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India – Forget Corporations, Even Non-Profits Don’t Address The Gender Gap

By Abhishek Jha:

Bela Roy (L), teaches the local Bengali alphabet to prostitutes in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta March 7. Voluntary organisations say most prostitutes are from socially and economically backward sections of society. Many prostitutes in Calcutta are participating in rallies on the occasion of the International Women Day on Wednesday. JS/TAN - RTR20PC
Image credit: Reuters/Jayanta Shaw.

The Companies Act 2013 mandated that a publicly listed company, which has five or more directors, must have at least one woman director. Even when surveys show that companies with better representation of women perform better, they are loath to shed their biases. It appears then that patriarchal notions persist even if markets and profit argue against them. A new report further explicates this.

Not-Profit Organisations Not Transformative Enough

Dasra, a philanthropy foundation, sought responses from 328 ‘non-profits and hybrid organisations’ across various sectors on the representation of women and their approach to addressing gender within their organisation and organisational work. The results of the survey aren’t promising.

While 9% of such organisations do not even track their outreach separately for each gender, a significant 37% had less than 50% outreach to women/girls. Moreover, 68% run ‘universal programs’– to use the report’s language – that do not take into account what the specific needs of each gender might be. This is what, the report argues, is a gender-blind approach. While these organisations might claim to not discriminate on the basis of gender, their reluctance to take into account or address the gender roles imposed by society, the specific needs of women, or the biases and privileges of men–we should know–is likely to favour the privileged gender or maintain the status quo.

The Link Between Impact And Gender Lens

The report, perhaps because it is prepared for people who offer grants to such social organisations, also tries to emphasise that ‘impact’ or ‘profit’ is favoured by better gender representation. The reason behind making this argument is that if organisations learn that ‘impact’ increases and that even profit-making companies improve their performance with the inclusion of women, they are likely to shed their biases against women. Therefore, the report accuses the 68% organisations that consider ‘gender diversity and equal opportunities’ alone as the greatest benefit of addressing gender in their work and workplace for having a “limited understanding of the fundamental link between adopting a gender lens and increasing program impact.”

Citing other surveys too, the report wishes to emphasise that such an approach also leads to increased ‘program impact’, higher funder interest, better decision making, etc. But this is also perhaps a slightly problematic aspect of the report. This knowledge of the ‘fundamental link’ is useful and organisations should be aware of it, but the question the report eschews is whether a ‘gender lens’ should be forsaken if there was only, say, a minimal increase in impact or funder interest. Should we not seek gender diversity just for the sake of it, after all these years of oppression and under-representation?

This is important because the report encourages, although no survey is provided in this regard, organisations to take an intersectional approach and also address marginalisation resulting from caste, class, religion, etc. Now, the surveys that the report cites to imply that impact increases when gender-lens is employed are surveys that show that profit-making companies are more successful with such an approach. But an intersectional inclusion, at least in India today, might require some form of affirmative action, which a lot of profit-making companies think is detrimental to business or a shift towards ‘non-meritorious’. In that case, it is important to also explicate, further maybe, that an organisation perhaps may not immediately be in a win-win situation. That it may have to do what might appear initially as some ‘striving’. Even if a non-profit or hybrid organisation has more impact with an all-men team, this ‘striving’ has to be done, because men have historically had a lot of privileges that can enable them to be more fruitful at work.

Women In Higher Positions In Non-Profits In India

Other aspects of the report are rather expected, although there has been not an unfounded surprise at these biases being present even within non-profits. Greater than 50% of manager and above positions are held by women in only 15% organisations led by men. 75% women-led organisations, on the other hand, have more than 50% women in manager and above positions. Equal representation in Board positions is present only in 8% men-led organisations.

That money flows in the direction of gender privilege is also made evident again through this report. Among the organisations surveyed, those with a budget of less than Rs. five crores and led by men are almost equal to those led by women in the same budget bracket. However, only 20% of organisations with a budget greater than Rs. five crores are led by women as against 38% being led by men.

We just celebrated the International Working Women’s Day this year, which now remains abbreviated to IWD or International Women’s Day. A lot of corporations pledge support to the cause of women empowerment, gender equity, and so on every year on this occasion or otherwise. The non-profit and the profit-making organisation work in a symbiotic relationship a lot of the time and one would hope that they had at least set the ball rolling by now. But as time and again it is reiterated, as via this report, there seems to have been no progress in this much-needed social transformation.

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