Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Women at work

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Women labour participation in India is lower than in Saudi Arabia, as was stated by noted economist and former central bank governor Raghuram Rajan. Rajan should know, considering his understanding and involvement with global economic matters and his association with entities like the IMF. For the plain eye too, this looks so. Large sections of Indian women laze away their time at home or keep giving birth and rearing children and are at peace with themselves. The society imposes its diktat on them – that their place is in the confines of their homes. Over generations, that became the norm. There are the exceptions – as in the urban areas where some 35 per cent of the population is entrenched now. There too, women in the lower strata of the society with no proper education or learning of skills remain confined to their homes. With the rest of India, or rural India, social norms take control over the lives of women – many choosing to or being forced to remain tied to their domestic duties.
In some states of South India and in the North Eastern states women enjoy more social and economic mobility and are engaged in the world of work more often out of sheer necessity since women have to run their households as single parents. Admittedly, in cities, larger numbers of Hindu women go out to work while fewer numbers from among Muslims. Christianity encourages education among children, which is helping them stir out of homes and eventually fetch jobs. Education is the key. The Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi rightly focuses attention on states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Punjab, Delhi and Uttarakhand. The rest of the Hindi states including Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh might have a similar situation requiring special attention.
Introduction of government schemes or earmarking huge funds for their implementation in themselves serve only half the purpose. What is essential is also a change of mindsets. Large segments of the Indian society are caught in the grip of age-old traditions. Winds of change do not blow across their hamlets. There are also the vested interests that discourage the poor from educating their children. The political leaderships have a single-point agenda of winning elections; and efforts at social change, they feel, can wait. To say that participation of women in productive sectors of the economy here is less than that of tradition-bound Saudi Arabia is also a commentary on India’s slow economic growth. Saudi Arabia is oil-rich; meaning it has resources that keep its economy up. India is not as lucky. Our productive forces must be fully utilized.

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