Manufacturing key to gender equality in India
Published: Mar 07, 2018 08:43 PM

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

March 8 is International Women's Day and public attention naturally falls on gender equality on this day. For developing countries such as India and China, gender equality is closely connected to their manufacturing industry.

Indian policymakers are striving to copy China's miracle of 30 years of double-digit growth. As the third largest economy in Asia, India's GDP grew by around 7 percent in the past three years, with the potential to reach 8 percent.

India has had laudable achievements in poverty reduction, with an increasing number of poor people taking the first step to the middle class. UN statistics suggest India lifted 138 million people above the poverty line between 2004 and 2011.

Yet, the second most populous country faces many developmental challenges, one of which is women's employment. Although the public has attached more importance to eliminating discrimination against women, unemployment among females has apparently posed a greater challenge to gender equality in India. Finding a solution to the problem is essential for improving women's social status in the country.

Statistics show that women's share in the labor force in India is gradually decreasing and has dropped to one of the lowest worldwide - declining from nearly 40 percent in 2000 to 27 percent between 2011 and 2012. This is partly because girls between 15 and 24 years have had more educational opportunities thanks to the "Save the girls, Educate the girls" campaign. India, in recent years, has seen a boost in the size of its workforce, but the country cannot offer enough job opportunities for them in manufacturing and service industries.

Journalist Tripti Lahiri said in her book Maid in India that many Indian women, failing to enter the manufacturing industry, would have to work as maids with a meager pay and no welfare insurance. According to the International Labour Organization, the number of registered maids in India rose from 670,000 in 1971 to 3-10 million today. Among them, 90 percent are women and girls, with the highest salary of Rs7,000 ($108) a month.

The problem is also severe in IT, software and other high-end industries. The World Bank estimates that nearly two-thirds of females graduating from colleges are jobless in India. The ratio is far lower in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Brazil.

Women's liberation, thus, is closely connected to the development of manufacturing industry. In the initial stage of China's reform and opening-up, many women in landlocked and rural regions migrated to Guangdong in search of work and have contributed to China's modern industry. As China's manufacturing sector develops, women have accumulated wealth, creating favorable conditions for their children's education.

Meanwhile, they have participated in the development of China's modern industry, joined women's organizations and improved their awareness of legal rights. This is the second liberation of women in China.

The challenge India is facing today is that it cannot provide enough job opportunities in manufacturing when the society is in urgent need of gender equality. As a result, women are pushed to the low-end service industry and it's hard for them to challenge traditions of society.

Although India will choose its own path to develop manufacturing, history suggests that women's entry into the sector is the only approach to elevate their status.

India, on the one hand, should provide more jobs to educated women, change their traditional views on employment and encourage them to start their own businesses. On the other hand, India should take steps to develop labor-intensive industries so as to offer more opportunities to women in the lower strata of society.

The author is a senior editor with People's Daily, and currently a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. dinggang@globaltimes.com.cn. Follow him on Twitter @dinggangchina