Gone are the days when "Frailty and feeble, Thy Name is Woman!". Women, the noblest creation of God, making up half of the world, has been gifted with compassion, tender-heartedness, emotions and concern for others. Women plays an all-enveloping character of a mother, wife, daughter, guide and partner. But owing to these basic attributes they have always been considered as second to man, and their role was always underplayed. In recent times, women have been absolutely determined, firm and excelling in all sphere of life which ranging from administration of a country, education, R&D, corporate sector, defense to reaching out in the Space. However, prevalence of social dogma and traditional factors have continuously threaten their progress. Let us examine the women of 21st century and their emergence in real terms while focusing on ground realities. Before that, lets have an eye over the past.
The ideology of the Vedic civilization "Prosperity resides there, where women are respected" is the bedrock of the Indian culture. In Vedic times, women used to enjoy equal status in every parlance of the society. Gargi, Mayitri in Vedic period, Razia begum in Delhi sultanate period are few of the names one could look upon. But, gradually this status got declined during the course of medieval history. Due to centuries of abjection and abuse of women, the condition of women was pitiable at the eve of independence. Keeping this is mind, the founding fathers of Constitution enshrined the principles of equality in Article 14, prohibition of discrimination based on gender in Article 15 and universal adult suffrage in Article 326. But due to social and cultural phenomena, gender inequality is also deep ingrained in the psyche of our society and it has increasingly become difficult to get rid of these clutches.
Present day women are characterized by self independence having footprints in almost all the arenas. Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto in politics; Kalpana Chawla, Sunita Williams in space; Mother Teresa in social services; Chanda Kocchar(ICICI), Indra Nooyi, Schauna Chauhan, Shikha Tandon in corporate world; Deepika Kumari, Krishna in sports are few to be named. With the advent of Globalization and post LPG reforms in 1990s, Indian economy leapfrogged in to and accelerating growth trajectory resulting in large number of opportunities and quality jobs giving financial stability. This financial support has empowered women to lead an independent life and destroyed the old tradition of financial dependency on men. Their contribution in service sector is also commendable. Sectors like Information and communication technology (ICT) and financial services become the central point of attracting a large amount of female workforce.
This era saw a rise of few women in the top echelons of corporate sector few of them listed above. But unfortunately, these names are exceptions rather than the norm. Though banking and financial services sector have seen rise in female managers, corresponding IT sector is remarked by absence of single female CEO in top 10 IT companies in India. If we skip the top level management, there is dearth of women in the middle management for various corporate firms. Even in corporate boards, only 1% of women find the place that too due to family reasons. Thus, there is a colloquial 'glass ceiling' in our corporate sector, which though seems invisible from a distance, but restricts women in their efforts to push upward in the organizational hierarchy. What might be the possible reasons or the scenarios causing this? Though India is a signatory to United Nations Convention of elimination of all kinds of discrimination against women(CEDAW), though we have many legislations like 'Equal Remuneration Act' & 'Maternity Benefits Acts', though there are safety and security concerns of women working in organization in Vishaka guidelines given by SC. But our society still hasn’t accepted the changing role of women in workforce. The social acculturation process is not letting us go from the deep rooted prejudices we have from our generations. Their ability and meritocracy is often doubted and ridiculed in their workgroups. Orders from the female supervisors are considered to be a matter of pride and honor. Moreover, inflexible work hours and in-conducive work environment makes the problem worse. Last but not the least, irrespective of the stringent laws and policies, harassment of women at workplace is a widespread problem. And it has plagued all the corners of government ranging from executive to judiciary, from organized to unorganized sector. Recent case of harassment of law interns under their supervisor judge is a testimony to this. After having a toothless law of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace (SHW), which raises more questions than it answers, we could hardly rely on the legislative measures undertaken by the government. Executives like Tarun tejpal have been accused of misbehaving with women. All of the above stories cast a shadow of doubt on the state of affairs in the management of corporate firms .
There is need to give women a fair chance to come up in their life. They have to be assured of safety in the society. Implementation of Verma committee recommendation are a step in this direction. Stringent laws have to be adopted for crime against women in workplace. Ethical and moral education has to be imparted to change the mindset of male dominant society. Improving basic amenities for women in schools, colleges, workplace etc. could help them better. Social acceptance of a rape victim has to be improved. Women's reservation bill would usher in empowerment of women in India. Women reservation policy has to be extended to other constitutional bodies. Facilities like health services for pregnant women, crèche in workplace has to be improved. Women should be assured of their financial independence and provided with equal share in ancestor property. Provision exclusive to women like Rastriya Mahila kosh, all women bank (in budget 2013), all-women recruitment drive by MNCs should be encouraged. These will primarily recruit female employees and will provide them chance to rise rapidly and high in the hierarchy. Moreover, Corporates should be sensitized and incentivized for promoting female employees.
The ground reality suggests that new emerging women power is like a drop in ocean and there is a lot of scope for improvement. They have been subjected by the society to inequality, injustice and oppression through the ages, nevertheless, they came out as strong being fighting against all the odds. To improve the image of India as an "equal opportunity employer" we need both legal and ethical frameworks. Lets strive hard for a greater women emancipation and empowerment and shatter this glass ceiling.
"One woman can change anything! Many women can change everything!"