New Delhi [India], May 11 (ANI): There is a proverb in India saying, ‘If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.’
The road to women’s empowerment in India is long and complex and while many challenges continue to persist, the country has also made progress in several areas to uplift and give its women a voice.
Fully aware that achieving gender equality is a long journey, the Indian government has placed Nari Shakti (woman power) at the core of its vision to make India a developed nation by 2047.
One of the most important steps in this direction has been the adoption of laws, policies and initiatives/schemes that protect women’s rights and promote gender equality.
In the most recent news, the government is conducting an exercise using various methodologies to quantify the contribution of household chores performed by women to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
As per a United Nations report, 75 per cent of the world’s unpaid care and domestic work is done by women – work that is not accounted for in the GDP.
Making this a reality, by recognizing their contribution to the economy, would be one more step in the right direction.
To help address the decline in the child sex ratio, defined as the number of girls per 1,000 boys aged 0 – 6, the government announced the ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ initiative.
With the aim to prevent gender-biased sex selective elimination, ensure the survival and protection of the girl child and facilitate their education and participation, the initiative is being implemented through multi-sectoral intervention across districts of the country.
If you live in or plan to visit the countryside, it is likely that you must have seen this slogan on the back of many trucks or public transport vehicles.
For those wondering about the impact of the initiative, let’s take a look – data from the Union government’s Ministry of Women and Child Development indicates that the skewed sex ratio in India is starting to normalise and the sex ratio at birth has improved by 36 points between 2014/15 and 2021/22.
The Gross Enrolment Ratio of girls in secondary schools has also risen and the trend of early dropouts has been arrested.
With increased awareness and sensitization on the issue, this scheme has garnered significant support and found a place in public discourse.
It should also not come as a surprise that India now has a higher percentage of employable women (52.8 per cent) than men, but low female workforce participation continues to be an issue.
Encouraging greater economic participation by women will undoubtedly lend significant support to India’s growth story. To address this, several provisions are being incorporated into major labour laws to promote a healthy and safe working environment for women.
For instance, paid maternity leave has been increased from 12 weeks to 26 weeks and establishments with 50 or more employees are mandated to offer creche facilities.
Until recently, the ‘Factories Act, of 1948’ did not permit women to work night shifts, but the Union government is looking to turn this around.
According to a draft policy to allow women to work night shifts, factory employers hiring these women must conform to certain health, safety, and security conditions. This amendment aims to benefit those working in special economic zones (SEZ) and the IT sector.
The focus is also shifting from just development to ‘women-led development’ by maximizing women’s access to education, offering skill training and institutional credit.
For instance, under the MUDRA Yojana (Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency Ltd.), the Mahila Udhyami Yojana enables women entrepreneurs to easily avail of financial aid up to INR 1 million at concessional rates.
This can be used to partake in manufacturing, production, or service-related economic activities categorized under the MSME (micro, small, and medium enterprises) sector.
Additionally, since its inception, the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship of the Union government has taken several initiatives to achieve women’s empowerment through skill development.
Its mega drive, the ‘Skill India Mission’, has transformed the lives of over 3.5 million women through skill training, supporting them with better and secured livelihoods.
Under this scheme, the focus of the fourth leg of the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana will be on imparting skills training to women in running and maintaining electric vehicles, installing solar rooftops and other jobs, currently dominated by men.
Further, entrepreneurship is being supported by programmes such as the Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP), which has funded over 107,000 women entrepreneurs between 2016 and 2021.
The private sector is also focusing on bridging the gender gap and partnering with public sector entities to empower women, both within and outside office boundaries.
For instance, ride-hailing startup Ola Cabs recently shared that it would employ an ‘all-woman’ workforce at its upcoming two-wheeler factory in Chennai.
Around 10,000 women are expected to be hired in various roles at the plant, which will be run entirely by women.
The women working at Vedanta Aluminium are involved in all core operations instead of being limited to supporting roles. The company also has an all-women fire-fighting team at its plant in Odisha.
It has also been observed that women graduates with degrees in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) are higher than ever before, but these gains have not translated to increased numbers in the workforce.
While this is just a glimpse into the changing working landscape, much has been done and there is much more to be done.
Increased collaboration between the public and private sector, and civil society should surely launch us to greater heights, bringing about significant change to close the gender gap. (ANI)
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