Women in the workforce need support of public policy
‘Women today should not have to feel like they are failing in their maternal and wifely duties just because they have chosen to put their personal ambitions on par with the needs of their families’
We celebrated Mother’s Day a few weeks ago— a day which makes us reflect on everything our mothers have done for us. Whether by staying at home and sacrificing their careers for us or by making sure that they packed our lunch boxes by getting up at 5am since they were out at work too. Most of us have reached where we are by dint of the effort our mothers (working or otherwise) put into our upbringing.
It was thus rather disconcerting to have read an article titled Women in the workforce — no role for public policy, published on 7 May in this paper, which does little to encourage the already abysmal population of women at work by invidiously suggesting that working moms are failures insofar as child rearing goes compared to their stay-at-home sisters. I certainly champion free speech and believe that the ability to listen to opposing points of view is necessary for any kind of intelligent discourse, so here’s where I’d like to step in to make a counter argument.
In his article, V. Anantha Nageswaran talks about the need for public policy to stay out of the discussions on encouraging women to be a larger part of the workforce. He presents his facts in a way that make you think that he is handing out freedom of choice, while the tone is skewed towards convincing women to fulfil their traditional, socially enforced role — that of being a nurturer, leaving the hunting to their more capable partners. He argues that when the International Monetary Fund says that increasing the labour force participation rate for women will increase India’s economic growth rate they are confusing correlation and association with causation.
Nageswaran stands guilty of making the same mistake when he uses the World Happiness Report to insinuate that an educated stay-at-home mother with emotional and intellectual stability, is likely to bring up emotionally healthy humans and thus likely to contribute more to economic growth than she would by spending time at work. He further adds that there is a significant opportunity cost to having women in the work place.
This is in stark contrast to the facts as they stand. A recent McKinsey Global Institute report on “The power of parity: Advancing women’s equality in Asia Pacific”, projected India achieving an 18% increase over business-as-usual GDP just by advancing women’s equality. McKinsey further found that if the gender gap is closed in their “full potential” scenario, up to $28 trillion extra could be added to global GDP growth by 2025. So clearly, there is an economic and empirically verified case for having more women in the workplace.
While the writer caveats his argument by saying that women must make that conscious choice themselves and public policy has no role in that, his tone endorses the benefits of women staying out of the workforce. He forgets that today there are enough examples of working women bringing up intellectually and emotionally balanced children. A woman who is fulfilling her inherent potential and achieving her personal goals is more likely to be emotionally secure herself than possibly a woman who is forced to stay at home precisely for the arguments made above.
Women today should not have to feel like they are failing in their maternal and wifely duties just because they have chosen to put their personal ambitions on par with the needs of their families. Women do not raise their hands enough because society has led them to question their capabilities and priorities at every step of the way. To balance out these pressures every woman needs the support of public policy. That is precisely why these discourses and decisions to “interfere” are so important to build a fair and equitable society. In the constant struggle to ensure that women get their rightful place under the sun, these articles do nothing but push the onus of guilt even more strongly on women themselves.
This calls to mind a Hindu prayer which asks to, “Give wisdom to the strong and courage to the weak”. Public policy and many of us are helping by trying to instil courage in our women, but who will teach wisdom to the strong? I despair.
Apurva Purohit is president of Jagran Group.
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