Nagrik Dialogue

ND in discussion with Ms. Vaishali Sinha, Chair, GCNI Gender Equality Summit 2021

ND. According to you what is meant by “Gender”? Do you think that the kind of initiatives being taken by UN-Global Compact Network India is helping to achieving the Universal goal of Gender Quality?

VS. The term gender refers to the economic, social and cultural attributes and opportunities associated with being male or female. In most societies, being a man or a woman is not simply a matter of different biological and physical characteristics. Men and women face different expectations about how they should dress, behave or work. Relations between men and women, whether in the family, the workplace or the public sphere, also reflect understandings of the talents, characteristics and behaviour appropriate to women and to men. Gender thus differs from sex in that it is social and cultural in nature rather than biological. Gender attributes and characteristics, encompassing, inter alia, the roles that men and women play and the expectations placed upon them, vary widely among societies and change over time. But the fact that gender attributes are socially constructed means that they are also amenable to change in ways that can make a society more just and equitable.

UN-Global Compact Network India is responsible to implement the UN 17 Sustainable Goals which Global Compact Network India is doing successfully with an active engagement and ownership by the Private Sector, CSOs, Academia and other potential sectors including Govt associated with the mission of Global Compact.

With reference to achieving the Universal Goal of Gender Equality which talks about Ending all discrimination against women which is not only a basic human right, it’s crucial for sustainable future; it’s proven that empowering women helps economic growth and development, Global Compact Network India is doing focussed interventions and bringing together different sectors and stakeholders to contribute to positively empowering women and encouraging women’s leadership; it is also facilitating peer to peer learning and knowledge sharing so that gender best practices can be amplified on a wider scale. Through cross cutting programmes, policy advocacy, thought leadership events and other engagements involving the youth, the Global Compact Network India is contributing continuously to achieving the universal goal of Gender Equality.

Ms. Vaishali Sinha,
Chair, Gender Equality Summit 2021

ND. Why is gender equality important?

VS. Gender equality is intrinsically linked to sustainable development and is vital to the realization of human rights for all. When women benefit, everyone does well. Gender equality has impact on society as well as business. It is fundamental fairness that women and men enjoy the same opportunities, rights and obligations in all spheres of life. Equality between men and women exists when both sexes are able to share equally in the distribution of power and influence; have equal opportunities for financial independence through work or through setting up businesses; enjoy equal access to education and the opportunity to develop personal ambitions, interests and talents; share responsibility for the home and children and are completely free from coercion, intimidation and gender-based violence both at work and at home.

Within the context of population and development programmes, gender equality is critical because it will enable women and men to make decisions that impact more positively on their own sexual and reproductive health as well as that of their spouses and families. Decision-making with regard to such issues as age at marriage, timing of births, use of contraception, will get better with the achievement of gender equality.

Even at work, there is now enough research data that shows that more gender diverse companies end up recording better financial numbers. Women at work bring a diverse perspective to decision making, they have a different way of thinking enabling creativity and innovation, they are better listeners, less likely to act on impulse and are also seen to be more loyal. So, there is a very compelling business case for fostering gender equal workspaces.

However, it is important to acknowledge that where gender inequality exists, it is generally women who are excluded or disadvantaged in relation to decision-making and access to economic and social resources. Therefore, a critical aspect of promoting gender equality is the empowerment of women, with a focus on identifying and redressing power imbalances and giving women more autonomy to manage their own lives. This would enable them to make decisions and take actions to achieve and maintain their own reproductive and sexual health. Gender equality and women’s empowerment do not mean that men and women become the same; only that access to opportunities and life changes is neither dependent on, nor constrained by, their sex.

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ND. As a women leader in a reputed industry, how do you express the difference between gender equity, gender equality and women’s empowerment?

VS. According to me Gender equity is the process of being fair to women and men and treating them in an identical manner. To ensure fairness, enabling policies and measures must be introduced to neutralize the historical and social barriers that prevent women and men from otherwise operating on a level playing field. Equity leads to equality. Gender equality requires equal access by women and men to socially valued goods, opportunities, resources and rewards. Woman empowerment focuses on identifying and redressing power imbalances and giving women more autonomy to manage their own lives. Woman empowerment means giving women an equal say in decision making and the freedom to pursue their ambitions and aspirations. Gender equality does not mean that men and women become the same; only that access to opportunities and life changes is neither dependent on, nor constrained by, their sex. Achieving gender equality requires women’s empowerment to ensure that decision-making at private and public levels, and access to resources are no longer weighted in men’s favour, so that both women and men can contribute as equal partners.

ND. Why is it important to take gender concerns into account in programme design and implementation by all the sectors?

VS. Taking gender concerns into account when designing and implementing development programmes is important for two reasons. First, women have different roles, needs and preferences than men. These differences demand different approaches hence programme design must integrate gender considerations for it to be holistic. Second, there is systemic inequality between men and women. Universally, there are clear patterns of women’s inferior access to resources and opportunities. Moreover, women are systematically under-represented in decision-making processes that shape their societies and their own lives. This pattern of inequality is a constraint to the progress of any society because it limits the opportunities of one-half of its population. When women are constrained from reaching their full potential, that potential is lost to society as a whole. Programme design and implementation should endeavour to address either or both of these factors.

ND. What is gender mainstreaming and why it is important for a democratic nation like India? 

VS. Gender mainstreaming is a strategy for integrating gender concerns in the analysis, formulation and monitoring of policies, programmes and projects. In a nutshell, it is policy making while wearing the gender lens.  It is therefore a means to an end, not an end in itself; a process, not a goal. The purpose of gender mainstreaming is to promote gender equality and the economic empowerment of women. Gender mainstreaming aims to strengthen the legitimacy of gender equality values by addressing known gender disparities and gaps in such areas as the division of labour between men and women; access to and control over resources; access to services, information and opportunities; and distribution of power and decision-making.

Gender mainstreaming, as a strategy, does not preclude interventions that focus only on women or only on men. In some instances, the gender analysis that precedes programme design and development reveals severe inequalities that call for an initial strategy of sex-specific interventions. However, such sex-specific interventions should still aim to reduce identified gender disparities by focusing on equality or inequity as the objective rather than on men or women as a target group.

Today, in India, despite several crosscutting policies and programmes having been adopted for women’s upliftment, there is a significant gender gap as far as economic participation goes. The participation of women in the economy is far less than what it should be. Women are at the periphery of the economy and not at its heart. Bulk of the work that women do is not acknowledged or considered in GDP, thus undervaluing their contribution to the economy. There are still plenty of barriers that inhibit women from playing an enhanced role in economic activities. Gender mainstreaming can help dismantle these barriers and create an enabling environment for enhanced economic participation of women. Economic empowerment of women will help raise their self-esteem and give them a voice in day-to-day affairs. Hence this is the fastest route to addressing gender imbalances in the society.

ND. Should gender equality be a concern for men and why?

VS. Yes, definitely men have a big role to play if we are to achieve gender equality in the true sense, beyond tokenism. Firstly, we must recognize that gender equality is not women being pitted against men. Rather it is about men giving women their due space, respect, rights and opportunities so that they can contribute as equal partners in every sphere. The journey towards gender parity will not be complete if men do not come on board and lend a helping hand. More equitable relationships will need to be based on a redefinition of the rights and responsibilities of women and men in all spheres of life, including the family, the workplace and the society at large.

Societal norms and conceptions of masculinity and expectations of men as leaders, husbands or sons create demands on men and shape their behaviour. Men are too often expected to concentrate on the material needs of their families, rather than on the nurturing and caring roles assigned to women. There is this unsaid rule that “men are bread winners while women are caregivers”. Men are expected to venture out for employment to earn in come while women must primarily focus on childcare and other domestic chores. The time has come to relook at this existing behavioral pattern. We need more men to come forward and share childcare and household chores equally with their wives. This support will enable women to better balance their domestic responsibilities with professional challenges. A supportive spouse can give women a huge boost in pursuing a career. Organizations can do their bit to nudge men to change their behaviour by introducing paid paternity leaves to signal that childcare is not only the mother’s job.

Equally, at thew workspace, it is important that male colleagues are gender sensitized and give equal respect and opportunities to their women team members. Organizations must work to root out bias at every level – from screening resumes and conducting recruitment interviews to annual appraisals and staffing of marquee projects. Allocation of responsibilities should be free from gender stereotyping – merit should be the only criterion. Men should also actively mentor talented young women and groom them for leadership roles.

ND. How this Gender Equality Summit of Global Compact Network India is going to help the women to be empowered and can contribute to ensure equality for all the women.

VS. GCNI’s 4th Gender Equality Summit in India resonates the global commitment towards developing a strong India roadmap towards gender equality by discussing policies, leadership, gender specific initiatives and technology that can enable women to recover and thrive even in the post covid world to emerge as equal participants in the workforce across the formal and informal sectors. The summit hopes to inspire the next generation of women professionals through women leaders from various walks of life sharing their life experiences and success mantras. Another important function of the GES is celebrating the best practices and success stories from across the country – putting them in the limelight so that others can learn and emulate these practices for a wider impact. Knowledge sharing is a key aspect of this summit as it aims to stimulate innovative ideas and solutions that will pave the way for a more gender equal socio-economic order.

The summit will provide for a national platform to discuss our collective responsibility and exploring pathways towards gender inclusive outcomes in the society and specifically the workforce. The summit, aligned with the principles of the Sustainable Development frameworks calls for greater levels of coordinated involvement from the Governments, private sector, not-for-profits organizations and communities, as drivers and enablers of societal change, through collective purpose for inclusive employment and growth opportunities for women to emerge as leaders of tomorrow.

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