KSR IAS Academy

New Women and Indian Society

India is one of the few countries where women enjoy a comparatively better status than many women in other parts of the world. It is true, Indian women still face many problems and are subject to the same social pressures which women experience in other parts of the world. However, relatively speaking, their situation is much better than what it used to be in the pre-independence era when women had little freedom outside the walls of their homes.
women have made rapid strides in every aspect of modern life. The constitution guarantees them equal opportunity and where necessary provides them with necessary safeguards from possible exploitation or injustice. Indian women of today are not afraid of voicing their opinions or joining forces with other women in the local communities to fight against social maladies, drugs, alcoholism, domestic abuse, and injustice.
They now have opportunities to take bold decisions or lead unorthodox lives, which might have made them vulnerable to social ridicule and family pressures a few decades ago. Undoubtedly, women of today’s India enjoy a better status and freedom than women in the past. Indeed, Indian women politicians enjoy the more popular support and leadership positions in Indian politics and political institutions than their counterparts in the most advanced nations, including the USA.
Understand the barriers
These days, women in all aspects especially, in the workplace are intelligent, smart and ambitious. However, women still face barriers in their climb to the top. Many of these barriers result from a “second-generation gender bias”, i.e., unintentional actions and environments that appear neutral but reflect masculine values, and the life situations of men who have been dominant in the development of traditional work settings. These barriers include:

  • Traditional perceptions of leadership are often associated with predominantly male qualities – a prototype of a leader is typically a masculine man.
  •  Women are expected to take up more family responsibilities than men. This may be especially so in Asia, where familial commitment and values are deeply entrenched in the culture. This attitude particularly led to the unique mindset of women prioritizing their domestic life over professional life.
  •  Women face a double bind of being either capable or liked—but not both.
  • Women have limited access to network and sponsors and have few female role models at high levels of leadership to look up to.
  • Women are more hesitant to advocate for themselves or ask for what they want.

“Empowerment of women should start right at home,”

New Women Emergence
The New Woman was the term used at the end of the nineteenth century to describe women who were pushing against the limits which society imposed on women. Today she might be called a liberated woman or feminist.
The New Woman typically values self-fulfilment and independence rather than the stereotypically feminine ideal of self-sacrifice; believes in legal and sexual equality; often remains single because of the difficulty of combining such equality with marriage; is more open about her sexuality than the ‘Old Woman’; is well-educated and reads a great deal; has a job; is athletic or otherwise physically vigorous and, accordingly, prefers comfortable clothes (sometimes male attire) to traditional female garb.
Many great thinkers emphasised greater freedom for women and expressed their belief in his extended women empowerment. they asserted, “A woman cannot be herself in contemporary society, it is an exclusively male society with laws drafted by men, and with counsel and judges who judge feminine conduct from the male point of view.” They also spoke about the New Woman and women’s rights. What steps were taken and what actions were done and what laws were passed the new women always been facing many barriers in their path. Mainly self-imposed Indian women mindset and injustices.
Sacrificing women-a national health threat:
The first two years of Child’s life are the most important time for a child’s physical and cognitive growth. During this time, she depends heavily on her mother for nutrition. From the state growing fetus, she gets all her food from her mother’s bloodstream, and after birth, is ideally breastfed for at least six months.
Unfortunately, research shows that many Indian women start pregnancy underweight and gain little weight during pregnancy. This leads to low birth weight babies, high rates of neonatal mortality, and less successful breastfeeding. Women’s undernourishment contributes substantially to India’s unacceptably high rates of child stunting.
India has a major child malnutrition problem. The Rapid Survey on Children (2012-13) found that about 4 in 10 children are stunted. On average, children who are stunted do less well in school, earn less, and die sooner than children who are not.
There are many causes of child stunting. Addressing poverty and improving education would help, but development is not the only factor. Research shows that poor sanitation spreads diseases that sap children’s energy and stunts their growth. Also, the health of a child’s mother matters critically for whether or not the child is stunted.
The reasons for Indian women so malnourished are, poverty and sanitation play a role and also widespread discrimination against women in their own homes likely plays an important role too.

What can be done about it
While the government cannot force people to give women an equal share of food, it could do a lot more to promote gender equality. It could publicise and condemn this practice. It could also more aggressively pursue policies to address discrimination against women in other domains. Encouraging girls’ education, discouraging dowry, supporting marriage choice, and encouraging female labour force participation would all give women more power to challenge this damaging practice.
Problems of working women at Home-Domestic Violence:
Women work hard. All day long, they are busy caring for family, creating new knowledge and ideas, solving problems, building our world, and contributing to our economies and societies in endless ways.
Yet so much of this labor is undervalued and poorly paid. Think of the millions of domestic workers including wives, mothers putting in long hours without job security, garment workers in exploitative sweatshops, sex workers whose work is criminalized, and informal sector workers whose work is invisible and unregulated. Patriarchal norms that devalue both women and their labor mean that the work women do, work that is necessary for our survival, is often not even seen as ‘real’ work. Although working women help in bringing financial stability to a family, their professional life often subjects them to increased domestic violence in India, while increasing women’s access to meaningful and fair employment, we must recognize the potential social repercussions of these efforts. It is found that consistent with evidence that rapid changes in gender roles and relations can lead to a backlash, including violence against women.
Educational injustice leading to economic injustice – a hurdle which has to overcome:
Employers barely place any value on their workers finishing school in India. Poor learning outcomes mean that although educated workers are in short supply, they don’t earn all that much over illiterates. Workers who cleared school comprises only about one-fifth of the workforce, but their pay is just double that of their unlettered colleagues. Those who have studied till middle school earn only 1.3 times what an illiterate worker makes.
It’s at the college graduate level and above that, some difference can be seen. The differentials with other levels of education have also widened since liberalization, the report points out. The wage for people with at least a graduate degree has increased from 3.7 times the wages of illiterate workers in 1983 to 4.6 times in 2004-05. It was reported at 4.1 times in 2011-12.
The gender imbalance, like in most other social and economic spheres in India, is also quite stark when it comes to educational returns Urban India is not much better in terms of equal pay. Female graduates earn only 76% of what their male counterparts would. Perhaps surprisingly, educated women are treated relatively more fairly among casual workers than regular employees.

Financial injustice – women:
According to the World Economic Forum’s “Global Gender Gap Report 2017”, India’s ranking has fallen by 21 places from last year. Not only are we currently far below the global average but also behind our neighbors China and Bangladesh
The devaluing of women’s labor is compounded by other economic injustices: in too many communities around the world, women are denied the right to inherit money or property, or to own land, amounting to a systematic transfer of assets from women to men, generation after generation. Women are also denied access to credit, to bank accounts and to financial and other literacies that would enable them to understand and make use of current economic systems
In India, nearly 100% of net job creation in the last two decades has happened in the informal sector in small and low-productivity enterprises. While pretty much every employee in the informal sector will have fewer skilling opportunities and lack of job security, the average Indian woman worker is at a dual disadvantage. Not only is she less likely to find stable job opportunities within the informal sectors but she will also have to deal with poor quality and even unsafe working conditions, low wages and denial of statutory benefits like social security. She will also have to cope with higher risks of discrimination as compared to her male colleagues. Her wages will not only be below the statutory minimum wage but will be much less than her male counterparts’ and benefits like maternity leave or related facilities, which are meant to keep women in the workforce, will not be accessible to her in the informal sector.
The lack of safe working conditions, social security benefits, and a fair wage that can only be paid by formal sector employers with high productivity and output ratios, induces women to opt out of employment—unless critical for their basic sustenance—as the incremental economic and societal benefit for them to remain a part of the workforce is very suboptimal in most cases.
To take their rightful place within Indian workforce and society at large, our women need lot more formal sector employment opportunities with better wages. And this cannot happen till formal sector employment grows in its own right.
The cumulative effect of these injustices is that women are denied access to the power and resources— like money and property, but also information about how economic and financial systems work—that make a dignified, self-determined life possible.
What are the barriers to women’s career advancement? What can individuals and organizations do?
Organizational support
It is a challenge for organizations to develop, retain and promote talented women. We believe that a strategic combination of individual development and a systemic shift in mindset is the solution as well as a review and in some cases an audit of the organizational culture.

Individual development & barriers:
The choice of and how individuals take up leadership roles is fundamentally a question of identity. When a woman leader internalizes a leadership identity, she is likely to demonstrate behaviors that assert leadership. An example would be her willingness to go in for challenging assignments, seek growth opportunities, and take risks. Such behaviors will, in turn, be affirmed by the people around her, who regard her as a leader and reinforce her leadership identity.
However, many women find it difficult to internalize such a leadership identity. This is because, in most cultures, leadership is associated with masculinity while women are expected to be soft-spoken, caring and friendly. The mismatch between traits attributed to women and that of leaders is the essential reason for the struggle that potential women leaders face.
Hence, the goal of individual development is to help women talent overcome the “second-generation gender bias” and discover their true identity so that they feel empowered to be both women and leaders. It is especially important to help women discover their purpose and passion in life, as a sense of higher purpose motivates leaders to overcome fear, move out of the comfort zone, and think of what is possible. We suggest a robust development process that provides talented women with opportunities to learn and grow in gender specific and gender neutral environments while encouraging the expansion and access to open networks for influence and development.
Systemic shift
A deep understanding of the unconscious bias that affects women in organizations is essential to promote more women leaders. With senior leaders’ support, HR leaders can look for ways that unconscious bias in the organization affects opportunities and motivation for women, rethink the talent management process and identify potential areas for improvement. Some practices that may help women talent include:

  •  Flexible working conditions
  •  Support for work and family life balance
  •  Gender-specific hiring
  •  Networking opportunities for women
  •  Coaching, mentoring and sponsorship for potential women talent
    Women can also spearhead their own development by playing active roles in the process of development of society and country by getting involved in discussing gender biases, women are likely to realize how they have sometimes participated in reinforcing these biases in society and potentially within their respective organization. They may also arrive at possible factors that prevent women from advancing into senior leadership positions within their organizations. A deep appreciation for gender biases engenders a commitment to being a change agent in the workplace and community. Individual development programs also enable actions, like mentoring others and being a positive role model, to make a significant impact on the lives they touch, and ultimately, reinforcing a positive cycle

In recent decades, India has enjoyed economic and demographic conditions that ordinarily would lead to rising female labor-force participation rates. Economic growth has been high, averaging 6-7% in the 1990s and 2000s; fertility has fallen substantially; and female education has risen dramatically, albeit from a low level. In other regions, including Latin America and the Middle East and North Africa, similar trends have led to large increases in female participation. Yet National Sample Survey (NSS) data for India show that labor force participation rates of women aged 25-54 (including primary and subsidiary status) have stagnated at about 26-28% in urban areas, and fallen substantially from 57% to 44% in rural areas, between 1987 and 2011. Different age groups or different surveys essentially tell the same story, even though the levels differ slightly.
This is an important issue for India’s economic development as India is now in the phase of “demographic dividend”, where the share of working-age people is particularly high, which can propel per capita growth rates through labor force participation, savings, and investment effects. But if women largely stay out of the labor force, this effect will be much weaker and India could run up labor shortages in key sectors of the economy. Also, there is a wealth of evidence suggesting that employed women have greater bargaining power with positive repercussions on their own well-being and that of their families (see: Engendering Development Through Gender Equality in Rights, Resources, And Voice, World Bank).
A Feminization U hypothesis for female labor participation?
One possible explanation for this trend could be that India is behaving according to the feminization U hypothesis, wherein the development process, female labor force participation first declines and then rises. The hypothesized mechanisms for the decline are a rising incompatibility of work and family duties as the workplace moves away from home, an income effect of the husband’s earnings, and a stigma against females working outside the home (generally, or in particular sectors). The rising portion then comes with a receding stigma, high potential earnings of females as their education improves further, as well as fertility decline, and better options to combine work and family duties.
Demand and supply-side drivers of female labor participation. A number of new micro-level studies using NSS data have appeared in the last few years, trying to shed light on this phenomenon, examining labor supply and labor demand factors.
Factors that need further investigation
On the other hand, the role of macro, trade and structural policies also needs to be investigated. When comparing India with Bangladesh, one notices how an export-oriented, manufacturing-centered growth strategy has led to increasing female employment opportunities there. China, of course, also pursued such a strategy much earlier with a similar impact on female employment. India’s growth strategy has focused on domestic demand and high-value service exports, which generate too few employment opportunities for women, particularly those with medium levels of education. Lastly, policies will be needed to tackle the social stigma that appears to prevent particularly educated women from engaging in outside employment. Here public debates on this issue and its impact on women are clearly necessary.
In summary, it appears clear that labor supply factors do play a role in depressing female incomes. It is difficult for married women with some education and children to be employed, especially if they have an educated and well-earning spouse. But labor demand also matters. Particularly in rural areas, it appears that declining agricultural employment has left a gap in employment opportunities for women as non-agricultural jobs have not emerged at the required pace.
Moreover, the world is not complete without the strong and positive dynamics between men and women. As the HeForShe campaign states, change won’t happen if only half of the population is welcome to the discussion. This is true in society and is true in the workplace. In a world that may still be disproportionally influenced by men, it is more critical that boundaries are spanned and bridges are built to create safe passages for the flow of skilled labor regardless of gender and increase the number and influence of half of the world’s population.

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