Chairman Mao famously recited an old Chinese proverb, ‘Nu ren ban bian tian’ or ‘Women hold up half the sky’. While this is still far from reality in both China and India, women in both the world’s fastest growing economies have come a long way since their mother’s generation. Women in both nations now have a stronger participation at work, in politics, society and economics.
Women make up the backbone of both China and India. In Chinese factories, whose exports fuel the economy, women form the majority working over toys, shoes and clothes. In India too, women are employed in homegrown industries, at construction sites and as homemakers. Over the last few years, as incomes and educational levels have risen, the girl child is being given importance. Infant mortality is down and a new generation of women strut down the corridors or power. They control the economics of consumer spending, spearhead boards of companies and actively participate in policy decisions. In fact, 20 percent of Chinese NPC parliamentarians are female and 10 percent of India’s Lok Sabha are women as compared to 19 percent of women in the UK parliament and 17 percent in the U.S. Congress. In a major overhaul of governance, India’s parliament will vote today to pass a Women’s Reservation Bill that will allow 33 percent women’s participation in the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and State assemblies.
Yet, China and India remain traditional societies in many ways. Women still have a long way to go before their income levels and influence rival men. In urban India, a majority of women continue to assume their role at home, nurturing families, while substantially more women work in China (see chart), social stigma’s mean their incomes and as a result social standing will never match their male colleagues. Yet, optimistically both nation’s have been raising budget allocation’s towards women’s upliftment, empowerment though is a gradual process, as more women are educated and given the liberty to realise their dreams, they will probably be able to hold up more than half the sky.
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