International Women’s Day: Still a distant second

Published Mar 8, 2018, 6:30 am IST
Updated Mar 8, 2018, 10:17 am IST
Kerala is a female-majority state with enviable literacy, health and social indicators.
ADGP Dr. B. Sandhya flags off a women's marathon as part of International Women's Day at Thekkinkad Maidan in Thrissur on Wednesday. (Photo: Anup K. Venu)
 ADGP Dr. B. Sandhya flags off a women's marathon as part of International Women's Day at Thekkinkad Maidan in Thrissur on Wednesday. (Photo: Anup K. Venu)

Come International Women’s Day and everyone pays lip service to the women’s cause.  Some breast-beating, some empty platitudes. And the cause is decently buried until 8th of March the following year.

Kerala is a female-majority state with enviable literacy, health and social indicators. So women should be on par with men in all aspects of life and work, right? No, not at all! It’s common knowledge that women comprise only 3.2% of Parliamentarians and have only 5.7% representation in the State Assembly. The Cabinet includes two women (10.5%), thanks to the magnanimity of the Left. In faraway Delhi the Women’s Reservation Bill has been in cold storage for generations, and is no longer considered speech-worthy. 


At the next level of the power structure lies the bureaucracy. The question is: How many women actually wield power in State Government institutions? A random survey by two independent researchers in late 2017 attempted to find out how many women adorn the boards of Kerala Government organizations. 65 institutions were observed, including PSUs, universities, autonomous bodies, welfare agencies, et al. Here are the findings:

Of the Men, By the Men, For the Men 

In most government organizations, irrespective of structure, location and nature of business, women are virtually invisible at higher levels. Out of 76 top posts in the public enterprises (chairman/MD/CEO) only six are occupied by women (7.9 per cent). And the irony is that this figure will drop to 2.6 per cent if the official nominees are excluded from the reckoning. Of the six women MDs found in our sample, four are officials. T R Hemalatha of KELTRON and V.C. Bindu of KSWDC are rare exceptions. 37.5 per cent of PSU boards are 100 per cent male.

In commissions, universities and autonomous bodies only 35 out of 225 high level posts are held by women (13.3 per cent). Of the 25 organizations studied, only the Kerala Women's Commission, the Commission for Protection of Child Rights and CUSAT are woman-headed.

Taken together, the 65 State Government bodies (PSUs and others) have 475 top level functionaries, of whom only 71 (14.9 per cent) are women. And only 9 out of the 101 top posts are occupied by women (8.9 per cent).

Most women in authority have entered service through the Civil Services Examination route, a channel virtually closed to those who are past their late 20s. There is virtually no merit-based channel for lateral entry.

The State follows a dubious tradition of packing retired officials (invariably men) in various Government posts. The insidious practice of conferring IAS on Government employees when their retirement is imminent enables them to get a service extension of five years. Such appointments, besides being a burden on the exchequer, are tantamount to short-changing the educated youth. Women too are disadvantaged in these 'selection' processes.

Universities and learning Centres

Data reveal a saga of the systematic exclusion of women from positions of power and influence. Only two out of the 14 universities have women Vice-Chancellors.

At the top of the pyramid sit the Chancellor and Pro-Chancellor - the Governor and Education Minister, both very distinguished gentlemen. Other statutory posts such as registrar, controller of examinations, director (planning and development) and director (college development council) are also held by men. The 25- member syndicate, which includes several ex-officio members, has only two women. The senate has 81 members, including 11 women.

CUSAT has a woman VC but the Chancellor, Pro-Chancellor, Pro-VC, registrar and finance officer are men. Of the 11 government nominees to the 23-member syndicate, 10 are men. The senate is a body of sizeable strength, yet looking for a woman’s name was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Other universities in the State are required to nominate one member to the senate of CUSAT. 11 universities coolly nominated 11 men!

The Chancellor and Pro-Chancellor are the Governor and the CM, but the VC and Pro-VC are men too. Registrar, controller of examinations, FO and 9 other officer posts are occupied by men. The 20 member syndicate has 2 women.
Centre for Mgmt Development

In the Centre for Management Development, the chairman, director, and distinguished professor are men. 

Only 2 out of 12 faculty members are women. Centre for Development Studies, another elite institution, has 3 women out of 15 persons at the top. Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA) does not have a single woman on board.

Co-operative Sector
In the Cannanore Cooperative Spinning Mills Ltd., the MD and all 7 directors are men. In MATSYAFED the MD and administrator are men. In CONSUMERFED the MD, convener and 3 board members are men. It appears that irrespective of the region or the nature of business, cooperative organizations in Kerala are almost exclusively run by men.  A distinguished exception is COSTECH, a cooperative enterprise in the IT sector. Here the chairman and vice-chairman are men, but three out of even directors are women.

Cultural Organisations

The art and culture of discrimination is evident here as everywhere. Kerala Folklore Akademi has four men in four key posts. Kerala Lalithakala Akademi has four men in four key posts.  

Kerala Sahitya Akademi has a woman vice-president, while the president, secretary and treasurer are men.

Other sectors
If this is the status of women in the education sector, where they have been contributing tremendously for decades, what can we expect of other sectors that have a long history of discrimination against women?
Devaswom Boards

A sizeable majority of temple-goers are women (Sabarimala being a contentious exception). One would, therefore, expect women to have at least a marginal role in the administration of temples. 

But the truth is that the Devaswom boards present some of the most glaring examples of male dominance in governance.

Guruvayur and Cochin Devaswom boards do not have a single woman. Travancore and Koodalmanikyam have token representation. Malabar Devaswom recently appointed two women. 
The saving grace is that in Cochin Devaswom 5 out of 12 commissioners are women.

Autonomous Bodies


Technopark has only two women on its board of governors (omnipresent IAS officers). Infopark and Cyberpark share the same board and the same CEO.  Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) has M Beena as MD and Sharmila Mary Joseph, IAS, as director, while the remaining 4 directors are men.

Planning Board

The State Planning Board is chaired by the CM and has 4 male ministers on board.  Mridul Eapen is the lone woman member, the vice-chairman and all other members being men. Are we planning for gender parity or planning to perpetuate the patriarchal status quo?  

Kerala Media Academy

In Kerala Media Academy the chairman, vice-chairman and 3 board members are men. Other members are ex-officio. The 28-member general council has only 2 women, viz. Sreedevi Pillai and Leby Sajeendran.  

Institute of Labour and Employment 

Kerala Institute of Labour and Employment (KILE), which should have been a trendsetter in providing equal opportunities, has little to be proud of. The president, chairman and executive director are men. In CDIT the director and registrar are males.

Gender park

The Gender Park has had a male CEO since its inception. The Park’s vision statement proclaims: “To achieve a just society where people of all gender identities have equal access to development opportunities, resources and benefits, and an equal voice in the key decision-making processes that shape their lives, communities, and the state.” It is significant that the word ‘woman’ is not mentioned here. Are we trying to pretend that ‘gender’ is all about males and transgender persons?

Kerala Public Service Commission has 22 members, of whom only 2 are women. Kerala State Electricity Regulatory Commission has a male chairman, and 2 other males. State Information Commission has a man at the helm. Kerala Lok Ayukta comprises four men. Kerala State Commission for Backward Classes has a chairman, a member secretary, and one other member, all men. In Kerala State Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes the chairman, member- secretary and two members are men. 
Women’s commission

Kerala Women’s Commission is a predictable exception, with M C Josephine as chairperson and 5 other women members. The member secretary is also a woman, while the lone director is a gentleman. The Commission for Protection of Child Rights with Shobha Koshy at the helm (till the other day) and two out of four women members is one of the few gender-balanced institutions. However, a male officer has taken over following Ms Koshy’s exit. 

Public Enterprises

Not a single PSU has a woman chairperson. Only six of the 40 PSUs studied have women MDs. 15 do not have a single woman director (37.5 per cent). In many PSUs, the women on board are ex-officio members or nominees of institutions such as LIC and NABARD.    

There are 36 women directors in the 40 enterprises (including the 6 MDs).  Thus the average is less than one. Moreover, as the same women sit on several boards, the actual number of women in positions of authority is far below what the statistics indicate. Of the 250 directors in the 40 PSUs, women constitute only 14.4 per cent, and this figure includes ex-officio members.   
Kerala Medical Services Corporation has a male chairman (IAS), a female MD (IAS), and of the five directors, three are female. Thus KMSC is one of the few institutions that give sizeable representation to women.  

KIAL (Kannur International Airport Limited) has a 15-member board with three women. Health Minister K K Shylaja, K Parvathi Ammal and Monica Widhani make up the threesome. The dark cloud is not without its silver lining. Kerala Irrigation and Infrastructure Development Corporation has a woman MD and four women directors, while only the chairman (minister) and the other director are men.  

Kerala State Women’s Development Corporation (KSWDC) tilts the scales in the opposite direction. Here the chairperson, MD, and all seven board members are women. One is left wondering whether addressing women’s concerns is the sole responsibility of women.  Why are men not required to contribute to the effort?

Location: India, Kerala