When Indira Gandhi was sworn in as the prime minister of India in January 1966, women in one of the most advanced countries of the world, Switzerland, were still five years away from gaining voting rights at the federal level. Since Independence, Indian women have gone from strength to strength storming one male bastion after another. Next year they will create industrial history when the two-wheeler factory in Tamil Nadu’s Krishnagiri district will be commissioned. Producing 1 crore vehicles a year, it will be the largest two-wheeler plant in the world. But it can be called a temple of modern India for a different reason — it will be staffed and run with women employees only. India’s largest software company TCS has also announced that it will undertake a drive to increase the number of women in its rolls.
For the past few years, policymakers at different levels have tried to put women in focus. More than 55% of those at the bottom of the pyramid who opened bank accounts are women. The Ujjwala Yojana that distributed free connection of LPG to poor families are also aimed at the relief of women in the kitchen. In states such as West Bengal, health insurance benefits and universal income schemes are delivered in the women members of the family. Tamil Nadu has raised quota for women in government jobs from 30% to 40%. Many state governments are adopting policies to empower women.
The women-centric focus needs to be maintained not only for gender equity but also for economic growth. A 2017 report of the World Bank stated that the long-cherished double-digit GDP growth rate in India can take place only when the participation of women goes up in the country. It observed that higher participation of women in the workforce would boost household earnings, reduce poverty and create conditions that would lead to higher spending on health and education at home. Even as the policymakers tried to focus on women, according to EPFO data, women have suffered more during the pandemic than men – more women have exited the formal employment sector than men.
Between 2011-12 and 2015-16 half of the fresh graduates in the country were women. In 2018-19, the share rose to 53%. However, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, only 18.4% of women in the urban areas of 15 years or more were employed in 2018-19. These are worrying data below the sparkling surface of the upcoming Ola factory and software campuses that policymakers need to focus on.
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