On the first day in the premises of the New Sansad Bhawan, the country witnessed a historic advancement towards women empowerment. During a special session of the Parliament, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha on 19th and 24th September 2023 respectively, passed the 128th Constitutional Amendment Bill called Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, also known as the Women’s Reservation Bill.
A significant step towards gender parity in the political sphere, this bill has been talked about in the legislative arena since 1996 when Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, but a lack of strength in the Parliament then and the accompanying protests ensued a 27 years long struggle to get this bill passed.
Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam will not only ensure increased participation of women in the political process, but hopefully, will lead to a more just and equitable society.
India’s female labour force participation rate (FLFPR) still remained at a staggering low of 29.4% in 2021-22, translating to only one in three women in the working age who are employed or actively seeking work. With almost 49% of India’s population being women and the country aiming to target a US $5 trillion economy, India needs to enable this half of the population significantly.
Boosting FLFPR is pertinent for India to achieve its goal of becoming the third largest economy in the World. According to a study by McKinsey Global Institute, increasing FLFPR by just 10 percentage points could boost India’s GDP by $700 billion by 2025.
Traditional gender roles discourage women from working outside the home, even if they are educated and qualified. In some parts of India, prevalent cultural taboos not only deter women from working outside the home, but also from engaging in certain restricted occupations. However, countrywide efforts to improve the safety conditions of women have encouraged many to now explore work opportunities.
The Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP) campaign launched by Prime Minister Modi has had notable success in educating masses on the subject of girl and women empowerment.
Sex Ratio at Birth (SRB) has significantly improved since 2015, a substantial achievement considering the deep-rooted gender discrimination that existed in certain parts of the country earlier.
However, a leapfrogging is necessary from “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao”, into the next important aspect “Beti ko Atmanirbhar Banao”(making them self-reliant). This can be undertaken through imparting of vocational training, presenting them with entrepreneurial opportunities, and ensuring a safe and supportive work environment.
The altered slogan can be “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, Beti ko Swawlambi Banao”, reflecting the push for girls to become self-reliant. ‘Swamlambi Betiyan’, puts forward succinctly that girls are valuable assets who can contribute to the development of the country.
Women led development has been the governance mantra of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, remarks Union Minister of Women & Child Development (WCD) Smriti Irani. Whether it is Swachch Bharat, Construction of Toilets, Opening of Bank Accounts, Mudra Yojana or even G-20— empowering and enabling women to be self-reliant in a safe environment has been the focus area for the government.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented women with new opportunities to become atmanirbhar (self-reliant) as it accelerated the shift towards work from home (WFH) and work from anywhere (WFA) practices. These practices gave women the freedom and flexibility to choose their own work lives as well as balance their work and personal responsibilities more effectively.
The liberty to choose not just their work hours but place of work as well broke geographical barriers and gave a renewed sense of autonomy to women workers.
The gig economy is transforming the way we work, and it has opened up new vistas for women by offering them the flexibility of choosing their own profession, working hours, and earnings.
By allowing women to pursue their passion, work on the projects of their choice, as well as offering work-life balance— Gig opportunities present a plethora of advantages for working women. For example, a woman with a young child can become a gig worker and can choose to work only during the hours when her child is at school. Or, a woman with disability can become a gig worker and choose to work from the comfort of her own home.
Gig opportunities are also empowering women to become entrepreneurs as well. A woman with a passion for cooking can now start her own cloud kitchen business or a technologically empowered woman can take multiple freelance digital opportunities.
Gig Economy being in its early stages of development still has a long way to go, but it has the potential to revolutionise the way women work and live. Gig opportunities open up new prospects for women depending on their education and literacy levels, cutting across geographies, yet connected through the internet.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift to a global marketplace, opening up a host of opportunities for girls and women from all walks of life. With the rise of remote work and e-commerce, women can now access jobs and markets that were hitherto out of reach.
The increasing participation of women in the global marketplace allows them to become more economically empowered, which leads to better investment in their education and healthcare, and their active participation in civic and political life, resulting in inclusive growth of society and the nation.
The Women’s Reservation Bill has the empowering potential to bring focus back to this important half of the population and can give a shot in the arm towards bringing together government, multilateral institutions, self-help groups, CSRs, industry, start-ups, and academia to commit to the goal of ‘Ab Har Naari Banegi Atmanirbhar’.
First and foremost, what needs to be undertaken is the step to empower all women with literacy programmes that lay emphasis around digital and financial awareness which in turn will open up the path towards livelihoods and self-reliance.
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