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Vol. XXXII No. 19, January 16-31, 2023

Chennai ranked the most suitable Indian city for working women

-- by A Special Correspondent

That South Indian cities tend to fare better in social indices than their Northern counterparts is a matter of general acceptance. This fact has been borne out yet again by a recent study of 111 cities conducted by consulting firm Avtar on the inclusivity of women in the workforce. Chennai emerged at the top of the rankings as the metro most conducive for women in employment, followed by Pune, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Mumbai. In fact, the report has given Tamil Nadu much to cheer about, for the top rankings among cities with a population of less than 1M are also dominated by the state.

The study analyzed five key metrics in its methodology – ease of living, safety, women’s representation rate and women’s empowerment initiatives. It also explored different institutions in the cities it studied, to understand how inclusive these organizations are for women. Part of the study’s consideration also involved the steps taken by states and cities to empower women in the past year.

Chennai, the reports says, scores high on the following factors:

1. Usable public amenities, effective crime response and appreciable living standards. These ensure the basic trust for both the city, companies and women to ramp up on.

2. Conducive culture, supportive peer groups and thriving corporate ecosystem. These ensure rich career prospects and progression.

3. Inclusively mature, diversely-driven and a tendency for allyship. These ensure an inclusive space that facilitates steady personal and professional growth.

“The fact that the South and West regions are more women friendly in terms of employment is not a surprise, given the politico-historic context of these regions. The rise of cities like Hubli, Nagpur, Ahmedabad, and Coimbatore as promising hubs of women’s employment due to their high industrial inclusion scores is very heartening,” says Saundarya Rajesh, founder-president of the Avtar Group. “Metros like Delhi and Kolkata have fallen behind in terms of ­social inclusion due to lower standards of safety and poor enablers for women to pursue employement.” She also pointed out that women enablement in workplaces is an important cog in the fourth industrial revolution, a goal that she feels lies not just with corporates but with the state as well.

Avtar’s study has given Chennai much to pat itself on the back about, for the city was awarded a total score of 78.41 out of 100 against a national average of 37.75. In fact, the report’s conclusion is arguably a bright spot against a rather dim backdrop – it was just last August that a slew of media reports announced that the country is seeing declining female employment rates despite economic growth, declining fertility and better rates in women’s education. The female workforce participation in urban India is said to have dropped from 26 per cent to 24 per cent – a dip, which while marginal, should be concerning for the overall participation of women in the labour market is reported to hover at 24 per cent against 90 per cent for men. Part of the problem, of course, are gendered social norms, such as the division of household domestic responsibilities – women are said to spend seven hours every day tending to the household as opposed to men, who spend only 30 minutes. But there are other, practical issues which serve as barriers to women employment as well – it is here that Chennai must introspect and give itself due credit, for the various initiatives undertaken by the state and city administration have certainly helped make these practical burdens lighter for women. For example, consider ease of mobility – apart from pushing for a general expansion of public transport modes such as the metro, initiatives such as the pink bus scheme have afforded women greater access to safe and free, or cheaper, commutes. Or take the issue of toilets, a crucial factor that cannot be ignored when discussing ease of mobility for women – while there is much to be desired in the upkeep of the public toilets in the city, that the issue has been acknowledged and made a point of focus shows that the city has its priorities straight. The administration made a specific commitment to raising the profile of women its election manifesto and all said and done, steps have been taken in this regard.

It must be noted, however, that Avtar’s study only covered 783 women in its survey. The pool appears rather small given that women’s inclusivity in the workforce is a complex subject even when confined to an urban context. It is entirely possible that slicing the data by factors such as social privilege, type of employment, personal and professional growth arcs, and even the larger gender spectrum could well reveal differing trends. As it stands, it is doubtful that a survey of 783 women can lend itself to such rigorous analyses. And so, while the report must be met with good cheer, one hopes that it will renew the call for a deeper, more focused study that serves the city’s women no matter their position on the ­social or gender spectrum. Chennai has done well by its females but can always do better.

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