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India's Women: Equal Partners... Sometimes




An Indian woman carries firewood on her head as she walks past an advertisement billboard in Siliguri on March 7, 2011 on the eve of International Women's Day. (Diptendu Dutta/AFP/Getty Images)

An Indian woman carries firewood on her head as she walks past an advertisement billboard in Siliguri on March 7, 2011 on the eve of International Women's Day. (Diptendu Dutta/AFP/Getty Images)

MUMBAI, March 8, 2011 - With International Women's History month now underway, parity in the workplace has become India's issue of the moment. Local and multi-national corporations are working to accommodate working women and engage top female talent in a sustainable manner.

Currently, urban women make up the majority of the female workforce in India. But while a focus on urban women remains important, India's challenge lies in engaging rural women as a part of its workforce. There's no question that the rural heart of India holds a vibrant, capable work force waiting to be utilized: according to recent statistics, 72% of the country's population is rural and 65% of its agricultural work is done by women. While migration to urban centers remains the goal of most youth in the country, these centers are already under immense stress and lack the infrastructure to support a larger population. The key to success in India lies in adapting to the rural population, particularly by raising the representation of women in the work force.

India is a curious case. At a conference on the 2010 India Benchmarking Report by Catalyst last Friday, Dr. Santrupt Misra, head of Corporate Human Resources at the Aditya Birla Group, argued that India, unlike its Western counterparts, has no glass ceiling. India has a long history of accomplished women in leadership roles. Indira Gandhi served as Prime Minister and Pratibha Patil currently holds the Presidency. Sonia Gandhi runs the Congress Party, and many major banks in India are headed by women (e.g., ABN AMRO, HSBC, ICICI).

Clearly, these roles are in contrast with the much publicized atrocities against women in India. Reports of dowry murders, female infanticide, and marital abuse remain rampant. The recently released International Men and Gender Equality Survey from the International Centre for Research on Women found that 65% of Indian men interviewed believe that women "should tolerate violence to keep the family together."

In order to engage and empower women from across India, and not just urban centers, change on a corporate level will not be sufficient. It will be necessary to change ideology related to women on a societal level, and bring men in as equal stakeholders in women's equality.

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