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Gender stereotypes and our role in changing the Indian landscape

Diversity & Inclusion

Time for a change

“A nation which does not respect women will never become great now and nor will ever in future. Arise, awake and stop not until the goal is achieved” - Swami Vivekananda

This 150-year-old statement by Swami Vivekananda is perfectly ratified by a recent research report by McKinsey that projects a $2.9 Trillion gain in additional annual GDP if India fully bridges the gender gap in workforce by 2025. According to this report, our country has the potential to bring in 68 million more women into the workforce by 2025. So then, what is keeping India away from this pot of gold? Why does gender disparity still exist in the Indian landscape?

The answer lies in our deep-rooted customs

Thousands of years ago, India followed a patriarchal social system in which the father was the head of the house. He was responsible for the financial security of the family. The mother looked after the wellbeing of the family; her primary job was to cook, wash and manage the house. In turn, the sons took over the mantle from their father and the daughters followed their mother. Several literary accounts by Manu and some invading cultures dating back to 200 BC also corroborate these social and cultural norms; reinforcing the belief that women always stayed in the shadows of their men – they never took centre-stage.

This belief acted as a barrier for women at every stage, beginning from birth. While the men were encouraged to be educated and earn a living, women were restricted to the house to ensure their virtues were protected and the honour of the family stayed intact. They neither received education nor financial independence. Their contribution in the domestic areas and even in the farms went unnoticed; creating a cycle of gender inequality.

Poor socio-economic condition and low literacy rate in the rural parts of India only worsened this deep-rooted inequality. The family celebrated when a son was born while a girl child was considered an economic liability because of child care, dowry and marriage related costs. Getting daughters married off continued to be a bigger concern for parents rather than educating them and helping them become financially independent. Furthermore, most families preferred not to educate the girl child in the fear of prospective in-laws forsaking her.

Birth of gender stereotypes

Urbanization, perceived development in larger cities and increased job creation slowly led people to move from rural to urban set-ups. A gradual change in gender disparity started taking place. With families becoming nuclear and requiring increased financial support, opportunities opened up for women. They received education and started earning; however, mostly as receptionists, secretaries, teachers, nurses and other support staff. The outcome was compartmentalization of roles and gender stereotypes.

The horizon brightens 

With time, more and more emphasis was given to education, awareness and exposure for women; mindset of the Indian urban diaspora changed gradually.

Today, we see a very dynamic environment with increased number of individuals and organizations taking cognizance of this very important topic. The government is pitching in. The Government of India has launched campaigns and policy changes to make an obvious effort to reduce the gender inequality at all sectors of the society. Beti bachao beti padhao – targeted to stop female feticide and encourage education, Sahi Poshan Desh Roshan – launched on Women’s Day to create awareness and eradicate malnutrition, increasing paid maternity leave to 24 weeks from 12 weeks, Sukanya Samriddhi Yojna, Pradhan Mantri Surakshit Matriva Abhiyaan, Ujjwala Yojna – are all aimed towards reducing gender equalities inherent in the society. Such progressive campaigns by the government provide clear evidence of the positive stance taken to improve gender disparity.

The corporate world has also awakened to the value that gender-balanced teams bring to the organization. Multiple initiatives are being taken to encourage recruitment. Consequent development and growth of women in the workplace is again driving change and influencing the community outlook. Organizations are becoming conscious of equal-pay-for-equal-work and are removing pay disparity.

Positive change is rapidly taking place all around us. It is visible in the brand image being built. Household products are being marketed with a changed narrative; housework is now gender-neutral. Women are taking on tougher roles like news reporting from war-ravaged locations. More people are watching and cheering the women’s cricket team performances.

Need for more comprehensive change 

However, we need to see this change across all professions. The corporates are already more aware and alert about Gender Diversity. There is more awareness and a stated objective to improve parity within genders, whether in the junior levels or at management levels. While an unconscious bias still exists, we are seeing more and more awareness of equal opportunities during recruitment.

The fight for parity and equality is visible in other professions too but there is still a long way to go. In the entertainment industry, leading female actors are raising their voices against pay disparity as compared to their male counterparts. 

In Cricket, India, which has the richest cricket board BCCI (Board for Control of Cricket in India), earned kudos for increasing the salaries of women cricketers before the 2017 World Cup. However, despite the increase, women cricketers in the top brackets earn only 7% of what their male counterparts do. In soccer, FIFA set aside 400 million dollars as bonuses for 32 teams participating in the Mens’ World Cup. In comparison, only 30 Million dollars was set aside for the Womens’ World Cup that had 24 teams.

According to a report published, only 5 percent of the front page articles in the top seven newspapers are written by women. Just about 6 percent of sports stories in top English and Hindi newspapers are written by women. On TV, women appear in just 15.7 percent of the flagship debate panels on the top seven English news channels. This number is 8.3 percent for Hindi news channels.

The fight for equality continues

The gender disparity issue is a countrywide problem and we need role models in every field to drive this cause. Men need to champion this cause as much as women; it can only be overcome if we work together. Once we overcome this problem in the urban diaspora, it will encourage us to reach out to our fellow citizens in the rural parts of India, where the disparity is wider. We all have a moral responsibility towards the spirit of equality and morality and we will succeed if we all focus on it sincerely. Each one of us can then proudly say - I am one amongst Equals.

Karan Totlani 
Country Segment Director, Corporate Services, Sodexo India

Sreya Oberoi
Diversity & Inclusion - India Head at Sodexo

March 08, 2021

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