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Women Are Getting There, Slowly

There are still not as many women in the workforce as men. They still get paid less. And very few make it to leadership roles. But as latest reports suggest, things are changing

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The united nations embarked on an ambitious agenda when it set a target of Planet 50-50 by 2030. The apex body singled out the workplace as a change agent, on the road to enhancing women’s equality. Its agenda ‘Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030’ now has a 13-year period left to achieve equal representation at work. By the admission of the UN and its representatives in India, the journey is slow, though officials assure steady growth. Planet 50-50 implies a world of equality not only in representation in numbers but also in pay, decision making and in power and leadership positions. While this remains an ideal— albeit lofty — target, India has a critical role to play in its achievement.

An obvious reason why India is important is its sheer size, representing a seventh of the world’s population. Also, in the last few years, India has proved that no global change can be achieved without its effects first being felt in the country in some form.

The International Women’s Day (IWD) celebration in India, organised by the Permanent Mission of India to the UN on 8 March, was attended by leaders such as UN General Assembly president Peter Thomson and UN Women deputy executive director Lakshmi Puri. Addressing the audience, India’s Permanent Representative Ambassador, Syed Akbaruddin said, “Despite the progress in the situation of women, challenges of globalisation, digital innovation and structural barriers continue to impede efforts towards bridging the gender gap.”

Noting that Indian diplomat Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was among the only three women since 1955 to be elected president of the General Assembly, he reiterated there is still some way to go to ensure more women assume leadership roles.


The number of working women in India is embarrassingly low. According to the National Sample Survey (NSS), in 2011, the workforce participation rate at all India level was 25.51 per cent for females and 53.26 per cent for males. While there is no rural-urban gap for males (53 per cent), there is considerable rural-urban gap for females (rural- 30 per cent, urban - 15.4 per cent).

The report also indicated that the average salary received per day by regular salaried employees of age 15-59 years for females (rural: Rs 201.56, urban: Rs 366.15) is lower than males (rural: Rs 322.28, urban: Rs 469.87). Irrespective of education level or the rural-urban divide, the average per day salary earned by a female is less than that by a male.

More females are unemployed in urban areas than rural compared to men. Changes are afoot but results are yet to be seen.

At IWD 2017, UN Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka explained, “Across the world, too many women and girls spend too many hours on household responsibilities — typically more than double the time spent by men and boys. In many cases this unequal division of labour is at the expense of women’s and girls’ learning, of paid work, sports, or engagement in civic or community leadership.”

The global statistics are staggering as well: only about 50 per cent of working age women compared to 76 per cent of men are represented in the labour force globally, and women take on 2.5 times more unpaid work than men. The global gender pay gap is 23 per cent.

“We want to construct a different world of work for women. As they grow up, girls must be exposed to a broad range of careers, and encouraged to make choices that lead beyond the traditional service and care options to jobs in industry, art, public service, modern agriculture and science,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said.

Even though the situation is tough, small successes are seen every now and then. For instance, this women’s day, natural resources company, Vedanta pledged to partake in the United Nations’ ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030’.

“Hiring women far outpaces just diversity and gender inclusion. Women bring unique insights irrespective of the sector. Vedanta has taken the lead in ensuring that women constitute a sizeable number of our workforce,” said Suresh Bose, head, Group HR, Vedanta.

A signatory of the UN’s Women’s Empowerment Principles, Vedanta says it practices and promotes equal employment opportunities. The company’s board has set a target to reach over 33 per cent by 2020.

Technological advances, mobility of labour, the green economy and globalisation are bringing unprecedented possibilities for women.

In smaller sectors, such as media and advertising, companies are already speaking of a 50-50 world, at least at the entry level. “Planet 50-50 is an achievable target, if everyone works towards it. We have studies that indicate that in the initial career stages, the gender gap is not as wide as the career graph progresses, leading to a significant disparity at leadership level,” said Ashish Bhasin, chairman & CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network, South Asia.

For a target as grand on the UN’s, all hands on deck are needed. Bhasin advocates a concerted effort right from the time a girl is born. He is optimistic, especially as the millennial generation is receptive to steps in encouraging women that will lead to societal changes.

Aishwaryaa R. Dhanush, UN Women’s advocate for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in India, said, “It is a collective effort and everyone has to start thinking about what they can do to drive the change. Things are progressing, they are slow but steady and by 2030 we would have a Planet 50-50.”

UN Women, established to accelerate progress on meeting women’s needs worldwide, highlighted 12 areas of concern for women including poverty, education and training of women, health, violence against women, armed conflict, economy, institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women, human rights, media, and the environment.

Among the various steps that governments can undertake to address these areas of concern, one is to enhance women’s leadership and participation at all levels of decision-making. According to Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation’s Women & Men in India 2016 report, women ministers constituted 12 per cent in central council of ministers. Out of the 318 first-time elected members of the 16th Lok Sabha, 14 per cent are women, which indicates an improvement in women participation. As per the data on elected representatives in Panchayati Raj institutions in 28 states of India, 14 states have equal representation of women and men. In seven states, share of women is even more than 50 per cent.

India still has a very long way to go, but one can take solace in the fact that in some quarters, change is taking place. The important question to all — government, media, corporates and to individuals — is that what is the step they have taken to achieve and drive this change. The answer to that will hopefully present a better picture in the next NSS report.