Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bridging the Digital Gender Divide

May 17th is the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD)It marks the anniversary of the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention and the creation of the International Telecommunication Union in 1865. The day focuses on the possibilities that the use of Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICT) can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide. One of the major digital divides is between men and women.

It is a fact that the IT revolution has brought more and more women into the organized sector. What is significant is that many of them are employed in BPOs and KPOs which are unconventional in their work culture demanding night shifts, performance targets, long hours etc. The industry responded to the influx of women by trying to make the work environment women friendly. However, every now and then we hear about women BPO workers being raped and murdered by the taxi drivers, sexual harrassment at workplace etc.

A recent study titled "Empowering the Women" conducted by Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham)looked into the work satisfaction levels of women in public sector and in the BPO sector. The study concluded that women found greater work satisfaction in the public sector employment which provided them reasonable remuneration, job security and convenient working hours.

A similar study with men may also come to the same conclusion considering the fact that job-security, less stressful, less competitive environments are preferred by many. However, since this study is about women there is a tendency to see it as a gender issue - leading to the conclusion that women are incapable of working hard shifts and be competitive. We should remember that the issue is not one of capability - women are as efficient and successful as men upto a certain level in this sector. However, one cannot deny the existence of the glass ceiling when it comes to reaching the senior management/CEO levels. There is also tardiness in putting systems in place - be it safe housing, safe transport or redressal mechanisms for sexual harrassment in workplaces.

Social factors like double burden of working women, inability of couples and families to redefine gender roles to allow men to take up household chores etc. also influence the way women percieve the suitability of employment in a particular sector.

There was a report sometime back that the demand for brides working in the IT sector had increased during the slump. Many young men prefer a working wife to tide over in case of loosing the job. Infact, women are less likely to change jobs and are thus better employees than men especially when the economy is in recession.

While IT is providing more employment opportunities and increasing access of women to more information, services and institutions it is equally important to address the gender issues at home and in the workplaces to ensure that the digital divide as well as the gender divide is closed.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Laadli - taronki tu rani


Who can forget the lovely melody by Lata Mangeshkar "Laadli oh meri laadli"  from the movie Andaz. Just as the song, our girl child campaign Laadli also works to evoke feelings of love, adoration and affection for the girl child. But how sad that in many minds, hearts and families, a girl child only brings feelings of dread, dislike and distaste.

Lets look at some of the warped logic and thinking.

We do not want girls because they are seen as wasted investments. What is the point of a having a daughter when she is likely to get married and leave for her husband's home? She cannot take care of us in our old  age and nor can she run our business or protect our property. There are many other justifications for the discrimination.

What about the problem of dowry demands. Remember a girl is a parayadhan and the job of protecting her virginity till she is married to someone is such a responsibility!

Anyway a woman's position in the family and society is determined by her ability to give birth to a son - the Vamshodharak (one who will continue the lineage). If we can afford to have two children, it is fine to have a daughter.  But a son is a must, even if it means that the woman has to undergo repeated sex determination tests and illegal aex selective abortions. What difference does it make if in the process she becomes anemic, sick and dies.  Atleast she would have fulfilled her responsibility as the daughter in-law of the house and as a wife. Any way for a man of resources, getting another wife is not a big problem.

So unfortunate that such thinking is still dominant in the upper and educated classes of our society.

The medical practitioners also use such arguements for justifying their unethical behaviour, siting the above mindsets. The prospect of the woman facing violence at home if she does not give birth to a son is oftern given by them as the reason for their indulging in the practice of assisting in pre-natal sex selection .

I wonder how openly they will assist somebody  wanting to give up life for whatever reason. Not many medical professionals would justify such an act on humanitarian grounds and fewer still will get away with it.  Why do the same medical ethics and qualms do not hold good when it comes to pre-birth sex selection?

 If it was purely a social issue,as many claim, how come we did not have a problem of falling sex ratios till the introduction of prenatal diagnostic tests? It is worth mentioning that the less intrusive the technologies are and  more aggressively promoted,  higher is the decline in the sex ratios.Is this just a coincidence or is there a correlation?

Aggressive marketing of diagnostic technologies, desire for smaller families, rising aspirations and social insecurity are conspiring against the girl child making her more and more scarce in our population. Ironically, she defies the economic principle that shortage would enhance the demand and value of the product. Lesser the number of girls more are the atrocities and restrictions - honour killings, social restrictions, trafficking, sexual violence and exploitation.

I would like to share with you in great detail my thoughts and experiences regarding the girl child. I invite you all to respond to my blog and help us make every girlchild a Laadli.