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Need to remove gender biases is more pressing than ever: Kamal Singh

Feb 25, 2019

Inequality and imbalances in our social system stem from a young age, and hence enabling an environment where people can talk is important, says Kamal Singh, Executive Director, Global Compact Network India (GCNI).

Kamal Singh, Executive Director, Global Compact Network India (GCNI), in an interview to OneWorld South Asia said that that the inclusion of women into the economy is the need of the hour.. GCNI is the Indian arm of the United Nations Global Compact, New York. Excerpts from the interview:

OneWorld South Asia: What are the challenges for gender equality in the present times?

Kamal Singh: Gender equality has been one of the most widely discussed issues in the present times. While efforts in creating equal opportunities for women have been witnessed across sectors-public and private, the divide between opportunities has not died yet. Social and economic inclusion is the need of the hour.

Education is one of the key areas, where gender parity has not been achieved. Girls still make up a higher percentage of out-of-school children than boys. Approximately one quarter of girls in the developing world do not attend school.

Maternal health, gender-based violence (domestic and workspace), exposure to technology etc are other areas that need attention. Under-representation of women in the workforce as well as lack of equal work opportunities are major economic roadblocks. Parameters ranging from hygiene facilities to safety and security, creation of an enabling environment, all these issues need special attention.

The inclusion of women into the economy is the need of the hour. The global labour force participation rate for women is 48.6%, which is 26.5% lower than that of men. India, in particular, stands in the second position when it comes to lowest levels of labour force participation. Organisations-both private and public need to support a more gender diverse workspace and serve as a reference point for others to follow and replicate.

Additionally, organisations also need to work around the pay and processes, security and safety of women. They are also required to identify existing practices, discuss their impacts and borrow ideas from each other.

OWSA: How can dialogue help the world in translating gender equality ideas into real life?

Singh: The need to remove gender biases is now more pressing than ever. While great ideas have ushered in great changes, the start to all of this begins with dialogue. One must always aspire to talk. This helps contribute to creating imperatives and blueprints for action. Bringing together communities of people will help highlight the conditions of women and lead to creating tangible solutions.

It is of prime importance to discuss and highlight Issues that women face like the politics of power, patriarchal social conditioning of young girls, challenges faced by women in different professions and social strata – especially the lower income groups, progress of feminist movement in different countries etc. There is a strong need to create women-friendly policies and train women in workforce.

Inequality and imbalances in our social system stem from a young age, and hence enabling an environment where people can talk is important. Making informed choices also happen through dialoguing. It helps underline ongoing shifts in the society.

OWSA: Tell us about the  summit on gender equality that you are conducting in March?

Singh: As a continuous process in facilitating growth and opportunities for women, Global Compact Network India is conducting the second innings of the Gender Equality Summit on the 1st of March 2019. GCNI has championed gender equality at the workplace and is happy to bring new insights on how economic integration of women can take place. We have received innumerous responses from leading companies, foundations, SMEs from across India and we strive to talk and improve on the current conditions of women across sectors.

GCNI invited case studies in gender equality from different companies, the reflections of which have been extremely inspiring. Gender diversity is an ever evolving topic and needs to become a subject of practice rather than just discussion. The highlights from these case studies have been assessed using a comprehensive framework and it is in the same endeavour that we are trying to create a reference point for many others who need to strengthen equality in workspaces.

In this, the Summit organizers will announce awards titled `Best Innovative Practices Awards 2019 “Women at Workplace”. This is aimed at encouraging inclusive workplace practices by organizations across different sectors.

At the event, a research paper on ‘Preparing Women in India for the 4th Industrial Revolution’ will also be launched in association with Deloitte.

OWSA: What are your expectations from the summit?

Singh:The primary focus is to ensure that the talent pipeline absorbs more women across all workspaces, across all levels, both through hiring and career movements. A pool of diverse perspectives would help organisations understand and bring in the necessary changes across workplaces. Pragmatic changes in operations, pay levels, promotions, engagements, hiring, attrition, etc need to be brought about along with strict measures on harassment. A discrimination free environment is the core of this economic integration that we are looking at.

OWSA: How is the concept of gender equality inbuilt in almost all the 17 SDG goals?

Singh: More than two years into the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, gender equality is central to all goals listed in the same.

At a time when we are hit by conflict, extremism and environmental degradation, the new agenda is an action plan for people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership. It will foster inclusive societies and require the participation of all countries, stakeholders and people. This agenda seeks to alleviate poverty by 2030 and promote shared economic prosperity, social development and environmental protection for all countries. The 17 SDG goals take a gender sensitive approach that cuts across all other goals.

Globally women and girls are over-represented amongst the extreme poor. A total of 330 women and girls live with less than 134 rupees per day. This is 4.4 million more than men. In 2 out of 3 countries, women report food security more than men despite progress, excess to quality education is still not met. Globally, 15 million girls as against 10 million boys will never get a chance to read nor write. Again, climate change has a disproportionate impact on women and children and are14 times likely to die as compared to men. A majority of urban women are living with almost no access to good sanitation, clean water, sufficient living space and durable housing.

Public support to tackle inequalities and investment in policies and programmes that invest in women are sought to lessen this gender gap. Greater accountability needs to be present at all levels for commitments. Gender equality needs to become a lived reality. It is in this endeavour that gender equality cuts across all 17 SDGs.

OWSA: How has the present day economic realities brought new kinds of gender inequality?

Singh: Gender inequality subsists in Indian economy and prevails in all sectors of life like health, education, economics and politics. The post-independence era has soared to inequality between man and woman. While government policies and reforms have been put into places, and feminists and reformists have been fighting for issues like equal pay, these concerns still continue to worry us. To speak honestly, the new kinds of economic inequality stem from the older prototype. Women still lack behind in corporate and government sectors.

India ranks 130 at the gender development index. 26.8 percent of India’s HDI value is lost on account of inequalities.

Global labour force participation rates for women is 26% lesser than man. Their unemployment rates are 24 percent higher than their male counterparts. Women globally also do much more unpaid domestic work than men. The women workforce in India contributes a mere 17% in India’s GDP

Again, women’s share of parliamentary seats also remain very low –around 17.5 in South Asia.

Politically, women hold only 11.6 percent of parliamentary seats, and only 39 percent of adult women have reached at least a secondary level of education as compared to 64 percent males.  In India, female participation in the labour market is 23-24% percent compared to 78.8 for men.

Although there has been laudable progress in the number of girls attending school, there remain big differences between other key aspects of men and women’s lives.

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