The European Union has set a target of 40% for female non executive directors in European corporate entities by 2020.However some European nations oppose mandatorily enforced quotas to achieve this aim.
One of the opponents, Britain’s Vince Cable, the Business Secretary – Britain has a 25% voluntary target by 2015 – recently warned: “Government continues to believe that a voluntary led approach is the best way forward, but the Cranfield School of Management’s annual Female FTSE Board Report also serves as a timely reminder to business that quotas are still a real possibility if we do not meet the 25% target.”
The 25% target for FTSE 100 boards by 2015 was set in a government commissioned report, two years ago. The Report states that the current percentage in Britain is only 17.3%. Mandatory quotas have been legislated in countries such as Malaysia, the Philippines, Kenya, Hong Kong and the UAE. Recently Chancellor Merkel of Germany was compelled to announce quotas for women directors on German corporate boards by 2020. This was after strong pressure by a group led by Labour Minister Ursula von der Leyen.
The World Economic Forum has produced the Corporate Gender Gap Report, which explicitly states that “women are still failing to break into senior management” in business. In Japan, Prime Minister Abe has requested Japanese corporations to have a target of at least one female executive each. He described women as ‘Japan’s most underused resource’ Women constitute only 1.6% of executives in listed corporates. Only 15% of Japanese corporations have any female executives at all.
The Daily FT some time ago ran a piece titled ‘No place for women in Lankan boardrooms’. The editorial the next day, on ‘Women: Undisputed equal partners of progress,’ highlighted the fact that Sri Lanka’s performance in women’s participation in politics was worst in the region.
Some vote hunters and gatherers complained that women were in the basement of politics and hailed India’s initiative on a constitutional amendment for reservation of slots in Parliament for women. But if they watched how some Indian male politicians behaved in Parliament’s Rajya Sabha, to block the amendment, live on TV, it would be a reality check on male attitudes!
Arun Jaitely, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said that it was a historical occasion on two counts; firstly they were enacting the most progressive legislation ever, the Women’s Reservation Bill, and secondly, the behaviour in the House reached a new low! Unruly MPs were ejected by Marshals. The law reserves a third of all seats in the Indian National Parliament and State Legislatures for women. Rajiv Gandhi when Prime Minister enacted legislation which reserves a third of Panchayats seats for women, which has significantly increased the role of women at that 4th level of government. Sonia Gandhi was the moving force behind the current initiative, which was first proposed in 1996. It is still pending!
Even more depressing is how the male-dominated political parties have dealt with the draft of the statute brought to the Indian Parliament after the recent horrific gang rape of a woman student in a moving bus in New Delhi. One politician has gone on record that there is no such thing as ‘marital rape’! Another has said that ‘rape’ should be confined to women, for males who are abused it should be merely an unnatural offence! These people are living in the dark ages.
When the bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha, the real attitude of the average male Member of Parliament to their women voters was laid bare. Chauvinistic stories, anecdotes and satire came into play in the debate. Sharad Yadav, Leader of the pro-Government JD (U) from Mumbai, who at one time chaired the Indian Cricket Board and International Cricket Council, confessed: “Who amongst us have not followed girls?” – admitting to and trivialising the offence of ‘stalking’ made a crime under the new law.
He should be happy that the law does not apply ex post facto, to stalking committed before it was a criminal offence! He went on to express the opinion that after this new law, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013, is enacted, women might not get jobs: “Men would be scared to give jobs to women.”
He cited as evidence the so-called misuse of the Anti Dowry Law in India, which Indian women fought hard to get enacted to protect young brides from dowry deaths, being burnt alive in most cases, due to the in-laws and husband supposedly not being paid the negotiated and agreed dowry. No wonder Indian women international cricketers complain that they are discriminated against, if this is the attitude of a one-time Chairman of the Indian Board of Control for Cricket and the ICC.
The SP Leader Mulayam Singh said: “There is no need for this law. You are giving all rights to the police. We men will be wrongly implicated.” He went on to say that the prevailing law is perfectly adequate to deal with rape offences. He even proposed abolishing co-educational institutes.
Lalu Prasad of the RJD, former Chief Minister of Bihar – who very graciously installed his illiterate spouse as Chief Minister when he was confined to the Chief Minister’s bungalow, a luxurious, substitute jail, for a corruption office over a cattle fodder scam – questioned “should we cover up the naked sculptures at Kahjuraho and Konark?” to adhere to the spirit of the new law. These are ancient sculptures depicting various poses for copulation and sexual relations among human beings as said to be described in the Indian epic, the ‘Kama Sutra’.
Change in mindset required
However, the few women Parliamentarians in the Indian Lok Sabha aggressively supported the new law – demanding a change in the mindset of Indian people, arresting false moral values and for the launch of a reformist campaign which would educate people on equal gender rights, respect and dignity of women.
The law as finally passed provides stringent punishment for crimes against women, including natural life term and even death for repeated offences of rape. For the first time penalties are imposed for offences such as stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks and trafficking in women. For the first time it is a punishable offence for police personnel to decline to register a First Information Report.
The law has been enacted, but a mindset change will take at least a generation. The new educated and upwardly mobile, internet and mobile phone savvy, young middle class Indians , with their Apple iPhones, Barista cappuccinos, Beemer (BMW) SUVs and designer outfits will be the catalysts at the front line of the battle, driving for the change of ideas and attitudes towards women in India.
Incidentally, Ram Singh, the leader of the gang rape gang and who stole and drove the bus for the purpose, is supposed to have committed suicide inside Delhi’s high security Tihar jail! His family and lawyer allege that he was murdered. He was found hanging in his cell, in which other cell mates were also confined. An eye for an eye?
In Sri Lanka, at the last count, only four of the top 20 listed companies on the CSE have female directors. Points were made, seminars were held, including one organised by SLID, the pundits made their presentations, politicians promised and pontificated on or around Women’s Day.
But I challenge any reader to show me a billboard anywhere in the island showing a daughter as a collaborator in the business. The equivalent of the alternative gender, Perera & Sons, or Silva Brothers, is easy to find. But why is it always sons and not daughters, brothers and not sisters? In this country where the female population outnumbers the male statistically, where it is said that over 60% of the accountancy students are females, where 63% of professionals are women, why this gender disparity in the fields of business and enterprise?
Our level of female emancipation and participation here, except in certain exceptional situations, is extremely liberal, for South Asia. The teachings of the Gautama the Buddha set a fairly high standard on gender participation among the majority of the population, even though it is said that. Rev. Ananda had to plead with the Buddha three times to allow women into the Order.
But in generality an affirmative and liberal attitude has prevailed on gender issues, which has been strengthened by non fee levying education accessible cutting across gender biases and non fee levying health services being available to all, empowering women by permitting them to control their own fertility and not to be dictated to, on it, by men.
Free health service to those who could not afford it has been available since around the time of universal franchise in 1931. Education is the great leveller, the greatest provider of upward mobility, but there exists a glass ceiling; we need systemic changes if we are get a maximum return of the potential among our female population for the huge investment made in education, healthcare and other social welfare expenses.
In the employment pyramid, at the bottom and mid levels, female participation and contribution is high; one has to only look at the teaching service, government clerical and private sector secretarial, garment, plantation and subsistence agriculture and foreign employment sectors. We have to examine gender discrimination and exorcise it from the system.
Vital social and economic role
For example is it justifiable that we consider and classify those involved in home-based child rearing, caring for elders, household assistants (a.k.a. domestic servants) and home-making, a socially vital and key economic task that the majority of women are involved in, as unemployed? The Daily FT some time ago referred to 48.4% of the female population over 15 years as being economically inactive – home-makers, childminders, carers of the aged – economically inactive?! It’s time that someone took another look at this definition!
Women involved in those tasks may not bring an economic return immediately, but they are nurturing the future generation or caring for the aged, releasing people from the drudgery of housework to be active economically outside the home, and play a vital social and economic role, on which the future of humanity depends.
If women are to focus less of this aspect and go out to work, or even engage in economic activity in the home, arrangements must be made for childcare facilities, home-maker support and care for elders. Or, in the alternative, women involved in that type of work should be given an economic reward and benefit.
Consider home-makers, child and aged carers as playing a vital role and recognise their economic contribution, quantify it and reward it – there are ways of doing this that will make the role of women more meaningful than all the sanctimonious pontification and platitudes being expressed on women’s rights once a year on Women’s Day.
Sri Lanka faces a critical problem in this regard since our current birth rate is only around 0.7%, well below replacement level, which is 2.1%; every woman has to have more than two children for us to maintain today’s population numbers. Our population is in decline, and we have to do everything we can to get both the brawn and the brains of all our citizens to contribute to the economy.
We need the brains of educated women to strengthen our competitiveness in management, manufacture, trade and services. We have to include women in the pool of talent we have at our disposal for national development. Women have to be liberated from the financially unrewarded drudgery of household tasks, childminding and aged care activities and be freed to participate in the economy or in the alternative recognise those vital tasks as an economic contribution and reward it meaningfully.
The vital role mothers and women in the extended family play in the nurture of their children should not be underestimated. Employment rules must be flexible so that women can leave full-time employment for child bearing, child caring and aged care purposes and rejoin the work force without detriment when the children are old enough to be placed in nursery school or when care could be provided to aged dependants.
The law must recognise the responsibilities of men in home-making, childcare and care for the aged. Paternity leave is a concept which must enter our lexicon in the field of labour law.
In India, Mallika Sarabhai, a dancer of international repute, who has stood in general elections, spoke thus on the Women’s Reservation Bill: “India made a promise to its women at independence, a promise of living with dignity, opportunity, self pride, fearlessness. Today India may have unleashed forces that could bring succour to her deprived, her marginalised, her unsung and unheard. Some men plundered our bodies and souls, and dishonoured us, made us afraid of further sanctions. For women are too often the loot – our bodies, our minds, our thoughts, our wombs. But aren’t women greedy and corrupt as men? Yes some are, trapped alone in gutters, called male corridors of power, tutored by a patriarchal society that equates selfish self interest and greed as cleverness, but there is the very real possibility that the women will not play by the same rules, that they will in a group be able to let their instincts of cooperation, inclusiveness and caring, nurturing and problem solving prevail. The road is long. Women need to be chosen, trained, tutored, and equipped – not in corrupt ways but in governance, in delivery of benefits and empowerment, in transparency.” The infamous rape on the moving bus in Delhi proved her correct a thousand times over.
Increasing women’s participation
The IFC and the World Bank have collaborated on a publication, assisted by the Governments of the UK and Canada, on ‘Gender Dimensions of Investment Climate Reform,’ a guide which will help policymakers and development practitioners design and implement reform to increase women’s participation in business in developing countries.
Sevi Srimavi, author of the guide, says: “Countries that do not capitalise on the potential of women run the risk of severely undermining their competitiveness and economic growth; this Guide is designed to help capture this untapped potential and expand opportunities for economic development.”
Pierre Guislan, Director of the Investment Climate Department of the World Bank Group, said: “Working on reforms to foster women’s entrepreneurship is our strategic priority; this publication builds on our own extensive experience working with governments on business enabling environment issues and responds to the increased demand from governments and practitioners on how to promote women’s economic participation.”
To make the policy environment favourable to women’s participation in business, the fundamental requirement is that the voices of women must be heard and listened to. There has to be empowerment of women. In 2005 Norway did just that. The Government gave listed firms just two years to put 40% women on their boards of directors, under threat of liquidation for non-compliance. Norway’s aim was social justice.
Those who oppose quotas mouth the usual platitudes about ‘quotas not working’! Try telling that to the scheduled castes and tribals in India who have benefited, been empowered and emboldened by reservation schemes in university admission and Government jobs in India. Equity can only be brought about by bold steps. Not by sanctimonious and patronising platitudes repeated ‘ad nauseam’!
There is a serious financial inclusion issue here too. Consider the microfinance sector. In Sri Lanka and the world, 80% of microfinance borrowers are marginalised women. Yet Sri Lanka is one of the few developing countries which do not have in place a statutory regulatory mechanism for microfinance.
Would this attitude of indifference and inaction by male-dominated regulatory and political institutions have prevailed or even been tolerated for a day if men were 80% of the people to whom vital financial services were being provided, to a hitherto unbanked sector of the population, by microfinance institutions? This even with Divi Neguma micro finance being touted as the new development mantra catalyst. Does the answer lie within the fiery statement of Mallika Sarabhai?
(The writer is a lawyer, who has over 30 years experience as a CEO in both government and private sectors. He retired from the office of Secretary, Ministry of Finance and currently is the Managing Director of the Sri Lanka Business Development Centre.)