India's National Policy on Skill Development & Entrepreneurship (NPSDE) that aimed to promote gender mainstreaming in skill development. However, the framework and implementation of the policy need to align with its principles fully.
This article suggests bridging the gap by promoting non-traditional training and improving gendered understanding to enhance women's participation in the workforce.
Drop in Women's Participation in Workforce
The UN theme for this year’s International Women’s Day, is, “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality” which is based on the UN’s 67th Commission on the status of Women's priority theme of ‘innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls."
The Commission, under the zero draft of the agreed conclusions that will be discussed in March with member countries, has expressed ‘concern’ about the ‘unequal pace of digital transformation’ and that there is a need gap to bridge the ‘knowledge, awareness and skills’ among women and calls for gender mainstreaming in countries digital policies to remove, among other things, ‘lack of skills’, and implement programmes to increase the digital literacy and skills of women and girls, and also ‘to eliminate gender stereotypes and bias from curricula and educators’ behaviours and attitudes.’
In 2015, the Government of India came out with a seminal policy on skilling, including gender mainstreaming. A defined objective of the policy was enhancing women’s participation through ‘appropriate skilling and gender mainstreaming’.
However, the framework to bring the policy alive does not fully build upon the principles and a large portion of skilling for women initiatives, which, though well-intentioned, remain more about support for weaker and disadvantaged sections overall and traditional gender roles.
Over the last decade and a half, there has continued to be a steady decline in women’s participation in the workforce. There is, therefore, a need to reinforce gender mainstreaming in framework and implementation across all levels, among other measures, to enhance women’s participation in the workforce.
Bridging Gaps In and Between Policy and Framework
The National Policy on Skill Development & Entrepreneurship (NPSDE) released in 2015 sought to put an ‘umbrella framework’ that could bring together all skilling activities to address the ‘challenge of skilling’ through standardisation and linkages with the demand.
The policy takes the gender mainstreaming element forward by identifying ‘inclusivity’ and ‘promotion of skilling among women’ as among the eleven major paradigms and enablers to achieve the vision of skilling. Not just that, within the paradigm of employability, it calls for an appreciation of gender diversity at the workplace as a must for all skill training programmes, along with other skills that will make the participants market ready. The Labour Market Information System (LMIS) was introduced in this policy that mandates data to be maintained in a ‘gender-segregated’ form.
While the policy document does not describe the gender segregation that is to be followed, this data can help in furthering gender mainstreaming in skilling as well as workforce participation through maintenance and evaluation of this data and therefore help develop more focused interventions to design more effective policy strategies which is what the policy document also seeks to do with this data.
The mission framework corresponding to this policy seeks to “scale up skill development efforts” in the country and develop an “end-to-end outcome-focused implementation framework”. The word ‘gender’ does not find mentioned in this document. The mission objectives include extending support to weaker and disadvantaged sections of society through focused outreach programmes and targeted skill development activities.
One notices a gap between the policy and its framework and the mission. The former recognises the principles of gender mainstreaming and however, the latter reinforces gender stereotypes by focusing on what is termed as ‘weaker and disadvantaged,’ which is not only from a purely economic lens.
There is also significant scope for enhancing women’s agency in the institutional framework that underpins skill development in the country. As the government draws out the pathway to inclusive and sustainable growth in a post-COVID world where the demand for the workforce is getting redefined by technological advances.
Promoting Training in Non-Traditional Fields for Women: Breaking Gender Stereotypes
The major thrust of recognition within the gender mainstreaming principle adopted in the policy is for women, which covers aspects such as increasing their participation in vocational education and training and measures which promote gender diversity. But what can aid the cause of gender mainstreaming, even more, is the promotion of training in non-traditional roles for women, which will help break gender stereotypes.
It seeks to do so through training programmes focusing on life skills and literacy training. While this inclusion in the policy is encouraging, breaking gender stereotypes requires training, not just for women but men, and understanding broader genders such as transgender and others.
While social media platforms have provided a platform to educate and inform, breaking gender stereotypes requires refined policy and concerted measures in this direction.
Within the inclusivity paradigm of the policy, the focus is more on the “skilling needs of SCs, STs, OBCs, minorities, and differently-abled persons, as well as those living in difficult geographical pockets”. It talks about not being discriminated against based on gender but doesn’t say so in as many words.
Gender discrimination continues to be a key reason for the low rate of women’s participation in the workforce. And this is where training within skills programmes for all genders can help build gender sensitivity in the long run and reduce this discrimination. This will also help in an uptick of non-traditional courses by various genders.
While India has undertaken progressive and targeted measures to enhance women’s participation in the workforce, including credit and incentive provisions for women entrepreneurs, and there are success stories too, there is a need to revisit the impact policy has had on the ground, refine, and reinforce the skill framework and make it inclusive beyond the binaries of men and women.
Second, with the changes in labour demand and employment post-COVID, there is a need to undertake a holistic survey among organisations as well as employees to understand the gender mainstreaming needs in the new realities. This can then form the baseline for the creation and subsequent evaluation of strategies and measures for gender mainstreaming. This will also formally and quantifiably measure what has worked, the success stories, and their scalability.
To aid revision of both the policy and framework. This can also help in one of the actions proposed by the UN’s 67th Commission, “forecast and anticipate future job and skill needs to minimise the adverse impacts of digitalisation and automation, and adapt educational and vocational curricula, reskilling and upskilling programmes to facilitate women’s transition to new occupations and jobs, in particular for those at risk of being replaced by automation.”
Third, with the growing importance of ESG and its reporting, gender mainstreaming, and gender equity can be tracked through the performance of a company on not just how many women it adds to its workforce but what other skilling and measures it is taking to prevent discrimination and promote their growth. This should be as much for the public sector as it is for the private sector. This will have the biggest impact on non-traditional vocations for women and other gender.
Finally, we need to look at not only the skills policy and framework but also other policies that impact skills and employment and ensure that they mainstream gender and that there are institutionalised feedback loops that can refine the implementation for higher success.
(Rahul Sharma is Senior Director of Public Affairs BCW India Group and a student of the Advanced Management Programme in Public Policy (AMPPP) at ISB. Anjal Prakash is the Research Director and Adjunct Associate Professor Bharti Institute of Public Policy at the Indian School of Business (ISB). He teaches gender and development in the AMPPP programme at ISB. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)