The economic development of the nation is dependent on the participation of all the sections of the society, more particularly women, who constitute fifty per cent of the population. Massive employment potentialities can be utilized by women folk. India is the world’s fastest growing major economy, but has one of the lowest rates of female employment. This is most true especially in the firefighting industry which has seen a major dearth of women in professional roles. Women are both the victim as well as strong enablers when it comes to the fire safety industry. In India, 17,700 Indians died due to a fire incident which occurred in 2015. 48 people die every day due to that fire accidents out of which 62% are women.
While the numbers continue to rise, the awareness on fire safety has hardly gained much recognition. Strikingly, in this whole conversation on fire safety, the female voice is missing! Unlike in the West, where a job in the fire safety industry is revered and a matter of great pride, India still has a long way to go. The instances of women working in the firefighting industry in India are far and few.
In 2003, the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services appointed Priya Ravichandran as a Divisional fire officer, making her one of the first female fire officers in the country, and the first one to win Anna Medal for Bravery in Tamil Nadu. In 2013, the department inducted its second batch of women firefighters. In 2012, the Mumbai Fire Brigade inducted five women firefighters, making them the first in the history of the organisation. One of the biggest reasons for the low participation is the absence of a female role model.
Over the last several decades, it has become an accepted understanding that improving the status of women is one of the most critical levers of international development. When women are educated and can be employed, a volley of good results follow. According to a recent study by McKinsey, if women played an identical role in labour markets to that of men, as much as US$28 trillion could be added to the global annual GDP by 2025. We require more and more women in the industry as they have the right ability to prove their mettle in various fields including defense services. One such example can be the appointment of Shrimati Nirmala Sitharaman as the Defence Minister of India. Recently Avani Chaturvedi, has also been appointed as the first Indian woman fighter pilot to fly solo. The fighter stream was opened for women in 2015 and Avani Chaturvedi, along with two other women, Mohana Singh and Bhawana Kanth were inducted into the Indian Air Force fighter squadron in 2016 where they have undergone strenuous training programme to fly fighter jets. Fire safety should also be considered as an industry to support and encourage women diversity and empowerment.
The policy of fire and safety industry to recruit only male officers might be reinforcing gender stereotypes and should keep pace with international trends. While even in the west, the number of women staff is very low, but in India its much below the international statistics. One has to remember that the practice of hiring only men could be construed as demeaning to the female gender. We, in the industry, know their real purpose is to provide the safety of everyone in case of emergencies.
While women have made significant gains in the past decade in terms of their noteworthy roles in different spheres of life including education, health, technology, economic participation, and political leadership, we as a nation still have a long way to go when it comes to attaining gender equality.