-evaluate our education system. There are many girls enrolling in primary schools, but drop out, before, during, or as soon as they graduate high
school. Why is it that we are not able to translate our gains in primary education into education that continues all the way? In Silicon Valley the number of Indian men versus Indian women are almost similar. This clearly indicates that if you provide women and girls the right opportunities for education, they can do exceedingly well.
How do you perceive solutions to women’s safety using technology?
Technology can help us leapfrog and get to solutions faster than we would otherwise. In an era where everything is going digital, there have been many initiatives around the world that have tried to address women’s safety by using technology. Safetipin is one such example of an app, developed in India. The app, which was supported by UN Women, as part of the Global Safe Cities Programme, seeks to map the safety of public spaces by converting a safety audit tool into a digital platform. Similarly, there is a team from India that won the ‘Women’s Safety XPRIZE’ in 2018 for designing a wearable device called ‘SAFER Pro’. The device is basically a small chip which can be inserted into any device or jewellery. It includes a discreet emergency alert button which when triggered, also starts audio recording. These are both fabulous innovations and there are many more. Imagine if we could upscale similar technologies and make them available to all women and girls around the world!
Technology can help us leapfrog and get to solutions faster than we would otherwise. In an era where everything is going digital, there have been many initiatives around the world that have tried to address women’s safety by using technology
You have said India is a crucible for innovative ideas that can help leap-frog women’s empowerment: What ideas come to your mind as you think of this?
Three ideas come to my mind. First, Indian’s getting a unique identity card – the Aadhaar card – which has changed the lives of men and women in India. It shows that women’s empowerment doesn’t come from just actions and policies that are specific to women. Empowerment comes also from anything that gives women voice, choice, agency.
Second, the one rupee sanitary pad – this is going to change women’s lives as it will remove a physical constraint to movement and will be affordable for ordinary women.
Third, I can think of UN Women’s work with the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, related to the capacity building of Elected Women Representatives or EWRs. 70 per cent of India’s population is covered through these local governance institutions, so EWRs are critical for achieving transformational economic, environmental, and social change. What makes this model unique and innovative is the fact that there are about 3 million elected representatives of these panchayats, out of which 1.3 million are women. Here the decision- making process is decentralised and inverted, pushed down to the district and local level.
What was a life changing moment for you as a woman?
The life changing moment for me was when my mother died – I was only eighteen years old. I suddenly had to prove that I could multitask, take care of the household, and of my younger sister and father. I still made sure that I could balance my studies with everything else to achieve my own goals.