While the Beti Bachao Beti Paddhao movement sponsored by the Government needs applaud, but there are some facts that need to be dealt with more seriously. India ranks 127th on the gender inequality index and 108th on the global gender gap index. Although parents are very keen to invest in educating their daughters, the idea of women working outside the home is still culturally hard to digest. The female literacy and education enrollment rates have been rising, but India today has lower levels of women's workforce participation than many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. Reports say, over the last decade, women's participation in the labor force has seen a dramatic decline. Latest government statistics suggest that women's labor participation rate fell from 29.4 percent in 2004-2005 to 22.5 percent in 2011-2012.
With regards to women's unemployment Jammu and Kashmir, has the highest rate of 20.2 percent, as compared to the national average of 3.7 percent. The unemployment rate among men stands at 3.2 percent in Jammu and Kashmir as per the National Sample Survey (2011-2012). Apart from the rising unemployment in the region, one major cause is that women on their own drop out of the workforce when they have children and also their career choices have been largely constrained by the moral and cultural stands of society. Women's economic empowerment and the realization of women's rights to and at work are essential for the achievement of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In the light of the above facts, I wish to tell my readers, how 'empowerment of women' has failed to deliver. When I completed my Doctorate, interestingly in the discipline of Women's Studies, I wanted to stay back in Kashmir and hoped to serve my own region. This prompted me to apply for a position in an organization which was created by the Govt. of India supposedly to facilitate empowerment of women in the State. I was excited to join, and as is a practice in J&K, it took too long to sort out the candidates for short listing and the day it was done, I was 6 months pregnant. After the interviews, it took them further 3 months to finalize the selection list. I underwent a major cesarean and was blessed with a beautiful daughter. While I was cherishing my new motherhood, after 15 days or so I was intimated to join the office. After lot of discussions at home, I finally decided to join and brave the odds. To my temporary relief my boss was a women officer. I expected her to grant me a special leave as I wasn't completely fine yet. My stitches were still fresh and my daughter too little to be left. She denied on the grounds that this is a 'mission' and we cannot delay our work (hearing this, I thought it's going to be great working with such committed system). The same officer in a meeting, shockingly denounced the recruitment of women because as she thought, they get married, have children on account of which they don't take their jobs seriously. To secure my job (which was contractual) I left my little daughter in the care of my parents, as many of us do. Days passed by and the problems grew, my daughter would give me sleepless nights, the mornings and evenings were burdened with household chores, and I stood strong and continued with my job with unpaid salaries, in a not so committed system. My office was located in civil secretariat and therefore on move per six months. After two moves to Jammu, I realized I am just overburdening my parents. Why should they leave their own important things for me? So when the third darbar move to Jammu was ahead, I made up my mind. I asked , my another lady boss to spare me the move and give me tasks which I can do in Srinagar in order to be able to comply with my domestic issues, my child's care being the priority. They denied and asked me to join within two weeks in order to avoid my expulsion. I stood by my demands and in a month's time my position was re-advertised. Ironically the department which I was working for supposedly works for the welfare of marginalized sections including women. To bring up my own trial is to rebuild a narrative that empowering does not mean giving equal chance; it demands that structural barriers to gender equality be removed. Not just me, several women willingly quit from workforce because their kids have no other support. A lady KAS officer, mother of three daughters, had to rush to her parental home before leaving for office to keep her little girl with them. It is her parent's responsibility to take them to the school bus and receive them as well. A woman told me that she was an employee with education department, when her kids were born her parents –in-law had expired. Her parental home was quite far so there was no choice left she quit the job. In a conversation a professor opened up on her ordeal as working mother and told me that her mother-in law straightaway declared- it is your job, your children, don't expect anything from me. the stories are unending and the problem is we are told to look upon to elite educated women as our role models. They have become the symbols of empowerment in a way that does not suffice to the conditions of a common woman. A survey of 1,000 working women in New Delhi found that only 18-34 percent of women continued to work after having a child.
In Kashmir, Aneesa Shafi's work, Problems of Working Women in Kashmir has asserted that most of the educated women choose teaching profession. This is an indication that their career choice is constrained mainly to balance the role conflict a working woman faces.
The issue of gender based discrimination in workforce, as indicated by a UNCHR report, is manifested;
'as gender gaps in labour force participation and pay, occupational segregation, unequal working conditions and women's burden of unpaid domestic and care work, which characterize both the formal and informal economies. These gender gaps are rooted in historically unequal power relations between women and men in the household and in the economy and society more broadly; gender-biased design and impacts of macroeconomic fiscal, monetary and trade policies; discriminatory laws and social norms;' and greater constraints on women in balancing work and family responsibilities,
The crux of the matter is that women in Jammu and Kashmir as anywhere else in India, continue to shoulder the responsibility of child care even as they are not provided adequate maternity and childcare support. While the Government is ready to spend too much of its money on ladli beti, to ensure support to girls so that they can be let live and be educated, it is even greater responsibility to encourage women's labour force participation. Government needs to take more effective measures to support women's constructive engagement in the workforce through greater investments in secondary and tertiary education, vocational and skills training, and developing and strengthening laws and policies to support working women. Special measures need to be taken that could provide affordable or subsidized quality childcare, parental leave and greater flexibility in working arrangements without reductions in labour and social protections.
Dr. Shazia Malik is a Doctorate in Women's Studies and Author of Women's Development Amid Conflict in Kashmir.