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File Photo: Mint

Is India on the cusp of a gender revolution?

Across big cities and small towns, women have similar personal and professional aspirations as men, a recent survey suggests. Women also seem to have more social ties outside their own communities than men

India presents a complex gender paradox to most observers. Women are enrolling in schools and colleges in higher numbers but there aren’t enough of them in workplaces. Women are voting in greater numbers than ever before but there aren’t enough of them in our legislative assemblies and in parliament.

How does one understand these contradictory developments? And what does the future portend for young women in India?

The YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey conducted earlier this year, offers a ray of hope at the end of the tunnel. Our analysis of the dataset suggests that a section of young, educated women seem to be driving change as they reimagine their position in the society.

Across five domains that restrict women’s mobility - marriage, parenting, professional space, friendship, and politics - the first signs of a challenge to the status quo are now visible. While the reach of this dataset may be limited to those with an internet connection, the prevalence of these attitudes even in smaller towns suggests that this is not merely a big-city phenomenon. The online survey covered 10,005 respondents across 184 towns and cities.

Our analysis suggests, firstly, a striking similarity in the nature of responses between the two genders on questions relating to marriage and parenthood. An equal percentage of men and women reported their aversion to getting married in the future. Women in higher income groups were much more likely to be averse to the idea of marriage than men. Women, more than men, wanted to get married later in life. Women were also more likely to prefer love marriages, and marriages outside their caste, religion and income level, compared to men.

Second, with regard to parenthood, we find an equal share of women and men averse to the idea of having children in the future. Of the respondents who did show an interest, women were keen to have fewer children than men. Better educated and richer women expressed preference for fewer kids. But education and affluence don’t seem to explain the choices made by male respondents.

Third, there is a sea change in women’s attitude towards their professional life. Women seem to have nearly identical preferences as men when it comes to their dream careers.

The similarity in preferences of men and women signal an important churn in society, and are driven at least in part by the greater equality of opportunities between men and women. The convergence also points to the weakening of gendered norms in dictating career choices of women. Educated men and women seem to have no difference in their career aspirations. This also indicates an intensification of competition professionally, which may lead to greater male anxiety about their power in society.

Fourth, unlike in the case of personal and professional aspirations, there are notable differences between men and women when it comes to interpersonal social relations. The survey shows that women are more likely to have close friendships outside their own identity circles compared to men. Across groups such as caste, religion and gender, women have a greater cross-section of close friends. This trend was visible across age groups.

Among men, the comparatively older age-group is more likely to have friendships outside their communities. Among women, the younger ones (those below 40) are more likely to have friendships outside their communities.

This makes intuitive sense when one considers the role that reduced restrictions play in controlling social interaction. Unsurprisingly, respondents in tier I cities (with populations above five million) are more likely to have friends outside their communities. But even in small towns, a significant share of women had friends outside their own communities.

Fifth, women were more likely to have informal discussions on politics with their friends, family, and colleagues compared to men. However, they held more ambiguous views on questions related to politics than men, and were less likely to participate in protests and other acts of political mobilisation.

These trends represent a critical moment in the political life of young women in India. Political life is often conceived in three phases. The first step is a rise in political discussion, especially in informal settings. The second is the confidence to voice political positions formed through such discussions. The third step is that of actual mobilisation, through protests, demonstrations, and greater public engagement.

In India, the churn in the political life of women may still be in its initial phase. Yet its importance cannot be overstated. The results of the YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey signal the possibility of tectonic shifts in our public discourse, which can reshape our society and our polity. It is the cohort of young, educated, and assertive women who are likely to lead the charge of change.

The authors are with the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), New Delhi.

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