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No economy for women – OPINION – The Hindu

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/no-economy-for-women/article17425044.ece

  • In stark contrast to worldwide trends, women in India are being forced out of the workforce

    • According to a recent report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), India and Pakistan have the lowest rates of women’s labour force participation in Asia, in sharp contrast to Nepal, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia that have the highest, with richer nations like Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia falling in between

  • Even this low rate of labour force participation seems to be declining

    • The National Sample Survey found that while in 1999-2000, 25.9% of all women worked, by 2011-12 this proportion had dropped to 21.9%. This is in stark contrast to worldwide trends.
    • Of the 185 nations that are part of the ILO database, since the 1990s, 114 countries have recorded an increase in the proportion of women in the workforce, and only 41 recorded declines, with India leading the pack

  • The importance of access

    • A heartening explanation could be that with rising incomes, women have the opportunity to escape harsh labour in farms and on construction sites, and focus on their families.
    • A more pessimistic and possibly realistic explanation might be that with declining farm sizes, rising mechanisation, and consequently dwindling labour demands in agriculture, women are being forced out of the workforce. If true, this has serious implications for future policy.
    • The India Human Development Survey (IHDS), jointly organised by researchers from the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) and the University of Maryland, finds that the provision of work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has brought more rural women into wage labour.
    • Among MGNREGA workers in 2011-12, a whopping 45% were not in wage labour before the scheme was initiated.

  • Increased availability of wage work also enhances women’s control over household decision-making

    • From a policy perspective, two main challenges have to be addressed for augmenting women’s workforce participation rates
      • First, in view of shrinking farm work, we need to create opportunities for women to move from agricultural to non-agricultural manual work
      • Second, we must foster a work environment that allows more women, especially urban and educated women, to take up salaried jobs.
    • At the other end of the employment spectrum, however, there is a need to make it possible for educated women to continue to work even while raising families.
      • In a context where women continue to bear the major share of household work and childcare, the prevalence of a rigid work environment in India and the dearth of family-friendly work institutions create impediments to women’s access to white-collar jobs in the formal sector.
      • Second, long distances between the home and the workplace increase both commuting time and work burdens, leaving workers with even less time for family duties.
      • Another aspect of the skewed work-family equation for women in India is the demand for investing in children’s education over professional achievement.
    • Research by Alaka Basu, a sociologist at Cornell University, and Sonalde Desai (co-author of this article) highlights the contrast between the reasons for fertility decline in the West, where it was fuelled by the desire for self-fulfilment among both men and women, and in India, where small families have emanated from the desire to promote future achievements of children by focusing on their education rather than on better employment prospects for the parents.
    • The only way this conundrum can be addressed is by encouraging workplaces to become more responsive to family needs and to promote sharing of household responsibilities between both genders — something that Scandinavian countries have emphasised.

  • Sharing the burden

      • Even before the influx of global firms in India, work structures in Indian companies and even the government were highly inflexible.
      • With rising global competition, Indian firms have chosen to follow the American model with demands for extended work hours as well as attendance on Saturdays and Sundays. This creates a time bind for both men and women where something must give
      • The study found that young workers in India worked 52 hours per week as against, say, 42 hours by their counterparts in Canada.

  • The Economic Survey 2016-17 expressed concern that the demographic dividend is already receding, reducing the opportunity for the Indian economy to catch up with its East Asian counterparts. (Check out our Economic Survey section for more)

  • It is thus high time to talk of the gender dividend rather than the demographic dividend.

How to tame our forest fires – OPINION – The Hindu

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/how-to-tame-our-forest-fires/article17425047.ece

  • The roots of the crisis lie in the implementation of India’s no-fire forest policy

    • Come March every year, the print media is filled with reports of fires in the dry deciduous forests of IndiaFighting fires with minimal equipment in challenging terrain is a thankless task that poses grave risks.
    • It is perhaps time to ask whether a strict no-fire policy is relevant in ecological and societal contexts, rather than raise ineffective questions about how forest fires can be controlled or prevented through technology.
    • The bulk of forest fires in India occurs in the tropical dry forests of our country, an umbrella category encompassing scrub, savanna grassland, dry and moist-deciduous forests.

  • Almost 70% of forests in India are composed of these types (Remember for Prelims)

    • Recent research on the ecology and bio-geographical origin of these forests indicates that fire occurrence and light availability are important factors that maintain the ecosystem
    • However, forest management still suffers from a colonial hangover intent on keeping production forestry systems free from fire in order to prevent the loss of ‘stock’.
    • Field ecological research, on the other hand, indicates that many tree species distinct to dry forests have co-evolved with fires and have developed fire-resistance features like thick, spongy bark, and can re-sprout from rootstock in response to fire.

  • Blanket ban woes

      • The roots of our current fire crisis lie squarely in the blanket implementation of a no-fire forest policy.
      • This ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach of fire protection is perhaps incompatible with the ecology of India’s tropical dry forests.
      • For example, the fires in Bandipur Tiger Reserve were immensely difficult to control because of ample fuel supplied by the alien invasive species Lantana camara.
      • Recent ethnographic and empirical research from the neighbouring Biligiri Rangaswamy Tiger Reserve indicates that a no-fire policy was likely responsible for the spread of Lantana in the first place.
      • Additionally, frequent, low-intensity forest fires possibly prevented the proliferation of Lantana in the past, a time when fires were not yet anathema for forest managers.
      • Findings from conventional scientific studies also support these insights from indigenous knowledge, and indicate that early dry season fires burn less hot, and are far less detrimental to vegetation than peak dry season fires which burn much hotter.

  • By burning the fire-lines before the onset of summer, forest fires, if they occurred, could be confined to a few compartments. More recently however, fire has been used as a management tool to increase the density of herbivores in tropical dry forests.

  • By enacting legislation that made the setting of forest fires an offence, the forest department gradually legitimised one world view of forests as timber and wildlife production systems and ignored other world views that envisioned forests as cultural and livelihood spaces.
  • Instead of viewing forest fires as being purely destructive in nature, forest managers should perhaps expand their world view and be more inclusive to information from ecological and local knowledge systems that view fires as being both rejuvenating and revitalising.