Discussing gender issues in today’s context is not that simple. If you are a woman who speaks her mind, you get labeled as a feminist before you even realize it. While there is nothing wrong with the label, however, the connotation is suspect. Being a feminist should not be equated with a person running an anti-men agenda. Feminism is only about equality between men and women which is relevant even today. Started as a movement for equal rights to vote, work, have bank accounts; today translates to encouraging women with equal opportunity at workplace and within her unique social and legal structures… which many a times becomes a quest for plain survival.
The Real Survivor
How many of us are aware that in any disaster globally women and children are 14 times more prone to dying than men, especially if poor? This vulnerability is mostly due to lack of access to equal opportunity for women within the social boundaries. Let us take an example. During the 2011 Bangladesh floods, more number of women were reported to have died than men. This was mostly so, as culturally women did not know how to swim. The women neither had the strength to pull themselves through the flood, nor the will to survive in the absence of losing sight of their loved ones.
Social structures till date deny women the equal window to explore how she can adapt to extreme situations and become self-reliant. Sacrifice as a virtue is deeply embedded in our society for women, either through social conditioning or natural instinct.
Statistics also show that till date women across South Asia tend to have less access to formal financial institutions or saving mechanisms. This gap also means that women do not have the economic freedom or flexibility to invest back into their homes and society. When a woman controls household income or earns herself, she invests more in her children. These paradigms thus need to change and financial inclusion for women needs to be mainstreamed much more, especially given the unpaid nature of her labour. Let us explore this more.
Irrespective of whether a woman is formally employed or not, she is constantly at work without any pay. She directly or indirectly continues to contribute to the economy all the time – from taking care of her family, doing household work to the reproductive duties that she naturally performs. It is indeed real labour which she is ‘expected’ to carry out diligently.
A UN study in 2008 across six countries of gender contributions to unpaid care work (at home) found, “…the mean time spent on unpaid care work by women is more than twice that for men. In India, the gap is greatest, with women spending almost ten times more time than men on unpaid care work. It is this type of unpaid labour that enables healthy, educated, and rested employees to come to work each day.”
The quest is even greater for formally employed or “working women” as they further need to balance their home and profession. This question, however, seldom arises for a working man. He works while he is in office, when at home he may or may not contribute to the domestic chores; but for a woman she must necessarily “balance.” The absence of which subjects her to enormous amount of self or societal guilt. In the European Union for example, 25 per cent of women report care and other family and personal responsibilities as the reason for not being in the labour force, versus only three per cent of men.
This toil and labour – serving both the productive and reproductive duties – however, may not necessarily get reflected in her pay compensations or in the facilities to help her juggle such duties. In fact, in many cases she may be paid less for the same amount of work that she does when compared to men in the same organisation. Women in most countries earn on an average only 60 to 75 per cent of men’s wages.
The Greater Balance
Recognizing the strong potential of women and providing them with enabling environment to work can help achieve a wide range of development, societal and economic objectives. Sustainable development will thus have to find its foundation in gender equality in the long run. This can only happen when we work together – both men and women.
Women’s economic equality is also good for business. Companies greatly benefit from increasing leadership opportunities for women, which is shown to increase organizational effectiveness. It is estimated that companies with three or more women in senior management functions score higher in all dimensions of organizational effectiveness.
While a corporation may have policies and procedures to mainstream such women empowerment, it can not be left to them alone. Every individual has an important role to play. We need to be conscious and careful of the way we treat and view our women in society – as wives, daughters, and mothers and as colleagues. For us, our families and the economy to be functioning at its potential, gender dynamics need to be viewed not in isolation but in context of the changing face of the globe. After all it is not a woman’s issue alone, it impacts all of us.
Feminism thus is not a shield but an enabler in this direction. It should not be used as label to bring women down or to type cast them. Feminism is a celebration of gender equality and one that every man and woman needs to collaborate on. She is a feminist because she knows her worth. She is a feminist because she knows how to stand for herself and become self-reliant. She is a feminist because she enables economies at large and encourages many more women to realize their true potential. She is a feminist because she is equal.