The ups and downs for women in 2021, writes Bhavdeep Kang

In terms of gender equity, progress varies from field to field. The representation of women in politics remains abysmally low, with parties unable or unwilling to find ‘winnable’ women candidates in the 2021 assembly elections, even while wooing women voters.

Bhavdeep KangUpdated: Thursday, March 10, 2022, 08:20 AM IST
article-image
Photo Credit: Pixabay

In 2021, the Indian armed forces threw open the doors to the National Defence Academy (NDA) and the Sainik Schools for women. Besides, 83 women jawans were inducted into the Corps of Military Police (CMP). The Defence Ministry also announced that the ‘experimental’ scheme of inducting women fighter pilots into the IAF, which began in 2016, was now a permanent one. As if to reinforce the point, India’s first woman Rafale fighter jet pilot represented the IAF on Republic Day. A raft of women made waves in the world of commerce. Gita Gopinath became the first woman Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Leena Nair became global CEO of the iconic brand, Chanel, and Falguni Nayar helmed one of the most successful IPOs of 2021 (becoming India’s richest self-made woman billionaire). Madhabi Puri Buch became the first woman chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI).

In politics, women have taken a big leap forward, not so much in terms of seat share in legislative bodies or ticket share in elections, but in having been recognized as an independent and significant constituency. In the recent round of assembly elections, the turnout of women voters surpassed that of men in Uttarakhand and Goa, and in the last three phases of the Uttar Pradesh polls. In Punjab, the turnout of women was equal to that of men.

It is worth noting that in the run-up to the 2021 assembly elections, every party made women-specific pitches. While the Priyanka Vadra-led Congress crafted its campaign around women with the slogan “Ladki hoon, lad sakti hoon”; BJP launched a range of programmes aimed at women voters, from 'Mahila Chaupal' and 'Kamal Shakti Samvad' to 'Mahila Labharthi Samvad'.

Even Bollywood, which has long played a role in reinforcing regressive stereotypes, is now levelling the field for women. OTT platforms have taken a lead in this respect, challenging gender stereotypes and focusing increasingly on women-centric content. Protagonists no longer conform to established standards of beauty and behaviour, and are drawn from all age groups. They challenge patriarchal norms just by being themselves.

After the success of Delhi Crime, featuring a woman cop and Four More Shots, on female bonding, Netflix released two more women-centered dramas in 2021: Bombay Begums, exposing the inherently patriarchal film industry, and Aranyak, in which a female police inspector puts her job before domestic duties. Likewise, the conservative family setting of the romcom Meenakshi Sundareshwar (2021) doesn’t stop the protagonist from standing up for herself at every stage.

The lead actors are no longer zero-sized, glossy-haired, long-legged barbies. They can be comfortably chubby or skinny, dusky or fair-skinned, tall or squat. Many of them have a refreshing girl-next-door quality: Sanya Malhotra, Radhika Apte, Shweta Tripathi. Nor is the fresh content ageist – we have seen comebacks by long-retired female artists, who had ‘aged out’ of the film industry, on OTT.

The flip side of 2021 was the fall of a female icon, Chitra Ramkrishna, the first woman to head the National Stock Exchange (NSE). Like Chanda Kochhar, former ICICI head, and Usha Ananthasubramanian, erstwhile chief executive of Allahabad Bank, before her, she is under investigation for financial irregularities.

Another setback last year was the passage of the so-called ‘Love Jihad’ law ( in UP) and the Assisted Reproductive Technology Act; the former infantilizes women while the latter encroaches on their reproductive rights.

In terms of gender equity, progress varies from field to field. The representation of women in politics remains abysmally low, with parties unable or unwilling to find ‘winnable’ women candidates in the 2021 assembly elections, even while wooing women voters. Today, the representation of women in the Lok Sabha stands at a ‘record’ of 14.4 percent. That puts India in the lower half of the table, way behind countries like Cuba, South Africa, and Mexico.

Women are poorly represented in the administrative services as well. While men and women evenly shared the top twenty UPSC slots in 2021, less than a third of successful aspirants were women. It has been 70 years since Anna Rajam Malhotra joined the civil service and 50 years since Kiran Bedi became India’s first IPS officer. But only around a fifth of serving IAS officers are women, while the figure for the police and foreign services stands at 10 percent.

While it is a fact that every field presents skewed gender ratios, one would expect the media to offer more leadership roles to women. Yet, journalism is dominated by male editors, with very few women helming mainstream print or digital news organizations.

On the other hand, India has the highest percentage of women pilots, 10 percent more than the global average, albeit in commercial airlines. There are women achievers in every field, including STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), sports, public affairs, and the arts.

This week, mountaineer Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to summit Mount Everest, will lead an all-female trans-Himalayan expedition. Given that Pal is 68 and every member of the team is over 50, that speaks volumes for the never-say-die spirit of the Indian woman.

(The writer is a senior journalist with 35 years of experience in working with major newspapers and magazines. She is now an independent writer and author)

(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. To receive it on Telegram, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)

RECENT STORIES

Mumbai updates: BMC illuminates Tansa Dam with tricolour lights

Mumbai updates: BMC illuminates Tansa Dam with tricolour lights

Jagdeep Dhankhar takes oath as 14th Vice President of India

Jagdeep Dhankhar takes oath as 14th Vice President of India

Gurugram club manager, 6 bouncers arrested for thrashing, molesting guests

Gurugram club manager, 6 bouncers arrested for thrashing, molesting guests

Self-proclaimed politician Shrikant Tyagi's bail plea rejected in Noida assault case, to remain in...

Self-proclaimed politician Shrikant Tyagi's bail plea rejected in Noida assault case, to remain in...

Who is Jagdeep Dhankar, India's 14th Vice President?

Who is Jagdeep Dhankar, India's 14th Vice President?