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ONGC CMD and Global Compact Network India (GCNI) President Shashi Shanker advocated for a renewed focus on gender equality in view of the impact of COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking at the GCNI’s 4th Gender Equality Summit, the CMD said no country or society can claim to achieve holistic development or become a just society without gender justice. He also appealed everyone to challenge gender stereotypes and promote equality in all spheres of life.

ONGC CMD and GCNI President Shashi Shanker delivering Presidential Address
ONGC CMD and GCNI President Shashi Shanker delivering Presidential Address

The CMD was delivering the ‘Presidential Address’ at the inaugural session of the two-day Summit, being held during 9-10 March 2021. The theme of this year’s summit is “COVID and New Gender Equations: Adversity to Opportunity”. The summit resonates the global commitment towards developing a strong India roadmap towards gender equality by discussing policies, leadership, gender specific initiatives and technology that can enable women to recover and thrive in a post-COVID world to emerge as equal participants in workforce across formal and informal sectors.

Welcoming the participants, Mr Shanker said men and women have worked shoulder-to-shoulder to make our home and society prosperous and peaceful since the dawn of human civilization. Several notable personalities including Minister of Women and Child Development Smriti Zubain Irani, GCNI GES 2021 Chair and ReNew Power Founding Chair and Chief Sustainability Officer Vaishali Sinha, GCNI Executive Director Shabnam Siddiqui, Deloitte India Partner Viral Thakker and others joined the session.

Visuals from the Summit
Visuals from the Summit

Mr Shanker underlined that women not only are the caregivers at home, but are also braving as frontline warriors against the COVID-19 pandemic as nurses and doctors at hospitals. “Few women leaders in the world have demonstrated exemplary leadership in controlling the disease in their countries. Many women employees have gone beyond their normal course of duty in the interest of their companies and countries at the time of this adversity.”

Noting that women employees voluntarily stayed back during the lockdown in remote offshore or onshore work centers for over 50 days, Mr Shanker said this demonstrated unimaginable courage and commitment. He said that it was an opportunity when men observed with astonishment that during such adversity, women can deliver equally at professional front as well.

The CMD noted that female workforce has been disproportionately impacted in the fallout of COVID-19 pandemic. “This has made our efforts towards achieving the targets under Sustainable Development Goal No. 5 – that is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls – more challenging”. On the other hand, he said COVID-19 has brought about many positive changes for us.

“Our attitude towards health and hygiene has improved. Our realization towards the contributions of women as homemakers or professional workers have increased manifold. The accelerated digital revolution catalyzed by COVID-19 has made it easy for many working women to contribute equally from home.” He expressed that any sustainable recovery from the devastation of COVID-19 must start with giving more focus towards gender equality.

Mr Shanker said that as India chases $5 trillion economy goal, ensuring greater gender equality in all spheres of life, especially corporate sector is critical for higher productivity and growth. He said promoting women as key drivers of growth, monetizing the skills of women workforce will address gender inequality and shall go a long way towards realizing a quicker ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ in the post-COVID-19 recovery phase.

Concluding his address, GCNI President Shashi Shanker also congratulated Shabnam Siddique on becoming its first woman Executive Director and wished GCNI much more success under her leadership.

Speaking at the Summit, Woman and Child Development and Textiles Minister Smriti Zubin Irani said that the presumptions that women are waiting for handouts needs to be negated. There has to be an affirmation that women can lead change, not only for themselves, but for men, society at large and can become the economic harbingers of change. She also called to move from “women development” to “women-led development”.

Women and Child Development Minister addressing the Summit
Women and Child Development Minister addressing the Summit

Mrs Irani said that the government is dedicated to change the narrative how women are perceived. She mentioned several initiatives undertaken by the government to address women’s issues. The Minister added that safety and security one of the main concern for women venturing to look for opportunities.

She said over 1.47 crore women have been digitally trained under Disha. One stop crisis centers have been set up in 700 districts across the country to address crimes against women and children. Mrs Irani also mentioned that the government has given funds to every state to ensure that every district has an anti-trafficking unit. Mapping of districts with high crime rates is also done and support is extended to address the same, she added.

Smriti Zubin Irani and Shilpa Bhawana engaged in candid conversation
Smriti Zubin Irani and Shilpa Bhawana engaged in candid conversation

The Minister noted that several steps have also been taken for the social empowerment of women. “We are committed to ensuring speedy investigation and trial of cases of violence against women and children. To expedite the judicial process, government has fiscally supported the establishment of 1,023 fast track courts to dispose of such cases.”

UN Women, India Country Representative Susan Ferguson cited the contributions of Indian women towards providing technology solutions to combat COVID-19. She highlighted that the participation and inclusion of women will accelerate the humanitarian approach towards socio-economic combat to COVID-19. Ms Ferguson noted that the unemployment rate of women because of the pandemic has been worse for women than men; 17% for women while only 6% for men. He exhorted that the economic recovery must not leave women back rather it should be taken as an opportunity to address long-standing inequality issues.

Delivering the keynote address MD & CEO of CRISIL Ashu Suyash mentioned researches indication that by 2021, 435 million women will be earning less than 2$ a day and 47 million women will be driven to poverty. She stressed that there is a strong need to focus on protection of women at workplace. Citing women from rural parts of the country being proactive with production of PPT Kits, masks, etc. to combat the pandemic, Ms Suyash noted that policy frame-works should be set up by collaborative efforts of the government and the private sector to support women entrepreneurs.

Chief, Intergovernmental Relations & Africa UN Global Compact Olajobi Makinwa pointed out that the challenges faced by women are not new, and the pandemic is just a wake-up call for all. She said that while several deliberations are being made on the issue the gap between commitment, action and impact must lessen.

The Summit is a national platform to discuss collective responsibility and exploring pathways towards gender inclusive outcomes in society and workforce. It calls for greater levels of coordinated involvement for inclusive employment and growth opportunities for women from all stakeholders including the governments, private sector, not-for-profits and communities.

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