Creating a level playing field for women in society

The dipping gender ratio can be addressed through better opportunities for women and social awareness.

Today, India ranks 129 out of 146 countries on the Gender Inequality Index, worse than countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, and only better than Afghanistan in South Asia.

Statistics such as these no longer surprise us. The prevalence of gender discrimination in the Indian society is widely discussed. The causes and ramifications of such a disparity have also been extensively documented and researched upon. The growing awareness and acknowledgement of the magnitude of the problem has spawned a multitude of initiatives, undertaken by the government as well as private agencies. A majority of these initiatives are aimed at improving the literacy rate among the female population, as education can serve as the compelling factor in positively influencing the status of women in the society.

Financial incentives such as free text books for all girl students up to the eighth grade, bicycles being offered to sixth grade girls in the schools of Haryana are instances of the state adopting policies to improve female literacy rates. However, the problem is not solely financial. Prosperous states like Punjab and Haryana have fared poorly in gender-based indicators. Neither is improving literacy levels among women going to significantly change the situation, as indicated by the fact that affluent and educated sections of the society account for a high percentage of incidents of female infanticide. We need to acknowledge the fact that gender discrimination in India stems from an ingrained system of patriarchy, wherein women are relegated to subordinate roles in the social hierarchy. This inherent prejudice manifests itself in disparities in economics, nutrition and education. Addressing this prejudice requires more than just financial support and education; it requires a holistic approach aimed at improving awareness levels among all sections of the society and providing opportunities for women to work towards attaining self-sufficiency.

The Rajasthan government, in 1987, launched an initiative called the Shikshakarmi project that aimed to improve awareness and enrolment among women by offering women an opportunity to work as facilitators and teachers in the project. This served the dual purpose of improving literacy and awareness among women as well as a financial incentive. Similarly, the Mahila Samakhya program started by the HRD ministry in 1989 focused on prompting women to question gender stereotypes by mobilizing women’s collectives or communities.

There are many other such instances of both government and private agencies looking for innovative ways to address the issue of female emancipation. However, this is just the beginning; it would take considerable time and effort to alter norms so deeply ingrained in the essential social fabric of the country. We need to reflect upon how we, as the constituents of a privileged section of the society, can contribute to help make a difference.

This is contributed by Amit Sharma, Vice-President and General Manager – Operations for IBM India / South Asia.

Amit Sharma

Amit Sharma, Vice President & General Manager - Operations, IBM India/South Asia, is responsible for successful business operations and driving the growth strategy. He has a senior line leadership role with overall responsibility for finance, corporate & business development, sales operations and strategy in addition to driving integration efforts across the global missions located in India/South Asia. Prior to this, Amit Sharma has been in the role of Vice President - Finance, Services Delivery since May 2008 after briefly holding the role of Vice President Finance, Integrated Operations from January 2008. He was responsible for financial oversight and cost management of IBM’s outsourcing delivery, IT Delivery and Business Process Delivery while also providing financial oversight of all resource management across all IBM business units globally and operated out of Somers, NY, USA.He holds an engineering degree in computer science and an MBA in Finance and International management from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, India.

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  • June 27, 2012

    Kapil Chaudhary

    Dear Amit,

    I could not agree more with your analysis of this complex issue. This challenge needs to be tackled at multiple fronts:

    (1) Educating parents in villages and towns to send their daughters to schools and for the State Governments to continue to invest in providing quality education through schools for girls and colleges for women to make them economically self-sufficient.

    (2) Again, a difficult task is to convince Parents to delay the marriageable age for girls till the time they finish a college degree.

    (3) Opening more vocational colleges and training institutes for women in the rural, urban and semi-urban areas. There are unlimited professional opportunities now for ambitious, young women in fields as diverse as Fashion Designing, Print & Electronic Media, the Creative Arts, Advertising, IT & ITES, Law, Photography and Banking to name a few. No bastion has been left unconquered by women the world over and India needs to be no exception as well.

    (4)It will need a paradigm shift in the mindset of our male population as well to let females complete their education and allow them to compete on merits. Despite the fact that girls have a better pass percentage in Board results, we see their ratio in IIT’s is much lesser than the boys. A conducive and facilitative role needs to be played by the family, the society and the government to create opportunities to ensure more women enter the IIT’s and IIM’s.

    Ultimately, it will take a combined synergy of all these factors to come into play together to achieve the desired impact towards making ours a more inclusive and diverse society.
    “Let a million flowers bloom!”

  • June 28, 2012

    kiran

    In India, those who are living in city or urban areas are normally educated. At least they hold basic degree. Why not add a new subject mandatory for all of them? Let the college take the ownership of this activity and they can send the students of each class to each nearby area or village to encourage and teach the needy women and with help from government in that area, it will be surely possible.

    • July 4, 2012

      Kuldeep Kaur

      Adding on to this According to me IBM can take initiative by organizing campaigns in rural areas for the basic education of women. From our routines we can spend some time teaching those people some elementary things.

  • June 28, 2012

    Harminder Singh

    “Soceity where women is not respected it never improves” To empower women there is greater need to work more on this prime issue.Working on the projects to stop Female foeticide is best way to acheive the goal and as per my opinion and understanding if we can contribute to this cause more than 80% of the goal will be acheived.
    Female foeticide is a organised crime in which mother is a victim of social pressure where there is no one to help her.IBM can step in at this point and create modules where a mother can seek help by sending a simple text message or can give a call to a secure helpline where she speak about her pain.
    Corporates and Govt should work together and come up with attractive incentive schemes whoever will give information about this crime.
    As per GuruNanakDevji saying: “Why say bad about women who give birth to Kings”

    • July 4, 2012

      Dipesh Kumar

      There are many help line number in our country where suffered women can go for help.But the main reason is that women don’t konw where to go, if they suffer.
      As Governement spreads awarness about countryAIDS,POLIO etc.,they should do the same for Help Line numbers in all over the country.
      Governement should open more call center for Help center in every state.NGO should spread their center all across the state who are working on women empowerment.

  • July 3, 2012

    Vinda Sridhar

    This problem is a combination of social pressures and cultural heritage in our country. Technology has given boost to Female Feticide and made it very easy. There are various reasons, why people do this. The only solution is a very strong education system and strong enforcement of laws by authorities.

    A girl child is looked up as liability, as her marriage invites dowry and very rarely she contributes to family earnings. This has to change and parents have a strongest role in bringing up their daughters. Educate them drive them to be independent in THOUGHTS and importantly make them understand importance of life vs commodities. A young 22 yrs girl from a mediocre financial family is rarely career driven, but focused on finding a rich guy who can provide all materialistic pleasures. With that come some compromises. Should she do it? I think India Shining will be true in real sense when our woman change their priorities and become independent and self respecting.
    Female Feticide is impossible without a woman agreeing to it, willingly or otherwise. So she has to change first. She has to become INDEPENDENT.

  • July 4, 2012

    Chhaya Chandrasekhar

    Hi

    There is a person by Rajan Narayanan who is a Treasurer of ‘Baale Mane’ which is a loving home near Bangalore for girls who are orphans or whose parents are unable to care for them.
    Rajan’s information on the trust and the details of the website in the flyer below:
    “In the last trustee meeting it was decided that they would apply to get foreign funds directly to The Baale Mane Trust. Up until now they have existed as project of the Paraspara Trust. We could not make this application earlier as we have to be in existence for 3 years before we can do so. However, the Govt of India requires us to demonstrate that we can raise at least Rs 6 lakhs in rupees from Indian citizens. We have raised Rs 2 lakhs so far. I was wondering whether you could help with this as it is just a one off commitment.”

    http://www.baalemane.org/

    Rajan Narayanan

    +919845030095

  • July 4, 2012

    Kunal Gharal

    Social security is one of the factors which need to be overhauled. Education is needed for “male” gender instead of women. Government gives / will give lot of facilities to women but insurance of its implementation is solely depend on Society and unfortunately in India its still dominated by Male gender. India story will be successful only if its 591.4 million females are socially secured.

  • July 4, 2012

    Lula Mohanty

    “Being inclusive” has to be a conscious design principle .. and not something that manifests by chance. And that is where leadership vision and actions around this becomes very pivotal. Regardless of whether it is people who make policies and decisions for the country, state, municipalities, perestrivate businesses, philanthropic communities or socialist missions, actions that demonstrate active cognizance for the need of being “inclusive and facilitating” would go a long way in making this an essential lever for success.
    I recently read an article which probed the success of Indigo as an airline given the general depressions and difficulties prevailing in the industry. It was heartening to hear from the top most leadership in the company that one of their critical business strategies was to have 40% or more women in their staff mix. 40% pilots, co-pilots, airline crew, corporate functions !!

    I also had a very different experience in one of the segue sessions run by a very renowned organization which forced an intervention to help women who had taken a break in their careers to re-find themselves. The challenges such women faced – some of them once very successful and accomplished- in re uniting with their work fields was very telling.

  • July 4, 2012

    Jayashree Thacker

    Education and change in mindset are both critical for social change.

    Little drops make an ocean – we have to start at home. Each of us touch the lives of atleast 2-3 people in our daily lives – maid, cook, driver – and we have a REAL opportunity to change the lives of their girl children.

    Taking on the financial responsibility of basic education for their girl children, offering an additional bonus for good performance in exams and volunteering time over weekends to help the kids with studies will mobilise and inspire a larger group of girls towards education. Likewise, we can slowly, but surely, chisel away at warped mindsets steeped in conventional mores by counselling them on social issues. This needs a conscious agenda (this month I will talk to them about…..) and execution, week after week, month after month. Advertisements by the Government can create awareness, but counselling one-on-one can open up minds, propel them to action and move them towards empowerment.

    The Government tries at a larger level – each of us should at the grassroot level.

  • July 4, 2012

    Pooja Malhotra

    It is true that women is seen as a liability. The reason is not only dowry, she becomes a liability because her security is also a big concern for her family. They are afraid to let her out alone be it for education or financially supporting the family and if something wrong happenes with her then people see her only responsible. We have to first change our attitude towards her. The police and law should be very strict towards the people who commit crime againt her, strong efforts should be made to catch them and then provide them strict punishment

  • July 4, 2012

    vivekananda k

    Gender bias in educated and employed urban society is no less compared to rural society. There is feeble/no education we get apart from providing means to employment. Increasing dowry harassment, domestic violence against employed women in sophisticated professionals household is typical example. Though women is employed she is having less or no control on her earned money. She has to get permissions if she desires to help her parents. We know very well how much help husband gives in domestic work to wife. In many Indian households men doesn’t even think to wash their plate after eating. Male chauvinism hasn’t came down from ages in Indian society. Imparting of free thought, critical understanding of society and ability to question/refute illogical and inhuman custom is required. Education should impart the values of morality, equality irrespective or gender. Improper education will drive the nation into ideologically confused and feared society. Though we progress economically, inhumanity and gender inequality will never come down. On the contrary it will increase. There is quiet a good literature is there on feminism, human rights and equality by Indian authors. Society is moving away from challenging and serious reading towards easy, commercial entertainment books and convenient spirituality books. Government, Individuals and NGOs should stress on PROPER EDUCATION not just for academic excellence or lucrative jobs. Unless women struggle will not reduce drastically, all efforts will go in vain.

  • July 4, 2012

    Sachin V

    There are lots of debates and researches happened over this issue. There are few NGOs who are working against female feticide, however this issue is still growing. We generally have a perception that people who are living in the villages or people living below the poverty line are the main culprits but this is not the fact. There are surveys which exhibits and concludes that the population who are living in the urban Areas are more involved than the people living in the villages or living below the poverty line. It is really shocking to know this fact. Literate and affluent people are doing this shameful deed.

    Now the point is why it is happening, why there is such discrimination , why every one prefers boy over girl. We always displayed to the outer world that Indian culture is the best culture in the world. We have place for everyone no matter if he/she belongs to any religion/cast/society than why there is such discrimination between boy child and girl child. Boy will get all the facilities and girl gets nothing. We always treat girls as a weak person socially , physically and mentally. We need to understand girls are as strong as boys are. Our culture/Society was not so week , in the ancient time girl has the right to choose her bride. She was well educated/independent, having rights to take decisions, has the power to run the kingdom. Now it’s time to empower them. Giving all the rights back what we have taken from them.

    Being a man I always respect the woman, but here important is, does a woman like a woman, in many cases a woman is behind killing a girl child. Women should understand her importance in the society, No society can survive without a woman.

  • July 4, 2012

    Hamisha Malik

    As they say improvement start from home.A girl child should be brought up with equal oppurtunities.Also she should be encouraged to be more opinionated which is something missing from Indian women.They dont think from their mind and not to cling to their husband or family for most of the life’s decision.They should be an inspiration for everyone , for her family and most importantly for her children.

  • Although the topic raised here is about creating a level playing field for women, one concern that was primarily ignored was the main cause of the dipping gender ratio. Why does female infanticide take place? Because parents feel a girl child is a burden. Why do parents feel the girl child is a burden? Because there are many reasons. What are those reasons? Social – Parents of a male child feel they are better than the others; Psychological – They need to devote time – a lot of it – to ensure that their girl child are protected from the beasts outside. Financial – They need to forego their wishes and start saving every penny from the day a girl child is born to save for the big day – on the marriage day.

    These were just the tip of the iceberg. How much can we contribute to alleviate those worries?

  • If men stop taking dowry and educating women in all areas mainly self defence and altering laws to punish the culprit for harassment of women .

  • July 5, 2012

    Syed Saalim Abidi

    We may debate on this issue but there will not be any outcome, As it hasn’t been from past 5 decades. The reason as I believe is inter-linked to the base issue which is Low Employment and Poverty. I have a reason to believe this and I want to share it here. Today Indian cities are constituted of more inhabitants from smaller cities, As majority of population in India is rural and with no/ low income of the family they cannot afford a girl child- who in future gets married and go away. As money is priorty of today’s population therfore until and unless we stuff our people with money {employment}. the present senario won’t change. Once people are able to afford a girl child, certainly present situation will change.

  • July 11, 2012

    Taps

    I think for long we have been trying to change things by trying to educate the men. Maybe its time to try the reverse.Why not the MOTHERs and MOTHER-IN-LAWs standing up for their daughters and daughter-in-laws? I believe strongly that till the time we change our outlook towards woman, no policy can bring about changes.We have law but then we have more loopholes to escape the law.One way is to be real aggressive in policy making and reserve 40% of employments(based on merit) for women in all sector.If we can have reservation, then this(reducing gender ratio) is a ticking time bomb.One way of reducing this risk is financial stability.As the shine of money is one way of stopping the genocide of female child.And for creating respect for female, it has to start from home and MOTHERs and MOTHER-IN-LAWs can only educate those.As kids learn those from home.

  • August 2, 2012

    Geeta Philip

    That India is a country of paradoxes…which still continue. We have women in almost every sphere of our social, political and corporate fabric. Yet, the prejudice continues. Gender is still tied to ‘finances’, get-back, profits, utilitization, marriage, and of course safety and security. We need to make our country safe and secure for men and women alike. How often have we heard the line…This city is not safe for women after 9 pm. Or, it is not safe for a women to travel alone.
    My son has to earn and she has to get married. So, why spend so much on her education?
    Not to say it is all grey. Patches of light and the silver lining do exist. What is needed is a sincere thrust from the government and social and political leaders, who are powerful agents of change. The voice needs to be louder, solutions practical and the atmosphere congenial. We need to have a happy, satisfied and unbiased atmosphere for change to take place. We need leaders who have clarity of thought, and who are willing to stick their necks out, who are willing to fall, and rise again, who are willing to look beyond image and votes. Let’s hope this change continues. And we as a community think beyond ‘marriage’ for the girl child. We need a system change. It will happen – education, awareness and good case studies are the need of the hour to take this to the next level.

  • November 20, 2012

    Ramdas Tilak

    Let us be the change we want to see! It all has to stem out of our own households and slowly it will change the country also. If you can toss the newspaper in the morning and help your wife cook, that says something. precisely what Amit says “women are relegated to subordinate roles in the social hierarchy”.

    Education alone will not help,an MtechMBBS housewife will be the result. Like a US election campaign word “Believe”. Trust that your wife or daughter can drive a car (a bit slowly maybe and much safer),Trust that all the money you invest in your daughter for her education and empowerment will take your legacy forward (She still is your daughter regardless of whom she is married to). Trust that the lady in your team is as capable in leading a team as anyone else.

    Empowerment is the key, where women are confident, financially independent and required reforms to ensure that they do not necessarily need protection to go out when its dark.