Friday, 27 February 2009

The Gender Gap: Working Together to Improve India's Competitiveness

India Economic Summit 2005

Colette Mathur, Director, India and South Asia, World Economic Forum, said that the gender gap is an important issue. The world would be a better place if there were more women in positions of responsibility but as men do not want women in those positions it is difficult for women to reach them. Discrimination against girls is a worrying problem. Today, there are fewer girls in India than in the past.

Augusto Lopez Claros, Chief Economist and Director, Global Competitiveness Programme, World Economic Forum, said productivity is about the efficient use of resources. In a country, when half the population's participation in economic activity is restricted, it adversely affects that nation's competitiveness. The World Economic Forum studied 25 variables of competitiveness under five pillars: women's economic participation, economic opportunity, political empowerment, education attainment, and health and well being. India ranked 53rd on all factors. Sweden placed first, with the highest number of women in parliament, highest number of women ministers, best childcare and best maternity benefits. A positive correlation exists between the competitiveness of a country and gender equality.

Rajive Kaul, Chairman, Nicco Corporation, India, said corporates have a responsibility to address the gender gap issue. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) proposes to form a special task force to produce an action oriented agenda for recruiting women, developing entrepreneurship among women leaders, setting up a catalyst partnership with the government to work in tandem on policies and to work in rural areas to bridge the gender gap. The gap is so considerable that any action will lead to dramatic results. India's aim to achieve 8% sustained growth can only be reached through the participation of the entire population. At present, only 5% of women contribute to GDP.

Roshaneh Zafar, Managing Director, Kashf Foundation, Pakistan, a Social Entrepreneur, said the number of women in India is continuously decreasing. In Pakistan and India, the trends are similar a girl has a 30 40% higher risk of dying than a boy because females are considered less favourably. Public policy is important. Millions of girls are unborn after parents conduct prenatal tests. This has led to denials of paternity and abandonment. A society that does not value its women cannot progress. The participation of women in politics is very important. In India, 9.3% of parliamentary seats are held by women, a very low number. Women's education is the answer to population control. In India and Pakistan, health expenditure is 2% while defence spending is 3 4 times higher.

Mirai Chatterjee, Coordinator, Social Security, Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA), India, said that in India, especially among the underprivileged population, most women work. However, the census does not capture the wide range of economic activity in which women are engaged because, most of the time, they work in the informal economy. Women want an enabling environment and support to build their own assets. Women need social security if they are to continue to play their role in the economy. Once women are given even a small entrepreneurial opportunity, they become strong leaders and managers. They are willing to learn and perform their roles. Women cannot do it alone, needing a voice and representation, a place in politics. India has good policies and programmes, but these have to reach every woman. Change has to come from the bottom.

Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, India, said there is a lack of political, social and corporate will to implement policies. Contradictions exist between what is said and what is done. In the 1980s, India took a great leap forward by reserving 33% of seats for women at the panchayat (local village council) and elected administration level officials to create leaders at the grassroots level. Whenever women have been given opportunities, they have proved themselves beyond expectations. They bring passion and compassion to their work, which is unaccepted in the country's administration. This fear must be eliminated. Over 75% of the world's work is done by women but women inherit less than 0.1% of the world's assets. A change has to be brought about and women have to find their rightful place in society. Women are also given second class citizen status at home. Female foeticide statistics are alarming. It is India's responsibility to take action on what must be done to reverse the situation.

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