India in 2021 has slipped 28 places and has been ranked 140th among 156 nations participating in the rankings on the WEF Gender Gap Index.
By Sairee Chahal
Today marks the 101st year of Women’s Equality Day, first observed in the United States. While the day is specific to the US, the sisterhood knows the world over, what it means to be on the tenterhooks of inequality. The events in Afghanistan just made the global fight for gender equality a lot harder.
On the other hand, in a fast-growing and highly pregnant-with-possibility country like India, gender equality is a mixed bag. Occasional moments of brilliance but an overall mediocre outlook so far.
India in 2021 has slipped 28 places and has been ranked 140th among 156 nations participating in the rankings on the WEF Gender Gap Index. It is the third-worst performer among South Asian countries, with Pakistan and Afghanistan trailing and Bangladesh being at the top.
Our annual women in workforce numbers are scary and uninspiring. Every passing year, we slip a few notches. Women continue to do major free and emotional labour across homes and society. The pandemic did not help – with emotional and domestic abuse being reported at an all time high. We are numb to rapes and women’s safety issues and there is a high price to pay for being a woman in India – irrespective of where you come from.
In a free market democracy with gigantic global ambitions, women’s equality is bound to play a decisive role in our growth as a country. Women’s contribution to the process of GDP needs to be strengthened and their participation in the workforce needs to be massively uplifted.
As India bets big on digital and entrepreneurship, we cannot leave our women behind. As we dream of becoming the world’s largest internet economy, we need a safe, high-trust experience for the women of this country. As we become the country that is attracting significant global capital, women’s access to capital and credit needs to be increased multifold.
As we commemorate, Women’s Equality Day, let us look at factors which add up to strengthening this narrative.
Women’s access to safe spaces: No growth happens in an environment of fear and judgement. Women’s access to safe public spaces as well as cyber spaces needs to be on the developmental map. For women to find their rightful place in the society, punishing all perpetrators of crimes against women is an imperative.
Healthcare: Access to primary and neo natal healthcare has been a policy focus for a long time but Covid uncovered massive gaps and women’s health including access to reproductive and menstrual healthcare is a fundamental to achieving equality
Employment: India’s women in workforce numbers continue to shock and increasing access to full time and gig jobs for women across the board needs to reflect in policy and budgets. Without having enough women earning a fair income, we cannot expect consumption or value creation to cross certain thresholds. Women’s access to work is a core tenet of nation building.
Entrepreneurship: India is full of women entrepreneurs, most of whom we do not recognise. They are invisible to us. India’s biggest strength is the entrepreneurial aspiration and spirit of women – one finds at every nook and corner. In our homes and workplaces. What we need is a surge of micro entrepreneurs adequately supported by capital, technology, mentorship and the policy that puts their contribution in center stage.
Capital: Women get less than 1 percent of all capital, making their entrepreneurial journeys poorer and less likely to succeed. Women’s access to capital needs the same enthusiasm as creation of Unicorns in 2021 India – whether it is a micro entrepreneur across the street or a technology founder. Putting more capital in the hands of women is one of the surest ways to fire up GDP growth.
Internet: As the Internet becomes the playground for the new economy, making sure women experience it safely, are empowered to access it freely and are able to find resources, networks, voices and community as India leaps into becoming the nation with a billion Indians online. Let us make sure that digital India is an equal India.
(The author is the founder of Sheroes and Mahila Money – an ecosystem for women – that offers community, employment, entrepreneurship, and capital to women. @Sairee on Twitter. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of Financial Express Online).