Gender equality, sexual discrimination and harassment is mired in deep seated beliefs. India, though not alone, is among the countries in need of path breaking interventions. The statistics in India don’t merit optimism: The percentage of women in paid work is decreasing, or flatlining. Women’s jobs in agriculture are being taken over by automation. Statistics from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, in the first four months of 2017, show that jobs for men have increased by 0.9 million whereas 2.4 million women fell off the employment map. A former lawyer, Broderick explores the dire need for an initiative in India, after successfully working with Japan’s Prime Minister Abe for 100 Male Champions of Change in Japan, which in Australia is 160-strong male leaders. Elizabeth Broderick, founder, Male Champions of Change and Australia’s longest serving Sex Discrimination Commissioner (2007-2015), talks to Suruchi Kapur Gomes need for addressing belief systems and systemic breakthroughs
While India has been trumpeting the cause of “Ladki Padhao” to educate the girl child, there are surveys that endemic belief systems will not see this show in women work force numbers...
Many believe educating women will lead to them naturally trickling into the workforce. And trickle to the top. Research does not support that proposition, the trickle up theory does not work in Australia, developing countries and India. Unless there is systemic intervention, changing the structure, practices and culture of the organisation, we just won’t see women coming up into the workforce in equal numbers as men. The flatlining needs to be addressed.
You founded Male Champions for Change, which enlists a who’s who of powerful male leaders to tackle workplace gender inequality. Why the decision to reach out to men instead of women?
The idea was meant to be disruptive. Large corporations are mainly run by men. Sexual harassment is an issue in Australia too one in four women over the last five years have been sexually harassed at work. We also still have a gender pay gap of about 19% and our company boards are around 25% female. If I look at the number of female CEOs, however, in the ASX 200, this number drops drastically to around 10% or less. Power sits in the hands of men, so we need men taking the message of gender equality to other men.
Where do we start making this change in India?
In India, it is about changing men’s mindsets. This is not just a women’s issue and they shouldn’t be the ones to shoulder the responsibility on their own either. If that happens, the failure of progress will be laid at the feet of women alone. Women are doing their part and yes, we need influential men to step up. Not to speak for them, or ‘save’ them, but to accept that women are equal partners in change. The strategy is really about the fact that it’s men who invented the system and it’s the men who continue to run it so therefore they need to step up as equal partners. This feminist framework, to honour and respect women as equal partners is MCC’s guiding principles, not fixing women, but fixing the system. Choosing the word male, is a strategy about recognising where power sits and working with them to set up a feminist framework.
Domestic violence is another issue you try to address...
This is a strategy from the Male Champions of Change, who realised that domestic violence is a workplace issue, one that needs to be made public. We must recognise that our workplaces also have a role in eliminating violence. The Male Champions developed a model in every workplace in Australia and the shift I have seen might make Australia a leader in terms of workplaces responding to violence against women.
This is a big problem in India as well...
Yes, it is. It happens in environments that cultivate or condone demeaning attitudes towards women, in a culture that allows sexual jokes and innuendoes to prevail. What we are trying to do in Australia is nip the problem in the bud, by developing a culture where women are respected as equals. In India, we need to take interventions in education. In Australia, we have worked on education from kindergarten upwards, as every school follows a national curriculum where respectful relationships are built into the educational system. We know from Scandinavian experiences that people’s views of gender are formed between the ages of about three and seven and if you don’t see respect for women at home, then you need to learn it at school. This is an important part of the process.
You come from a family where gender-equality is valued, your father was a great influence on you. How important is it for fathers to step up to the fore? And mothers too, for that matter!
My experiences with talking to women’s rights activists in India show that it’s vital for fathers to set an example in Indian homes. Indian fathers, believe equally in your daughters!
A “good mother” is defined as one who is always with her kids, turning a blind eye to any sort of vice playing at home, whether its alcohol, gambling or even abuse. This is very illogical. A survey of Indian women showed that 75% of them believe that children suffer when a mother goes to work. It’s a pervasive belief, in India and Australia. How do we change that? Those are the questions we need to ask....