Photo Credit: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters
The premise that bringing more women into the paid workforce will help women and the Indian economy is behind policies, such as the one announced on Tuesday by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, to reserve 35% of all government jobs for women.
Kumar is not the first to take this step. Madhya Pradesh already has 30% reservation for women in government jobs, as does Gujarat at 33%. In addition, the Union home ministry sent out an advisory to all state government and union territories on August 26, 2014 on increasing women in the police to 33% of the total force.
While 33% of positions in the constable rank are reserved for women in the Central Reserve Police Force and the Central Industrial Security Force, 15% are reserved in the Border Security Force, the Sashastra Seema Bal and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. As the local police come under the state government, they are expected to fall in line and work towards increasing the number of women recruits – currently in short supply as evidenced by the Delhi Police, a force in which women comprise only 9.27%.
But while quotas are well-intentioned, they are clearly not enough. The Parliamentary Committee on Empowerment of Women, which looked specifically at the question of increasing women’s presence in the police force, underlined the simple and rather obvious problems that need to be addressed even as the number of women recruited for these jobs increases.
In its December 17, 2014 report, the committee emphasises the need to improve the facilities available to women when it writes, “despite a spate of efforts from the Government, lack of basic amenities/rest rooms/mobile toilets is still a major problem for the women in police in many States.”
In other words, it is not enough to just recruit more women. Both government and the private sector need to ensure that the conditions at work do not dehumanise women or place an additional stress on their lives. Apart from toilets, provisions of crèches and benefits such as maternity leave should not be seen as special favours. Women enter the paid workforce on unequal terms. A paid job is in addition to the unpaid “work” that they do every day – child care, elderly care, domestic chores, among them.
There will be those who will argue against quotas for women in government jobs. Such people ought to travel by the women’s special trains at peak hour from Churchgate station in Mumbai. Here you meet women, many of them employed by the state government, who wake up at the crack of dawn every day, prepare food for their families, and then set off on their long commute to work.
At the end of the day, they use the train ride to prepare for the tasks that wait exclusively for them once they get home: cook, clean, wash and at some point sleep before the day begins again. Government jobs, with all their security and benefits, are not exactly a gravy ride if you are a lower-middle-class woman.
The other important component to increase women’s presence in the paid workforce is safety. From sexual harassment to sexual assault, women face these dangers every day as they step out to earn a living. The recent distressing case of an Accredited Social Health Activist worker in Uttar Pradesh, who committed suicide because the man who raped her threatened to release the video of the act, brings home the dangers that even those women part of government programmes face. Just having a paid job does not protect them from sexual predators.
A matter of perception
In any case, even if every state government follows the lead of Nitish Kumar and others by reserving government jobs for women, it is unlikely to make more than a tiny dent in the larger problem of getting more women in paid employment. India is close to the bottom in the list of countries when it comes to the percentage of women in paid employment or “female labour force participation” (termed FLFP). While the global average is 50%, which means every other woman is in the labour
force, in India it was 33% in 2012 and has now slipped further.
Why do we need to increase the number of women in paid employment? Is it just tokenism if employment means a double burden on them?
The most obvious significance is that a woman contributing to family income has a better chance of being treated more decently than one who does not. That, of course, is an assumption that is not always born out with the statistics which reveal that even well-educated women in good jobs are at the receiving end of domestic violence. Also, in many cases, they do not have control over the money they earn. Yet, there is change, especially in urban areas where the cost of living is inducing more women into some form of paid employment.
The larger significance of more women in the workforce is that of perception. In the last several decades, women have entered many fields that remained closed to their mothers. Rabia Futtehally, for instance, was one of the first women pilots in India. Today, out of 5,100 commercial pilots in India, 11.7% are women (the average worldwide is 3%). This has been achieved without quotas but illustrates how the opening up of new avenues for employment for women encourages more women to consider these options. And even if entrenched attitudes, which will not accept that women have capabilities and rights, do not evaporate, they are challenged.
Reserving jobs for women is one way to increase the percentage of women in paid jobs. But in the long run, neither more money, nor job security, will make a difference to women’s status unless we recognise and value the real “work” that millions of women do every day, all day.