Context:

India is facing “very big” challenges in gender justice, a top UN Women official has recently said and also added that the Indian government has “prioritised” women’s issues in its policies and programmes but there is need for greater momentum.

Introduction:

  • Indian women’s labour force participation, at just 27 per cent, is ranked 170 out of the world’s 188 economies.
  • Not only is Indian women’s labour-force participation among the lowest in the world, research suggests it may be declining.
  • This is despite rising education levels and declining fertility.
  • Women cannot contribute to India’s economic growth if they are not fully participating in the workforce.
  • The reason for low women’s labour force participation is gender inequality in India.

What is gender inequality?

  • Gender inequalityrefers to unequal treatment or perceptions of individuals wholly or partly due to their gender.
  • It arises from differences in socially constructedgender

What are the reasons for gender inequality in India?

Cultural institutions:

  • Cultural institutions in India, particularly those of patrilineality (inheritance through male descendants) and patrilocality (married couples living with or near the husband’s parents), play a crucial role in perpetuating gender inequality.

Preference for sons:

  • A culturally ingrained parental preference for sons – emanating from their importance as caregivers for parents in old age – is linked to poorer consequences for daughters.

Dowry system:

  • The dowry system, involving a cash or in-kind payment from the bride’s family to the groom’s at the time of marriage, is another institution that disempowers women.
  • The incidence of dowry has been steadily rising over time across all region and socioeconomic classes.

Patriarchal mindset:

  • Patriarchy is a social system of privilege in which men are the primary authority figures, occupying roles of political leadership, moral authority, control of prosperity and authority over women and children.

Poverty and lack of education:

  • Extreme poverty and lack of education are also some of the reasons for women’s low status in society.
  • Poverty and lack of education derives countless women to work in low paying domestic service, organized prostitution or as migrant laborers.

What is the India’s position in Global rankings?

Gender Inequality is also reflected in India’s poor ranking in various global gender indices.

  • According to the Global Gender Gap Report released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2011, India was ranked 113 on the Gender Gap Index (GGI) among 135 countries polled.
  • India also scored poorly on overall female to male literacy and health rankings.
  • UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index- 2014:India’s ranking is 127 out of 152 countries in the List. This ranking is only above Afghanistan as far as SAARC countries are concerned
  • World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index- 2014: India’s ranks at 114 in the list of 142 countries of the world. This Index examines gender gap in four major areas:
  • Economic participation and opportunity: 134th
  • Educational achievements: 126th
  • Health and Life expectancy: 141st
  • Political empowerment: 15th

What are the legal and constitutional safeguards against gender inequality?

1- Constitutional safeguards:

  • Indian Constitution provides for positive efforts to eliminate gender inequality.
  • The Preamble to the Constitution talks about goals of achieving social, economic and political justice to everyone and to provide equality of status and of opportunity to all its citizens.
  • Article 15 of the Constitution provides for prohibition of discrimination on grounds ofsex also apart from other grounds such as religion, race, caste or place of birth.
  • Article 15(3) authorizes the Sate to make any special provision for women and children.
  • The Directive Principles of State Policy also provides various provisions which are for the benefit of women and provides safeguards against discrimination.

2- Legal safeguards:

Various protective Legislations have also been passed by the Parliament to eliminate exploitation of women and to give them equal status in society.

  • The Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 was enacted to abolish and make punishable the inhuman custom of Sati.
  • The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 to eliminate the practice of dowry.
  • The Special Marriage Act, 1954 to give rightful status to married couples who marry inter-caste or inter-religion.
  • Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Bill (introduced in Parliament in 1991, passed in 1994 to stop female infanticide and many more such Acts.
  • Section 304-B was added to the Indian Penal Code, 1860 to make dowry-death or bride-burning a specific offence punishable with maximum punishment of life imprisonment.

What is Gender Development Index?

  • The GDI measures gender gaps in human development achievements by accounting for disparities between women and men in three basic dimensions of human development—health, knowledge and living standards using the same component indicators as in the HDI.
  • The GDI is the ratio of the HDIs calculated separately for females and males using the same methodology as in the HDI.
  • It is a direct measure of gender gap showing the female HDI as a percentage of the male HDI.
  • The GDI is calculated for 160 countries.
  • Countries are grouped into five groups based on the absolute deviation from gender parity in HDI values.

What can be done to improve gender inequality in India?

  • India is still a lagging when it comes to gender equality, and changing this situation is an urgent task.
  • Need for policy initiatives to empower women as gender disparities in India persist even against the backdrop of economic growth.
  • Improvements in labour market prospects also have the potential to empower women. This will also lead to increase in marriage age and school enrolment of younger girls.
  • Feminism could be a powerful tool that lets children shed stereotypes that they may hold and question those of others.
  • A world free of prejudice and generalisation would be amenable to progress in the truest sense.
  • The need of the hour is to introduce feminism in schools, both in terms of curriculum and practice.
  • Sessions on principles of mutual respect and equality must be made a regular affair in schools.
  • Inculcating gender equality in children could go a long way towards ridding society of regressive mindsets, attitudes, and behaviours.
  • Educating Indian children from an early age about the importance of gender equality could be a meaningful start in that direction.

Conclusion:

  • For India to maintain its position as a global growth leader, more concerted efforts at local and national levels and by the private sector are needed to bring women to parity with men.
  • Increasing the representation of women in the public spheres is important and can potentially be attained through some form of affirmative action, an attitudinal shift is essential for women to be considered as equal within their homes and in broader society.
  • Indian government has “prioritised” women’s issues in its policies and programmes but there is need for greater momentum.
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