Armal Ali lives in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, India.
The family of 11 occupy a breeze-block shack with no windows. Ali works
all day at a hand loom, sitting cross-legged on the ground, making
embroidered saris that are highly prized across the subcontinent. But
local residents know too well that such work wrecks eyesight and causes
Ali hopes that his daughter Ousma, 9, will lead a
different life. “Nothing special,” he says, “but at least sitting at a
desk, for instance, with plenty of light around her.” He would also like
her to speak English, like “the people in suits who talk about money
all day on television”.
When you are lacking in “good jobs” women can progress only at the expense of men. Fortunately, the private sector already values women as employees and is responding strongly. Unfortunately, violence aimed at women is causing immense harm by restricting employment hours, especially the peak hours during evenings/nights when clients/teams in the west are available for interaction.
The formal/organized sector is the benchmark for middle class gender
bending. It is here that employment is stable; compensation is adequate
and working conditions bearable. It is not as if nothing has changed
Formal employment has increased, albeit marginally, and
today is around 29 million or just 5% of total employment. Whilst women
have benefited disproportionately, their share in formal employment
increased inadequately from a low 15% in 1995 to a miserable 20% today.
The private sector which has lower institutional and
labour market rigidities, is already responding, on a strictly “value
for money” basis to enlarge women employment. Since 1995 the formal
private sector added 2.8 million jobs, of which 39% (1.1 million) went
to women. Their share has increased from 20% in 1995 to 24% today.
It is in public sector formal employment that more needs to be done.
Public sector formal employment shrank by 2 million jobs since 1995 to
17.5 million today. Despite the shrinking pie of government jobs, jobs
for women increased by 0.6 million to 3.3 million or 18% of total public
sector employment: way behind their share in the private sector.
It will hurt men directly but government must reserve 50% of entry
level positions for women across the board in the civilian cadres of
government, including within the existing quotas for scheduled caste,
scheduled tribe, other backward caste, and minorities (a few states).
Income based “brownie points” in selection and a “one-time quota
benefit, not transferable to children” can serve to churn the ensuing
The average Indian woman looks for succour from just four public
horrors; (1) the lack of public safety in the street and often also at
home; (2) informal gender bars for education; (3) biased job recruitment
and assessment and (4) rigid work environments, which do not recognizes
their multiple roles as bread winner; home stabilizer and comforter.
Their effective participation in the public space needs to fit in within
….technology is the biggest gender bender but the government
does not use it strategically.
Monitoring outcomes effectively and
improving access to services are two sorely neglected areas.
India continues to be a low tech, “danda” swinging profession.Why
cannot an FIR be filed electronically, with a phone number attached for
authentication, thereby putting the onus on the police to follow up with
the complainant? Why are mixed gender police patrols, armed with smart
phone access, to record and report crime and access the crime database,
not visible to citizens?
Why are blood samples not collected at home in
rural areas by mobile agents of laboratories and reports sent
electronically to users? Why are interactive phone based health and
education counselling services, on the Tamil Nadu pattern, not scaled up
nationally? Why do development babus still not have specific household
specific, annual targets for the multiple social benefit schemes of
government? Why do they have the discretion to fish for beneficiaries?