Obligations & choices- the unceasing dilemma

Obligations & choices- the unceasing dilemma

Women’s empowerment is the key feature rooted in the development parameters of any country. The focus of recent development paradigm in India has shifted to women centric issues. Schemes such as Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, One Stop Centre, Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana and Rashtriya Mahila Kosh aimed at empowering women are being implemented across states. Women leaders, entrepreneurs and change makers are being promoted through initiatives like Stree Shakti Package. But, whether empowerment of women actualizes into their economic, social and political freedom is actually a grey area.

Promoting women’s economic empowerment has gained political traction as is evident by commitments made by global, multilateral forums such as the United Nations, regional forums such as the SAARC and also in national priorities such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). However, the underlying intricacies presents a ground picture which shows that the efforts for empowering women have not actualised into their liberation in its true essence.

India has the dubious distinction of having one of the worst female labour force participation rates in the world. Unpaid care and domestic work falls within this ambit of gender inequality leading to unequal opportunities for women in the labour market.

Mind the Gap: State of Employment in India (2019) report by Oxfam India states that women comprise 99.4 per cent of the workforce performing domestic or domestic and allied work. Women in India spend 312 minutes per day in urban areas and 291 minutes per day in rural areas on unpaid care work while men spend only 29 minutes and 32 minutes respectively on unpaid care work.

These figures draw attention to the alarming situation of female employment in India. Prejudice, education and patriarchy are some of the links which can be drawn between the gaps of female labour force participation and women’s empowerment in India. The unfair burden of unpaid care work on women is prevalent because women are made to view unpaid care work as their obligatory job.

Experts say education is the vehicle through which women can move out of their situation of poverty, disempowerment and destitution. It is based on the premise that ‘education through literacy and training leads to paid employment, which in turn ensures access to income, and finally empowerment’ (ActionAid 2017).

Therefore, education can act as a catalyst for change to increase the female labour force participation. An important step in this direction is an inclusive policy having measures on these lines.

 The New Education Policy 2019 of India attempts to meet the special requirements of girls’ education as a cross- cutting theme. It states, “Girls’ access to education is the clearest path to disrupt poverty and violence, promote community health and well-being, and foster development dividends that carry on into the next generation.”

The policy lays guidelines to identify and eliminate gender stereotypes in society, especially those that encourage withdrawal from schools. It further states that schools and social workers should hold regular discussions with parents, on social issues like child marriage, not sending girls to high school or for further studies, placing financial expectations on boys pre-maturely, forming negative perceptions around women employment and involving school-going girls in household work.

The importance of formal education in securing better positions in medium to high-productivity jobs and attaining financial independence has been stressed and gender sensitisation workshops have been suggested to increase awareness on gender issues and break stereotyped gender roles.

Education is undoubtedly essential for empowerment and the formation of an informed and aware person. However, data suggests that girl child education has not translated into their eventual participation into the work force of the country. Data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) and the India Human Development Survey shows that education and employment have a U-shaped relationship which essentially means that illiterate women are most likely to participate in the workforce and work participation drops sharply for women with primary and secondary education and rises only with college education forming a U- shaped relationship. Further, 65 % of women in India are literate as compared to 80 percent of men but less than one- third of women are working or actively looking for a job. (World Bank, 2019). This presents the worrisome reality of the state of female labour force participation in India, even after attaining a certain level of education.

The ideals of feminity, masculinity and social norms around gender roles and responsibilities are rooted in the structures of patriarchy and power. These norms view unpaid care work as a female prerogative and act as a key barrier to women’s ability to enter the formal labour force. (Diya Dutta, 2019). This suggests that patriarchy and societal conceptions on working women are an important factor for women employment and requires a behavioural change brought about by education and sensitisation.

The subtle pressure put on the women makes household chores an obligatory duty and not a job by choice, thereby, depriving 48% of India’s population to enter the workforce. Education of women would not essentially translate into their eventual participation in work force unless negative perceptions about working women are addressed through behavioural change in the society brought about through education. The behavioral change addressed in the new education policy is a positive step towards shared responsibility for unpaid care and domestic work and not putting disproportionate burden on women.

Domestic chores and care work are important responsibilities and therefore, disassociating gender norms from it would contribute to an inclusive and progressive development of India.

- Sriya Rane
Guest Writer

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