Our society doesn’t adequately value women. There is massive gap in the economic empowerment of women in society and one must question absence of women’s participation in the economy. Meet Jayati Ghosh, currently professor of Development Economics at the Jawaharlal University at Delhi.
She is one of the few people responsible for the National Knowledge Network, a state body that allows students at institutions of higher education to have access to otherwise expensive research material not only for free, but also at high speeds (1GBPS). She has delivered lectures on development economics at most of the best institutes across the world. Having done her research from Cambridge University, Ghosh says women’s ability to be economically independent can hold the key for her empowerment at multiple levels and access to her own assets and income is a huge determinant of status at many levels.
Sakshi Singh Sirari catches up with Jayati Ghosh.
How do you see the current status of women in the society? What are our culture specific patterns of change?
India is a very varied society. Certainly there are some women like me who are privileged to enjoy a certain degree of empowerment and relatively good status. But we are very much a minority. A majority of women in the country experience very low status and extremely little empowerment. There are constraints on their mobility, on their autonomy, on their independence, on their ability to make decisions and even on their wellbeing are very large and in some cases, they have even grown in the last decade.
One useful indicator of this is women’s participation in what we can the recognized work force. India is very unusual because we have a very low rate of women’s participation in the workforce compared to most other countries at similar levels of GDP. What is even more remarkable is that it has fallen in the last decade from 35% to less than 24% aggregate. This doesn’t mean that less women are working, but it means that less are engaged in paid or recognized work. If you look at our sample survey data, there are more and more women who are engaged in unpaid work at household level, and most of this work very productive, like kitchen gardening, looking after poultry and livestock, preparing and processing items, basic care giving of children. What really happened in the last decade in the past decade women have shifted from paid to unpaid work.
Second important indicator is falling sex ratio. If you are reducing their ability to be even be born, is a real sign that society doesn’t adequately value women.This adverse sex ratio as gone worse with new technology and higher income. Our growth hasn’t improved the status of women.
She has also been awarded a prize for Excellence by UNDP for her analysis of West Bengal’s Human Development situation. She received International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s Decent Work Research Prize in 2011.One of the few folk standing on the left, this extraordinarily stylish woman of substance contributes her opinions to the Guardian and Frontline.
How does a woman’s economic status affect her role in the society?
It’s huge, women ability to be economically independent or to have access to her own assets and income is a huge determinant of status at many levels. If not complete, there are many other things that are also required but in many cases a necessary condition. As long as a woman is economically dependent, she if forced to be subservient in other social ways.
women ability to be economically independent or to have access to her own assets and income is a huge determinant of status at many levels.
This year has seen a 5 per cent slack in the budgetary disbursement on education, and the allotted funds are not reaching institutions which is quite a contradiction to the rising youth population in the country, what are your views on the same?
I think this is very appalling and short sighted. At this moment we are playing with fire. We have a demographic bulge that don’t people see as a dividend, but it could actually be a disaster if we do not ensure that they are healthy, educated and have jobs.
We are aiming to be a global superpower with majority of our population illiterate and living below poverty line, as pointed by Amartya Sen recently. What are your thoughts on the same? How can the youth participate in changing that?
I think it is impossible that we are not focusing on basics and dreaming of all sorts of other things. It is counter-productive, short sighted and can have huge adverse consequences in the future.
It very important to create greater public awareness for the need for universal good quality education at all levels. Not only at the primary and secondary school levels, but also at tertiary. At the moment, 2/3rds of our tertiary education is privatized. Families go into debt or they sell their assets to put their children through these ‘shops’ which are giving degrees. They spend lacs to come out and realize that there are no jobs for them.
I think it is impossible that we are not focusing on basics and dreaming of all sorts of other things.
The well informed, educated individuals can participate by making sure there is greater social consciousness on the need of public spending on education. We need to demand that from the government, a minimum call for public spending on education.
Mahila Samakhya was recently taken from the MWCD made a part of NRLM. How do you think this will affect the focus of the program?
It’s basically going to be closed. It is, like I said before, indicative of lack of a status of women in society; programs that actually benefit women are undervalued and undercut. It is a very retroactive step.
How can we expect the digital revolution in India to be favorable for women in light of the strong cultural heteronormativity that holds them back?
We shouldn’t expect the digital revolution to revolutionize anything. Everything happens in a successful context. Basically technology is just a tool that we can use to our benefit or harm. It all depends on the society and the political economy, and how we use these.
The recent policy on ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ where women’s education is being incentivized by issuing gold to the enrolled girl child. How do you think that will impact women’s participation in education?
Monetary incentives are really not the problem. Most schools lack functional toilets for girls, don’t have middle schools, there are issues of safety in travelling to far off places for middle schools. There is also an issue with gender sensitivity of teachers and how they approach young girls. These are concerns that need to be addressed to control dropout rates.
Monetary benefits to me really like a symbolic, token gesture.
In light of our current social situation, there is this constant need to align yourself with the popular narrative, what some might also call the mainstream. Do you think this hampering of individual life choices affects the economy in any way?
Anything that restricts mobility of individuals and empowerment, has a long-term negative effect on economic capacity. Mind you, these are not new. We have always had very strong social constraints that restrict people from developing their own capability. Religious fundamentalism is a part of it. Fundamentalists of all religions are strongly anti-women, which plays a very negative role in our society.