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What I want from Budget 2020: Early and regular health screening for women who remain key stakeholders in India's $5 trillion goal

Suneeta Reddy of the Apollo Group feels that the Govt should close gender gaps in education.

Last Updated: Jan 17, 2020, 06.33 PM IST
ET's dualpane - 2020-01-17T165234.039
Reddy (L) wants FM Sitharaman's Budget to include measures that enable women entrepreneurs and strengthen support infrastructure for childcare and eldercare.
By Suneeta Reddy

When I was asked to write this short note on what women-specific policies we need in our country, the first thing that came to mind was: the women probably don’t need our policies, rather our economy (especially if we want it to reach $5 trillion by 2025), needs our women to hold steady and increase their contribution to both the formal and informal economy.

Some data will make it clear that gender parity brings clear economic dividends. According to a McKinsey Global Institute’s Report, improving women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth. Increasing women’s labour force participation by 10 percentage points could add $700 billion to India’s GDP by 2025. So if we are looking for a silver bullet for our economy, it's with our women.

There is a series of measures that the Government can consider – starting with closing gender gaps in education, expanding skill training for women, lowering barriers to job creation, and enabling women entrepreneurs, strengthening support infrastructure for childcare and eldercare etc.

But the biggest challenge will be to reshape deep-rooted attitudes about the role of women in work and society. And by this, I don’t mean women in corporate jobs or shattering the glass ceiling. In India, 94 per cent of total woman workers are engaged in the informal sector. Nearly 50 per cent of them are sole supporters of their families. These women are the real heroes of India- quiet contributors who keep the social fabric of our country intact. As we discuss gender, we cannot afford to ignore these women, who in fact now, are rightfully claiming their political voice and becoming Panchayat leaders.

And then there are women in science, working in cutting-edge fields – who we see in movies like 'Hidden Figures' or 'Space MOMs', whose stories are inspirational.

But to do all this for the country, economy and themselves, women need to be healthy. Unfortunately, they are most negligent about their own health. So, if there is one policy I would ask of the Government, it is that of early and regular health screening for women, whether it is for general health issues like malnutrition and anaemia, or more complex diseases like cervical and breast cancer. Today, early detection means that complete cure is possible. Women owe it to themselves and their families owe it to enable them, to stay healthy. And with that, India will be healthy and will be well-prepared for a healthy balance sheet.

I remember a fascinating conversation I had with a sociologist. She said, we began as a matriarchal society – women were powerful and revered. The ascent of religion transferred power to the male of the species, but the truth is
– the world was created in balance - be it the Ardhanarishvara which represents the synthesis of the masculine and the feminine, or Yin and Yang, which represents perfect balance. And I believe the answer lies there – in being gender-sensitive and equally valuing both genders, but not over-weighting on either.

*The author is Managing Director, Apollo Hospitals.

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