The International Women’s campaign theme for the year 2016 is ‘pledge for parity’. It seems to be a wonderful concept to promote and campaign for. Women have achieved a lot in the last century but still have miles to go before we reach parity in all spheres in the true sense of the word. And hence, though we have much to celebrate about, the progress needs to be accelerated as it seems to have slowed down in many places. The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that global gender parity would be achieved by 2095, when all of us would be dead but our children would benefit. But one year later in 2015 they surprisingly estimated that a slowdown in the pace of progress means that the gender gap would remain for some more time and would close only by 2133. Within a year it was pushed back 38 years! We are not new to such fluctuating estimates- it keeps happening all the time.
Women have been contributing to the social, economic, cultural and political progress in India and globally too. We see women in all spheres of work and rejoice as they become more visible in public life. Women have taken bold steps to come out of their homes challenging themselves as well as societal taboos and making their mark in the male world. But still, lots need to be done in implementing the policies and laws that have been framed so far. We have been striving for parity since 100 years and women have gained in terms of many rights such as voting rights, property rights, right to work and equal pay and so on to name a few. But yet the progress seems marginal and needs greater push by both men and women if we are to achieve the target by the year 2133.
The campaign ‘Pledging for Parity’ invites everyone, both men and women, to pledge to take a concrete steps to help achieve gender parity more quickly than the current pace. A few areas have been highlighted. One such area is- to help women and girls achieve their ambitions- as girls seek higher education and professional qualifications we need to encourage them to become productive members of the workforce and contribute economically. We need to motivate women to utilise their hidden potential and manifest it. Many women get bogged down by domestic duties and caring for the young and the old neglecting their own personal aspirations and ambitions. This important issue could be taken up seriously by men and women to facilitate young girls in achieving their ambitions by extending support and guidance actively. Of course the point is not only to boost economic growth of the country (which could be a by product) but her own personal and spiritual growth which is vital. She has immense potential which she must put to good use.
Another area identified is gender-balanced leadership where women should be encouraged up the ladder (on merit of course and by removing the glass-ceiling) and welcomed on company boards. Studies say productivity goes up significantly when women represent on boards. Another issue of focus is to respect and value difference between men and women. This is a psycho-social cultural issue where males have more value than women. If men and women are different biologically, psychologically and behaviourally, women are demeaned and devalued in comparison to men who are considered superior to women. We need to respect femininity and all that women constitute and treat it at par with men. Women should be accepted as being different than men and cherished as such.
One more issue being highlighted by the campaign for parity is -to develop more inclusive and flexible cultures or root out workplace biases. Many behaviours and actions in the workplace reflect such biases towards women. One common instance that strikes the mind is the reaction of seniors and bosses towards women employees entering into motherhood. Strong negative bias prevails in the minds of men as it is seen as an obstacle, a hindrance and as a problem that women suffer from! There is reluctance in granting leave to the expectant mother-to-be. Another element worth noting is that as women enter workplaces in large numbers men feel constrained and restrained as they have to be careful in their speech and behaviour with women around. Their so called camaraderie goes for a toss as they cannot narrate women related jokes, or abuses and talks! Inclusivity means respecting all segments and categories of workers without prejudice and biases. A tall order indeed, but which calls for a drastic change in thinking and values.
Each one of us can be a leader within our own spheres of influence and can commit ourselves to take pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity. The campaign encourages people to move from talk to purposeful action, by joining forces, to collectively help women advance and progress in all spheres of life.