The performance of women in the civil services exam occupies salient space in the media every year, after the declaration of the results of the civil services exam ,by the Union Public Service Commission. This year the percentage of women finally selected has increased compared to the past.
Over several decades ,the percentage of successful women candidates has hovered between twenty to twenty five percent in the Civil Services Exams. But the overall picture remains dismal as far as the number of women in government jobs is concerned with their representation still remaining as low as eleven percent according to recently published reports.
Women comprise nearly fifty percent of our population but their abysmal presence in government jobs is a cause of concern for our policy makers.
Undoubtedly the number of women in government jobs has not improved significantly since years. It raises the crucial question whether governments need to do something more to address this issue.
The inequality between men and women in terms of economic opportunities has always been a problem in most of the nations across the globe, including India. When it comes to a country’s share of men and women participating in the labor force, some nations fare better than others. Globally, a higher share of the male population is employed. Overall, despite the fact that more and more women in general are working, they are almost always underrepresented in government and occupy significantly fewer top positions.
In our country a recent report showed that women’s participation in the Indian labour force has fallen to 26% recently from 36.7% in 2005, pointing out that 95% or 195 million women are employed in the unorganised sector or in unpaid jobs.
Similarly, the recent Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) by the ministry of statistics shows that the unemployment rate was the highest among urban females at 10.8% while it was at 3.8% among rural females in FY18. The Niti Aayog had suggested, in its ‘India@75’ road map, that the government should strive toward enhancing the female labour force participation to 30%.
The BJP manifesto had said it would formulate a comprehensive ‘Women in the Workforce’ road map focused on dramatically increasing the female workforce participation rate over the next five years. It also pledged to encourage companies to generate better employment opportunities for women.
It was envisaged that this would be a multi-sectoral task and various ministries including those of labour and employment, women and child development, skill development and human resource development will have to be brought on board to realise the target. Since the government sets the narrative, it is important that it clearly delineates the actions that will be taken and ensures that its women-centric policy measures do impact positively . Unless women start contributing to economic growth in a big way, prosperity and growth targets cannot be met. A look at the women participation rate in work force across all the developed countries will show that share of women is nearly equal to men. Clearly, without increasing the participation of women in work force at all levels , the vision of a prosperous and powerful India will remain a distant dream.
Governments have to device policies looking at long term and short term goals. The policy framework put in place to increase the participation of women in workforce has to have a time bound implementation road map assigned from the very outset. Currently there seems to be no such time frame set by various ministries which have been tasked for attaining the thirty percent target, in this regard.
This is where governments need to take some urgent proactive initiatives to send the right signal that women have to be enabled to come forward to play a major role in the nation’s life. Our constitution makers were aware of the social,educational and economic backwardness of our female population. That is why Article 15(3) of our constitution provided that nothing shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women. Hence, as a short term goal, women need to be provided additional incentives to come forward and start playing their role in nation building.
In this regard, several state government have taken some steps like providing lateral reservation to women in government jobs and have provided age relaxation to women candidates in competitive exams -keeping in mind the adversities faced by women in prevailing circumstances. Similarly the central government needs to take the first step in this direction by increasing the upper age limit to 35 years for women candidates for civil services exams conducted by UPSC and other such competitive exams and make a provision for thirty percent lateral reservations in all central government employment.
This small step will send a strong signal that the government is serious about encouraging women to attain top positions. Similar facility is available to SC/ST and OBC candidates who have not only benefitted due to these steps but their numbers in government positions and civil services rising significantly.
Attaining thirty percent participation of women in workforce was the poll promise of the BJP, the time has come to take these concrete steps to redeem that visionary pledge. Gender equality is the core of an inclusive and accountable public administration.
Increasing women representation in the Services will be the crucial metric in bridging gender inequities and empowering women to smash the glass ceilings.
(Author V S Pandey (IAS Retd) is former Union Fertilizer Secretary. Views expressed here are personal.)