The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The domination of men in all spheres of public life and within the family is an undeniable fact. Feminism fights this domination and in certain areas it has successfully established the claims of women as being equal to men. One aspect of this success is related to the struggle that feminist activists have waged across the globe. But the success is also related — and this perhaps is the more important aspect — to the unquestioned achievements of women in various spheres. Such is the level of these achievements that it is impossible to deny the abilities of women. In India, the backwardness of women is more acute because of illiteracy, lack of opportunities and societal attitudes in which sundry forms of paternalism and patriarchy hold sway. Under the circumstances, the state has stepped in to remove the prevailing inequalities and backwardness that adversely affect women. The state’s intervention has taken the form of positive discrimination for women. More specifically, the state has decided to introduce the quota system for women in various fora, from Parliament to the board of directors of companies. While the women’s reservation bill in Parliament flounders, the government has planned to amend the Companies Act to make it obligatory for companies to have a minimum number of women on their boards. Thus the question of providing leadership to industries will be decided not on competence or merit but on the basis of gender.

Women, especially professional women aspiring to become directors of companies, will treat the proposal as an insult to their abilities. It assumes that women are incapable of climbing up the corporate ladder without a push up by the state. There are obstacles but these cannot be removed through legislation. Also, since a large part of the state machinery is run by men, the proposal smacks of a certain kind of paternalism: it is a gift being given out to women. There is also an element of tokenism involved in the move. There has been hardly any attempt to help women who really need help in spheres of health and education, and those who need protection against various kinds of social injustice. Women in the corporate world are capable and can, in fact, look after themselves and rise to the top. They do not need reservations. Reservations, as experience shows, only nurture incompetence. India can no longer afford this, if it ever could. India needs to recognize and reward merit irrespective of gender. And women in the corporate world are among the most meritorious, they do not need state support.

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