Since time immemorial, the colour ‘Pink’ depicts a girl child but over the years it has become a symbol of women asserting their rights for equality by birth; equality for privileges like education, health, nutrition, etc., equality of status; and equality in the workplace.
Nature, by birth, does not discriminate between genders. On the contrary, mortality rates among males are higher than their female counterparts. At birth, ratio between males and females is slightly biased towards the male sex. The natural “sex ratio at birth” is often considered to be around 105 (there are 105 males for every 100 females).
So is nature biased? No. Since male mortality rates are higher, nature has corrected itself to achieve the optimum balance in the long run. (Women have a better chance of living past 60. According to Science ABC, “the average life expectancy for women is 71.1 years while for men it’s 67 years.”)
Countries having higher sex ratio (greater than 105:100) have intentionally intervened in the process of natural selection to favour the male child – India is no exception. The cover of the Economic Survey 2018 is ‘Pink’ to lay emphasis on women empowerment and gender inequality.
21 million ‘unwanted’ girls are born in India due to phenomenon called ‘Son Meta-Preference’ – parents keep producing children till they have the “desired number of sons”.
The survey also highlights that the number of missing women in India, as of 2014 was nearly 63 million and more than 2 million women go missing across all age groups every year (either due to sex selective abortion, disease, neglect, or inadequate nutrition).
The Government’s initiatives like Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao and Sukanya Samridhi Yojana are steps in the right direction. India has 48 million more men than women (UN report). The global picture is as dismal. Eight billion people will occupy the earth by 2023. The gap between men and women has closed considerably (107 in 2011 to 101.8 in 2015) but it has not occurred uniformly across the globe. Some countries practice sex-selective abortions or “gendercide”- in the Middle East the ratio has remained at 274 men for every 100 women.
Once born, the girl child struggles to live – preference for the male child has always kept the girl child deprived of good health, education, and even love. The ‘unwanted’ girl now fights the battle for privileges (the fact that women live longer than men, does not mean that they enjoy better health).
High maternal mortality rates, very low levels of hemoglobin, and poor menstrual hygiene are gender-specific health concerns that have plagued Indian women. However, levying 12% GST on sanitary napkins shows the insensitivity of the Government in a country where more than 70% of women cannot afford to buy them. This is indicative of a social disregard for women’s health, comfort and even mobility – school going girls miss classes due to menstrual restrictions.
“Tax on Blood” is a campaign to awaken India to the harsh reality of those 65 days spent each year by menstruating women – 300 million women use rags instead of sanitary pads, some girls stay in menstrual huts away from their homes, and 20% girls drop out from school.
The fight with the siblings of the family is not just for nutrition and hygiene, but also for sound educational foundation. Girls do not get a level playing field when it comes to investments made by parents on education – this is when girls have consistently outperformed boys at secondary and higher education examinations. Research shows that girls are generally more successful than boys in primary school but are not rewarded for this early academic success.
Education still discriminates against girls – the spectrum varies from absolute denial, unequal access, neglect to active prejudice against women in education – 1 in every 100 school going girls completes her schooling. For those who continue to remain in school, sexes begin to divide in subject choice with technical and scientific subjects dominated overwhelmingly by males. Two hundred years ago, Augusta Ada Lovelace wrote the first algorithm and Grace Hopper wrote the first compiler – the earliest software programmers were women but they were elbowed out of the field as it became more lucrative.
The new digital wave sweeping India has widened the gender gap manifold. Digital literacy has inherited the ills of the literacy landscape – the Internet in India is still a gender-based privilege. As per the UNICEF report (2017) while women constitute 48.5% of the population, over 71% of Indians who use the Internet are males. Due to the digital gender gap, initiatives to promote inclusive education like ‘Swayam’ and economic empowerment scheme like ‘Stand Up India’ will fail to reach the women.
The onset of the 4th industrial revolution is anticipated to be disruptive and will change the dynamics of the workforce between men and women. There are two forces of change that shall impact the dynamics at workplace – first is the automation of household work, and second the opportunities for remote working. The new digital workspace will also open doors for women entrepreneurs to start businesses with relatively small investments and have a global customer base. As household work is further automated, women will be released to put their skill sets to better use. ‘Work from home’ and flexible working hours will help to strike a balance between ‘career and kids’.
Women’s rising participation in the workforce and economic power as a consumer will be the key drivers of change across all industries. Today women make 85% of all the consumer purchase and drive the world economy. (A few years ago, Ford conducted a survey and realized that women were buying more cars than men, so they recessed the door handles to take care of their manicured hands with longer nails.)
The outcome of the 4th Industrial Revolution might worsen gender parity in the workplace – both in terms of the number of jobs that will be lost to automation and the nature of jobs that will be created. The burden of expected job losses due to disruptive change will fall more on women. The job families expecting the highest employment growth in the forthcoming years are in the domain of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and ‘soft skills’.
We need to foster a culture of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education for girls. Women entrepreneurs need to embrace technology to create economic opportunities. They need to pursue careers that are more secure and less likely to be automated. We once again see the male gender forcing their way in to the ‘soft skills’ training domain as not only is it lucrative but also secure.
The fourth revolution can be a revolution for her if and only if she works towards it persuasively and collectively. What women need to know is: where are jobs in the future?
A survey conducted by MasterCard in February 2018, ‘Revisiting Women In STEM’ states that 45% of women working in STEM jobs were dissatisfied with their current career choice. A Deloitte report on gender imbalance in the workplace reported that the last 2 decades have seen a decline in the percentage of women in technology. There has been an exodus of women from technology. Reasons for this trend go beyond pay and promotions – it’s the hostile work culture.
As Emily Chang’s book, Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley, hits the bookshelves this month, it unfolds the “exclusive, drug-fueled, sex-laced parties” culture where female founders are preyed upon. While the last 2 decades saw an exodus of women from the IT sector, the next 2 decades shall see their exodus from all other sectors too.
We live in a ‘knowledge-driven’ world and individuals possessing tech knowledge will be in the driver’s seat. The only way to smash the glass ceiling is to become competent with skills, to acquire the ‘right’ skills, and to be ready for the ‘jobs in the future’.
Acquiring the right skills is the just the beginning, women need to be assertive too. The year 2018 marks the tipping point for gender equality in the workplace with the #metoo campaign, where women from all walks of life have broken their silence to become assertive; to assert their right to birth, to privileges at home and in the workplace, and to live with dignity and freedom of choice. In response to the widespread sexual abuse allegations that surfaced in 2017, the ‘Time’s Up’ movement addresses inequality and injustice in the workplace and has raised $16 million dollars till date to aid in fighting these battles. The seeds are being sown as we speak. Pink is becoming assertive, and so she should.
The writer is Director, Programs at Ciso Cybersecurity