Is the new economic era progressive? Where have we failed? And, how can we utilise this latent force in nation-building?
India’s inclusive agenda has seen institutional promotion of gender diversity through radical laws – promoting women in education, in STEM, in IITs, in boardrooms and in every public sphere. There are also inspirational examples of women breaking gender stereotypes. Yet, gender inequality seems to have only moved from the physical to the virtual world. But the question is does gender even matter? Why can’t we look at people as people and not as men and women? I have been working on this issue for the last several years and am quite passionate about it.
I am in the area of diversity and inclusion consulting and I do that for organisations. And I can tell you that the minute I bring up the gender topic, hackles are up almost everywhere. Why aren’t we done doing gender? Why are even we talking about this?
Oftentimes, we tend to use the words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ interchangeably. We believe it’s the same. All of us as human beings play two roles. We play a sex role and we have a gender role. Let’s look at the difference between these two roles. Sex is a biological difference and we all know men and women are biologically differently constructed: XX chromosomes and the XY chromosomes. Gender, on the other hand, is a social construct. Society decides what a woman’s role should be, what her responsibilities should be, what her attributes should be, and what her activities should be; the same goes for man.
Then again, being a biologically determined factor, it’s only one of the sexes that can do that role, which is in the area of reproduction. Only women can have children and only men can make a woman pregnant. So that’s biologically determined and that has stayed that way.
Gender roles, on the other hand, can be performed by both. For instance, men and women can cook and clean. Then again, sex roles haven’t changed since the time of Adam and Eve. Gender roles are culturally varied. So in different societies, the roles are different depending on various factors.
When we talk about equality, it’s about having the same rights, opportunities and accepting whether you are born a male or a female. It demands that you undertake research to look at what the differentiating needs, priorities, and experiences of the two groups are and accommodate them so that both can be equally successful. We know that there are differences between the male and the female. So how do we accommodate these differences and how do we make each successful?
We are in the 21st century. Today, women’s contribution can be seen in fields as varied as truck-driving and fire-fighting. Women have even gone to space. However, the inequalities affecting women start from birth. Whether you’re born a boy or a girl can sometimes determine whether you are born at all. We’re all aware of the female infanticide statistics, the foeticides that happen, sex selection, and also abortions that happen using high tech or high-tech sexism.
The next thing you need to look at is the unequal opportunities. Suppose you survived the sex selection and you are born, but again the opportunities that are given to you are very unequal. Girls don’t get as much education, higher education, and professional training as boys get; so that’s certainly another inequality.
Another big differentiator is the gendered expectations and unpaid work. And then of course, you have ownership of assets and property. Often, women are denied these rights and therefore, that also plays into their sense of confidence about economic activity.
Talking about segregation, we all know that women get segregated into the caregiving roles because that’s what they do at home. Therefore, they must be really trained and good at it in the office environment as well.
We also have socialised expectations that create anxiety and guilt. These are the things that women talk about – these expectations eat them up and burn them out.
According to a McKinsey report, if women participate in economic activity like men, by 2025 we will add 28 trillion to the global GDP. And that’s a big number. We also know that’s not going to happen by 2025. Even if you take a conservative estimate, it is going to be 12 trillion and that’s not a number that you can ignore very easily. So they are coming in big numbers and out of this 12 trillion, 2.9 trillion will come from India.
Where does India stand on gender equality? India ranks 132 out of 148 countries on the gender development index, and 127 of 152 on the gender inequality index; these are not numbers that we can be proud of.
How do we ensure fairness? There are two strategies that can be used: one is called equity and the other is called equality. Equity is where you give people what they need to be successful, while equality is treating everybody the same. These are the two strategies that we can use to bring fairness.
If governments and businesses can double the pace at which women use technology, we could reach gender equality in the workplace by 2040 in developed nations and by 2060 in developing nations.
To quote Charles Darwin: “To change is difficult. Not to change is fatal.” Bringing gender equality into the world is an extraordinarily complex and difficult job but it doesn’t mean we can’t get started on it.
We may say that’s how the world is. But who is the world? Who is society? It’s all of us. We can all do something about it by creating a better world for women, getting them to use technology, and encouraging them to participate in the economic domain.
About the author:
Nirmala Menon is the Founder and CEO of Interweave Consulting.