India is celebrating 75th anniversary of independence.
While we have come a long way in these 75 years, some areas are still lagging. For instance, in the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap report released last month, India is ranked 135th out of 146 countries in terms of women's participation and gender equality.
The question is, has there been a tangible improvement in the condition of women in the country even after so many years of independence?
Despite India's improvement in ranking, only 11 countries are below it as far as gender equality is concerned.
What is the Global Gender Gap Report? What is the participation of women in the health sector after 75 years of independence? What is the problem, and how can it be overcome? FIT speaks to experts to find out.
What is the Global Gender Gap Report?
This report by the World Economic Forum presents data on the status of gender equality across countries on the basis of economic participation and opportunity, education, health and survival, and how much gender equality is there on the basis of political empowerment.
Countries are ranked on these parameters and are given a score, which ranges between 0 and 1. A higher score means higher gender equality in that country, while a lower score is considered the opposite.
"Despite a lot of investment and effort, India's rank is declining. There is a lot of talk on gender equality, but we are still behind. We are among the third worst performing countries in South Asia. We are followed by Pakistan and Afghanistan. It's high time for us to improve the situation now".Dr Shagun Sabharwal, Director- South Asia Region and Global Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning, Womenlift Health
Why Is Women’s Participation in the Health Sector Still So Low?
Speaking to FIT, Dr Shagun Sabarwal, South Asia Region and Global Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Director WomenLift Health says, "This report is a wake-up call for India. The global gender gap has been rated on different indexes. We are doing well in terms of education, but when it comes to health, our biggest problem is the sex ratio at birth."
The number of girls being born is still much less than boys. This is a big problem for a country like India with a large population. Secondly, women's participation in the economy is still low. We are at just 23.5 percent.
"According to the economy of our country, the contribution of women should have been much more than this," says Dr Shagun Sabarwal.
"If the girl is not taught from the beginning, how will she grow up and stand on her feet? How will she become a working woman?" says Dr Ashwini Setya, Medical Legal Expert and Gastroenterologist.
"In such a situation, the economic system and ranking of the country is likely to decline. 99 percent of nurses in the country are women. But, because this profession is considered less than or below that of a doctor's, men do not want to become nurses. This is not the case in western countries. The ratio between male and female doctors in the country is the opposite of male and female nurses."Dr Ashwini Setya, Medical Legal Expert and Gastroenterologist
Dr Ashwini Setya further says, "there is a high prevalence of education in Kerala, girls have more rights socially and legally. See there, the participation of girls (in the workforce) is also high".
Why Aren’t There More Women in Higher Positions?
Our experts did not deny women's participation in the workforce, but discussed where and to to what degree the participation is.
"It is not like there aren't any women working in the health sector. We have nurses, community health workers, doctors, scientists, but very few of them are where necessary decisions are taken. This needs to change. Because where necessary decisions are taken, when there are women, there is a new experienced approach. Which is lacking right now in our health sector," said Dr Shagun Sabarwal.
"We see that nurses, and community health workers are mostly women. In India, when we talk about the health sector, we know that 50 percent of the people here are women. But when we look at the higher positions or leaders in the health sector, who are taking decisions, who are deciding what kind of policy should be there, who are looking for solutions to problems, then we see that there are more number of men."Dr Shagun Sabarwal, South Asia Region and Global Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Director WomenLift Health
She further explains that most health-related matters such as malnutrition affect women and children more than men.
So why are there fewer women taking important decisions related to the country's health sector?
'Home Life' Puts a Break on Career
Pragati Adhikari, ex-editor of Women's Web, tells FIT, "Because men are not bogged down with the responsibility of home, family, children, they are seen in large numbers at work."
She says, women are prevented from moving forward, and that breaks are put on their careers in the name of responsibilities, or such an environment is created which compels them to sacrifice their career.
Women in India are often forced to choose between their family and their careers.
'The Problem Is Mindset'
"Our ranking in the health sector is at the bottom of the global gender gap. The reason for this is that girls are often considered as a burden."Dr Ashwini Setya, Medical Legal Expert and Gastroenterologist
Adding to this, Dr Ashwini Setya tells FIT, "I am not talking about exceptions here. I am talking about the majority of the families, which are part of India's population, the ones that make up such a ranking."
"After COVID, the number of working women in the work force has further reduced. It is not that the functioning of men has not been affected by COVID, but not to the same degree."Pragati Adhikari, Ex-Editor Women's Web & Counselor
"Many women had to leave their jobs because the pressure on them was high. If we look around us, the burden of home-family and work was more on women during the pandemic," she adds.
This issue arose because of our mindset. "Women are not given the opportunity to stand on their own feet financially," says Pragati Adhikari.
Adding to this, Dr Ashwini Setya says that girls are not given the level of education that would make them self reliant.
"Girls' education is not taken care of. I don't mean literacy, but education. When girls are educated and become self-reliant, they recognize and demand their rights. If they are not educated, it becomes easy to keep them away from their rights."Dr Ashwini Setia MD
This mindset also permeates among educated people in big cities, say the experts.
'Half the Population Is Not Contributing to the Economy'
Women and girls face challenges in every sector. Whether it is health or education, nutrition or social issues.
"If we do not change the status of girls in this country, then the country will suffer financially. It is said that by increasing the participation of women, the country will walk on the path of progress and become economically stronger than now because almost half of the country's population is not contributing to the economy right now, half of the country's population is made up of women," says Dr Shagun Sabarwal.
Can Things Change if Women Get a Chance?
Dr Shagun Sabarwal talks about facts and studies in response to this question.
She says, "we have enough evidence to show that women make good leaders. They are able to implement policies in better ways, especially on health, social issues, education."
"There is a very important study about women's quota. It has been found that when there is a female panchayat head compared to a male panchayat head, the development of the village is better."
That doesn't mean men can't do that. Right now all your solutions are coming in one way because the group is the same. When we all think alike, the solution will be the same," said Dr Sabarwal.
Higher participation of women in decision making positions, she says, will lead to more innovative solutions from a fresh perspective.
How Can We Improve the Situation?
"There is a need to promote women leadership. We need to give opportunities to women, especially those who are in the middle of their career and have 10-20 years of experience. Their careers snagnate at one point, and they are not able to go above it. It is not that there is any shortage of talented women in our country."Dr Shagun Sabarwal
Policy makers at the workplace should see to it that policies are made to encourage gender equality.
Women who have more responsibility when it comes to the home and family, it would help if workplaces took cognisence of this and accommodate them.
A survey with Mid-Career Women in India revealed that most women do not get the right mentorship. Women's participation can also be increased with the right mentorship. This is also a problem due to office politics.
Majority of the leaders are men, so efforts should be made to ensure that the participation of men and women is equal. Men themselves can help create space for talented women, giving women a chance to speak up.
"It was also discussed in the report that there is a gender pay difference in the work of women and men. Family, colleagues, friends, society, we all have to solve this problem together. It has to be seen that women reach the right place with their talent, their experience."Dr Shagun Sabarwal
According to Dr Ashwini Setya, one small step towards closing the gender gap which is easy and can be acheived quickly is giving girls equal rights in property legally.
"Girls should be given equal rights in the will of their parents. Doing so will change a lot for good. This can help combat the Dowry system. With the change in the law, the country will see a much bigger and better change."Dr Ashwini Setia, Medical Legal Expert and Gastroenterologist
On the occasion of The Amrit Mahotsav of Independence, the tricolor campaign is going on in full swing in every house in the country. It has also been seen in the past years that the countrymen participate in such programs.
When the country's leadership makes a call under national sentiments, it also affects the common people of the remote. So shouldn't this opportunity be used to improve the condition of women in the country as well?
Even in that, when the President of our country is a woman, her message can also have a significant impact.
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