Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Half a Billion Rising – The Emergence of the Indian Woman

Tina Vajpeyi assisted Anirudha Dutta the author with some research on his first book on the changes that are arising due to the changing mindsets of the female population in India. Here’s her review.

Anirudha is from a financial research background having worked till recently at CLSA Asia Pacific Markets. What prompted him to write the book “Half a Billion Rising’were his observations during the travels that he undertook to different parts of the country. He saw certain changes and wanted to delve deeper to ascertain whether the changes were happening at a scale that will have larger socio-economic implications for the country and whether India could eventually become a country for girls and women.

Well one of the stand out changes as he travelled around the country and thought about his experiences over the last two decades were how at one time women of any age in villages or small towns would shy away from being photographed. Now with the advent of the mobile and changing norms including availability of media young women have no such inhibitions, they are keen to take selfies and ask strangers a myriad of questions openly about their life and careers. Why was there such a huge change in the confidence of these women and what will it lead to?

I like the book as whilst it is factual, it flows through the many narratives of the women and young girls through their own voices. It reads like a good story one where you want to keep turning the pages to get further insights. In many of these stories what comes through strongly is that the current generation wants to live very differently to their mothers and other female relatives. What also comes through is that the male population are not in tune with the changing scenarios. 
The main contention is that we cannot stop the rise of women power and 17% of the world’s female population is in India so whilst India doesn’t have a high percentage of women in the work force and they face discrimination, gender imbalance and violence this has to change but more importantly it will change. It’s a very alternative and positive viewpoint compared to the one that says women will continue to be suppressed. Society needs to start adapting to accommodate them more.

Whilst we see a backlash from men in the form of gender violence the fact is that even though men outnumber women, females are not in total a small number and their voices are becoming louder, stronger and clearer. Much as men may try to stop them women are in fact doing better on educational indicators and due to the huge demand for educated talent in India the growing business requirements will naturally lead to adapting work scenarios for them.

Dutta in his introduction writes, “I want the book to be read by a large audience because I hope it can help in the change process and also encourage more research and a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges. I hope this is the starting point of a dialogue between various stakeholders like NGOs, social entrepreneurs, government officials, academic institutions, politicians, researchers, corporates and media on how to help drive the change and how to handle its implications, both good and bad.”

The book is relevant for piecing together the big picture impact and implications of the changes that are happening around us. And from this big picture emerges the action points for the not for profit sector as well. If at one end it is necessary to encourage, support and make sustainable the small not for profit organization or a single social entrepreneur working in one locality or with one community, it is equally important at all levels to coordinate and work with policy makers to start a drive towards socio-attitudinal changes in this country.

For example, as Dutta argues it is not enough to build toilets (although it is very essential), but to drive a socio-attitudinal change that will encourage people to use toilets and also to maintain them. Leaders in the not for profit and social sector, for example, can drive policy intervention to ensure that every skill development certification by any ministry of the government of India or any state government will have a mandatory module on gender sensitization. And this training should be a part of any teacher qualification curriculum, student vocational training, police-training academy, IPS and IAS academy.

The book gives insights into the areas of work that need to be expanded and strengthened so that more women can live equitably, healthily, safely and independently.
and as one of the highlighted statistics states if we get our female employment rate up to the level of men (from the current 33% to 83%; more equivalent to the west) this alone will add 27% to the GDP of India.
Along with that we would increase maternal and child health indicators thus reducing the cost of healthcare in India.

An India that we should all look forward to, and one where boys need to be raised very differently to deal with the changes that are going to happen because of women power.

(from our column Book Review  -  
CAP's quarterly newsmagazine 'Philanthropy' Q1 April - Jun 2015 )

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