EDITORIAL, NavHind Times, Wednesday, May 3, 2006
A recent report said Indian women play a far less significant role in their national economy than do Chinese women in their national economy. There is hardly anything surprising about this: thanks to the communist penetration and sweep for more than five decades in China, women in that country have played a significant role, for example, in manufacturing sector. Comparatively, Indian women have lagged behind them, many of them finding their livelihood only in the unorganised sector.
The saddest part of the story is that women in India are still far from making the best of the employment and entrepreneurial opportunities thrown up by globalisation. They are lacking in skills, encouragement, support, and above all education. A major factor in the growth of an individual or section of society is literacy. According to the 2001 census, female literacy in India is 54.16 per cent against male literacy of 75.85 per cent. Though this figure has gone up in recent years, the fact remains the vast majority (around 55 per cent) of the women living in the villages of India are still illiterate. How can we expect them to play a meaningful and productive role in the national economy without the basic equipment of education?
The school drop-out rate among girls in this country has always been quite high, showing that women from a younger age have to play the roles of homemakers as well as supplementary earners. Even in such a highly literate and economically developed state, like Goa( where female literacy rate is 75.4 per cent, compared to the national 54 per cent), the drop-out rate among female students has been around 40 per cent at the school level. Even the girls who opt for higher studies, either for parental pressures or in want of proper academic guidance, mostly end up gaining general degrees. The percentage of the girls going for professional courses is not so satisfactory. Obviously, if we are going to compete with China in terms of women’s development and advancement, we will have to re-orient our policies and attitudes regarding girls’ education. For unless more and more women are encouraged to take up technically skilled jobs, their role in the economy, say, in the manufacturing sector would not be significant.
Of course, the scene is not all dismal. Women now make up a fifth of the total IT workforce in the country. Yet overall, China scores: it has 330 million working women, accounting for 47 per cent of the labour force, mainly with manufacturing units. In India most of the working women remain outside the organised sector: A mere 2.3 per cent women are administrators and managers, and 20.5 per cent professional and technical workers.
The comparison poses the question: Can gender equality and social justice be achieved by itself during our long march to globalization? Obviously, the answer is no. The scene will not change unless all the obstacles standing in the way of women’s active participation in all spheres of economic life are removed. Surely, the process cannot be speeded up without the co-operation between the government on the one hand, and the private sector, the employers, on the other.