The Economist recently wrote about how ‘nations that fail women fail’. There is enough data and evidence to show how true this statement is. In fact, Hillary Clinton articulated her famous Doctrine more than a decade back, about the close interrelationship between women’s equality and national prosperity on one hand, and women’s subjugation and the threat to national security on the other. What begets a question is why do policymakers, businesses and societies fail to internalise this so often! And, it's not only the developing countries. Empowering women and girls has always been a lofty claim of America’s foreign policy. But the country’s bungled exit from Afghanistan has been a strange way for America to show its commitment towards its claim.
These are dark days of gender equity. As the unbearable plight of women in Afghanistan plays out, the pandemic is upending years of hard-won economic gains for us. While reports about a large number of girls dropping out of school with little prospects of ever going back might seem like just disturbing data, we all know of at least one woman who’s been forced to quit her job once the pandemic hit Indian shores.
To be sure, concerns about low women participation in the workforce started before the pandemic hit our shores. A World Bank study done recently pointed out that the female labour participation rate in India had fallen to 20.3% in 2019 from more than 26% in 2005 — lower than 30.5% in Bangladesh and 33.7% in Sri Lanka. One of the reasons Bangladesh has been able to surpass both India and Pakistan in GDP per capita income within a decade, is its high female labour participation in the economy.
In this edition of Outlook Business, we look at gender equity through multiple prisms: workplaces, boardrooms, economic policy and leadership. We bring you the latest survey of workplaces that are promoting high standards of fairness and inclusivity. Turn the pages to find out about the ‘robot queen’ of India. And, at the heart of our cover story on the Indian middle class, is the issue of female labour participation.
Let me ask again: Why is women and girl empowerment not at the core of every economic, social and political decisions being taken the world over, especially since nations look at rising from the ashes of Covid-19? Why does Gita Gopinath still have to exhort nations to look at ‘tapping into the huge potential of women’ to ‘build back better’?
What material gains does a month of celebrating women reach those who remain hidden within data on school dropouts or domestic violence?