G’nY. India shows that women’s participation in public domain is still very low. What do you think are the primary constraints?
Ravi Verma : Domains or spaces are gendered. Public domains are considered ‘natural’ for men whereas women are expected to confine themselves to their ‘natural’ domains within the domestic and private spheres. Ironically however, there is nothing private or personal about women. Everything that they say and do becomes a matter of public discussion and a matter of ‘cultural’ debate open to every one’s criticism and opinion except for the woman who is in the center. The primary constraints are the gendered role expectations which consider primacy of women for reproductive functions but not for their productive and economic contributions.
G’nY. Most of the familial policy decisions regarding health, nutrition etc., is taken primarily by men, however women are its beneficiaries. What are your views?
Ravi Verma : These are not women-centric policies. These are smart patriarchy-centric policies and programmes with women as an important tool to achieve the goals. The only way to change the policy environment is to bring about a paradigm shift in the manner policies are conceptualised, planned, executed, monitored and evaluated. Convergence and intersectionality should be the dominant perspectives and not just another approach! Structures must be created and capacities built to critically reflect what and how programmes plan and monitor the achievement of equality goals. This would require a lot of courage and careful thinking on how resources are allocated and tracked across sectors (health, economic empowerment, education, safety in public and private spaces and so on) and stakeholders (government, civil society, corporate) moving beyond vertical and instrumental mindset. The overall policy goal should be to change the unequal gender norms and related practices that are nurtured within the formal and informal institutions. So long as a woman is seen as an instrument and target, she would continue to be manipulated and yet the programme will be ironically termed as women-centric! These short term gains are not sustainable.
G’nY. The gender wage gap between men and women in India remains high. How do you think the situation can be remedied?
Ravi Verma : It is unfortunate that despite contributing significantly to the economy of both household and the nation, women’s labour is not valued. We must find ways to keep bringing data and evidence on the contributions of women to the GDP including those who are in the informal sectors and demand for higher wages and protection of their rights. The fact that men are not as supportive to household chores and care giving roles as they should be, work and wage policies should be nimble and work places should be made safer to allow the maximisation of women’s potentials to contribute. This would allow them to move up in the management ladder, claim equal stakes in promotions and earn equal wages overcoming normative and physical barriers.
G’nY. What do you think about masculinising India – i.e. the child sex ratio issue. Even earlier absent states are joining the bandwagon of declining CSR.
Ravi Verma : So long as population policies and programmes have subtext on fertility control and method specific emphasis, girls would continue to experience the discrimination and dis-preference. Especially in a strong son-preference society like India, fertility regulation works against women and girls. The goal of family planning programme should be the promotion of gender equality and the programme must be monitored and evaluated using gender related outcomes rather than fertility and contraceptive use outcomes.
G’nY. Is increase in violence against women a reporting issue or a reality?
Ravi Verma : It is a mix of both. In some contexts, women and girls feel less stigmatised talking and reporting about violence, which they would have otherwise silently suffered. There is a tendency to come out of the closet and not accept nonsense. It is a good sign if women and girls feel emboldened against all adversaries. It must be encouraged and given proper attention. Unfortunately that is not happening. In other contexts, there has been an increasing backlash and open opposition to women occupying public spaces and/or control of resources. There are studies to show increasing intra-household violence due to women’s ability to earn more and her increasing mobility.
G’nY. Is demographic dividend going to become a liability?
Ravi Verma : Demographic information is critical to plan better and there is no denying that we should leverage the energy and creativity of a large youth population. A potential dividend can become a liability if not channelled appropriately. However, we are missing an important point here. Let us not forget that with increasing life expectancy and lifestyle changes we have become extremely productive, experienced and willing to help the ageing population adapt. Working age span is becoming longer. We must make India’s population healthier, capable and productive—focusing on every citizen.