Women are the anchors of our society. In addition to being caregivers, shouldering more childcare and housework than men, they also contribute to national economies as educators, farmers, entrepreneurs and professionals. Representing half of the world’s population, their empowerment—both socially and economically, is of key global significance.

Only 10 countries in the world today offer equal rights to men and women, as per a World Bank research. In some communities such as in Kerala, India, and parts of Africa, they even enjoy more superior inheritance, literacy or matriliny rights. But, despite these being relatively conducive environments, none of these models have proven to be a benchmark of equal opportunity. It is thus no wonder that women across the globe collectively contribute a mere 37% to the global GDP and comprise only 39 per cent of the workforce, as per a Mckinsey Report. It is estimated that narrowing the gender gap could add up to $12 trillion to the global GDP by 2025. While governments, private sector and civil society have progressed in this direction over the years, the challenges in this journey are manifold.

Need for a culture shift

We live in times when advancements in science and technology are everyday news. In contrast, there are many countries in the world today who do not have any or adequate legislations on violence against women. The genesis of the issue lies primarily in their culture that plays an important role in defining women’s status in the society. Those in rural and low-income communities become most vulnerable.

A recent study linked lower birth weight and premature births in Brazil's northern Amazonas state to frequent flooding and climate change. The condition is even worse for adolescent indigenous mothers. Girls from poor households are more likely to be married early. They bear children early and tend to bear the complications associated with it, including violence. Making boys aware of women’s safety at an early age, making women aware of better healthcare, ensuring their digital and financial inclusion are a few ways to mitigate such conditions.

Policymakers and businesses need to work together to create avenues to include more women in the workforce, including more representation of women in Government. We see role models in New Zealand’s Jacintha Arden, Germany’s Angela Merkel, Denmark's Mette Frederiksen, and Bangladesh's Sheikh Hasina who have been exemplars in handling the Covid19 pandemic in their countries.

Tackling gender parity in workforce

Worldwide, women earn 63% less than men, yet they spend three times as many hours on unpaid labour, as per an IMF Report on Women and Growth. It is critical to achieve gender parity to be able to achieve shared prosperity through the fourth Industrial Revolution, as highlighted in the Global Gender Gap Index by the World Economic Forum.

This seems a difficult proposition when there are still 18 countries in which husbands can legally prevent their wives from working as per this UN Women report. Globally on average, women have just three-quarters of the rights of men to enter the workforce or start their own business, as per a World Bank report. However, this report also underpins the fact that legislation alone cannot improve gender equality, as in some cases people circumvent the law and it results in being counterproductive.

Businesses have diverse customers. People of different gender, ethnicity, race, cultures bring their perspective to decision making that drives better results and makes economic sense, too. A Mckinsey study proves that companies with more than 30 percent women executives are more likely to outperform companies with a lower representation.

Innovate to include

A key challenge for women continuing their professional career is balancing their professional and personal goals. They are more likely to opt out of the workforce to tend to household responsibilities compared to men. This remains an overriding factor in their inclusion in the workforce.

The Covid-19 pandemic has turned to be a silver lining in this aspect. Many organizations revised their operating models to accommodate WFH (Work from Home)/ Hybrid / Remote Access ways, which influenced their work policies to be more gender responsive.

Global platforms requiring CEO level commitment to gender equality, such as the United Nations’ Women Empowerment Principles are bringing the need to include women in leadership positions to the Board level. Innovative programs such as Unstereotype Alliance by the UN Women, Unilever and industry leaders are examples of global initiatives to eliminate stereotypical portrayals of gender in advertising and all brand led content. Women for Women networks at workplace, strong sexual harassment and safety policies, senior women and men colleagues sponsoring their women subordinates, creating training and entrepreneurship opportunities for women from marginalized communities are some good practices through CSR have emerged in the corporate sector over the years.

It is said that ‘By educating a woman, you can educate an entire family, and when you educate a girl, you educate a future’. Women’s literacy, participation in workforce and financial inclusion are crucial components in the economic progress of a country. Although economic development is not the only factor that contributes towards their empowerment, it does lay a strong foundation for the overall upliftment of their socio-economic status. While fragmented efforts are being made by nations, it is our responsibility as citizens to fuel and build momentum for gender justice. A strong social leadership to tackle biases and stereotypes at community, government and civil society levels can drive this agenda across society.

Views are personal. The author is Head- CSR and Sustainability at L&T Infotech.

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