#MeToo: The Onus of Gender Equality Is Not Just on the Govt But Also on India Inc
For India to achieve the goal of gender equality, the Government’s vision needs to be supported by the might of the corporates
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The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) has provided a strong impetus to India’s resolution of achieving gender equality. Goal 5 of the 17 Global Goals is Achieving Gender Equality and Empowering Women and Girls by 2030.
Considering the crucial role that women play in a country’s economic and social development, there needs to be a sustained effort from all stakeholders to work towards this goal. In this scenario, India’s corporate sector can play an important role in empowering women by creating livelihood options for them, offering employment opportunities and designing women-friendly policies in the workforce that helps them thrive.
The 2017 Global Gender Gap report released by the World Economic Forum sheds light on a harsh reality—India ranked 108 out of 144 countries, falling 21 places from the previous year and 139 in the economic participation and opportunities for women.
Research shows that gender-based discrimination is a leading cause preventing women in rural as well as urban areas from playing a bigger role in the economy. A significant number of girls face discrimination at various stages of their lives, which affects their health and education. Safety concerns and the fear of sexual harassment at the workplace stop a large number of women from seeking employment. These challenges take away from women their chance of earning a decent livelihood, which adversely impacts the country’s economic growth. According to the World Bank, India can increase its economic growth rate by 9% per year if around 50% of women could join the workforce.
The Government of India has been working to change this narrative at various levels. Its flagship initiative ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ has been instrumental in improving the Child Sex Ratio at birth in 104 out of the 161 districts it has been implemented in. On the education front, the gender gaps in primary and secondary education enrollment have been closed while the tertiary education gender gap this year is nearly closing – for the first time ever. The Government has also introduced programmes focused on young women such as the ‘Mudra Yojana Scheme for Women’ which helps them start new enterprises or businesses without mortgaging an asset.
Over the years, the Government’s vision for the country has found support from India’s corporate sector. Under the mandate of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), India Inc. has been working with other stakeholders to address some of the most pressing challenges that the country faces. These efforts have made a positive impact in several areas, including education, healthcare and environment.
Corporates now need to step up and play a greater role in pushing the cause of gender equality. Large organisations need to contribute to the cause by designing initiatives and creating gender policies that empower women, in addition to providing them employment opportunities.
One of the most important areas which corporates should focus on is creating livelihood opportunities for young girls by working with other stakeholders/NGOs to design job-oriented vocational programmes.
In my experience, programmes that offer entrepreneurial skills complemented with soft skills like personality development and communication essentials are highly effective in arming young women with the tools to earn a livelihood. Plan India’s Saksham programme works on similar lines. The programme provides market-oriented business, vocational and life skills training to disadvantaged youth, especially young women. 19-year-old Neha is one among the several success stories. Under the Saksham programme, Neha was trained in presentation and etiquette, communication in basic English and computer skills—all of which that helped her secure a job with a coffee chain. The programme empowered Neha, helping her escape a fate that several girls her age often succumb to – an early marriage with no scope of economic independence.
From the corporate landscape, Amazon India’s Saheli programme is a good example of such an initiative. As part of this programme, the company not only provides women entrepreneurs an excellent platform in the form of an online retail store to stock items produced by them, but also offers training and skill development workshops on online selling, imaging and cataloguing, inventory and account management, customer service, etc.
Another way for corporates to ensure gender equality is by framing policies that will encourage more women to join the workforce. In India, women’s participation rate in the labour force stood at a dismal 27% in 2017. According to the International Monetary Fund, equal participation of women in the workforce will increase India’s GDP by 27%. To facilitate an enabling and inclusive work environment, organisations need to have well-formulated and elaborate gender policies in place. Offering benefits such as flexible work options, mentorship programmes, and childcare and crèche facilities will encourage more women to continue working. To address the concerns around safety at the workplace, it is imperative for companies to have strict laws against sexual harassment in place.
There is also a need to address issues concerning wage parity. The gender pay gap in India stands at 30% and is among the highest in the world. Corporates can lead the way in closing this gap by restructuring their compensation structures and ensuring that women and men are paid equal wages for doing the same work. Adobe set a great example in January this year when they announced equal pay for their male and female employees in India.
By enabling more women to become active and long-term participants in India’s workforce, corporates can help India take giant strides towards the goal of gender equality. A recent study states that from FY’ 14-15 to FY’ 18-19, CSR funds towards gender equality and women’s empowerment have been approximately 3.2%. While spending on the cause increased by 115 % in 2017 , corporates need to dedicate significantly more funds to the cause. With increased funds and implementation of women-friendly policies, corporates can play a defining role in setting straight the skewed gender narrative in India and help the country meet the target set in SDG Goal 5.
(Bhagyashri Dengle is the Executive Director of Plan India. She has over 25 years’ experience in the field of development especially in the areas of institution building, governance, gender programming and child centred community development.)
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