The Times of India, November 29, 2013
Rema Nagarajan, TNN
OSLO: As more women come forward to expose incidents of sexual harassment at the workplace, the focus is back on the extremely poor work participation of women in India, just 22.5%, which makes places of work male-dominated spaces. Norway, a country with one of the highest work participation rates for women, about 69%, might have some useful pointers to offer on how to go about changing that.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), out of 131 countries for which data was available, India ranks 11th from the bottom in female labour force participation (FLFP). In fact, the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) data reveals falling FLFP from over 40% in the mid- 1990s, to 29% in 2004-05, to 23% in 2009-10 and 22.5% by 2011-12.
In contrast, in just over 40 years, Norway, where the ideal of the housewife was strong in the 1950s and 1960s, has successfully pushed up women's labour participation from just 44% to almost 70% currently, compared to 76% among men. Over 80% of mothers with small children are employed in Norway.
This remarkable transformation has been achieved through strong state-backed incentives, regulations, legislation and quotas.
Speaking to the media on the sidelines of the recent conference held in Oslo on Women Power and Politics, Arni Hole, director general of the ministry of children, equality and social inclusion in Norway, explained that the basic Norwegian principle was that no individual, especially a woman, should be forced to choose between family and career.
"It should be possible for men and women to have both career and family," she said, elaborating how the government had expanded the early child care sector, creating thousands of new jobs, and freeing parents, especially women, from homes to do paid work.
All children over the age of one can be enrolled in kindergarten. And up to one year, parents get fully paid leave to look after the baby, which they can divide between themselves, with the father mandated to take a compulsory 10 weeks of that one year as paternal leave.
Not stopping at just providing an enabling environment, the government has also enacted laws to provide quotas for women. The Gender Equality Act of Norway requires 40% of each gender in all government-appointed committees, councils, working groups and delegations since 1988. This has ensured a 47% share for women in governance today. Similarly, the Municipal Act of 1993 mandates that all elected municipal councils shall not have less than 40% of each gender.
Even the private sector cannot escape ensuring gender parity with a 2003 law making it compulsory for publicly listed companies to ensure 40% women on their boards. "At that time, most board members in Norway were men (just 6%were women). The initiative was controversial and many business leaders expressed strong opposition. Now, however, not only are more women serving on boards, but governance in Norwegian companies has also improved," said Ingvild Naess Stub of the Norwegian Foreign Affairs ministry at the Oslo meet. With more women in high level boards and committees, Norway has found it easier to work on strategies and implement decisions to ensure gender equality, which is seen as work in progress as even today women are under-represented among CEOs of companies, in certain professions and in full-time jobs. In contrast, in India, the proportion of women working seems to be dipping. Women constitute just over a fifth of the organised sector workforce. They are mostly to be found in the unorganized sector, marked by poor wages, poor quality of work and absence of social protection of any kind.
The proportion of women in private sector companies is 24.5% of the total workforce compared to just 17.9% of the public sector. In central government jobs, women accounted for 7.6% in 1991, which, almost two decades later, had touched just 10%.