Context: Gender equality in India.
Gender Equality: Gender equality is achieved when women and men enjoy the same rights and opportunities across all sectors of society, including economic participation and decision-making, and when the different behaviours, aspirations and needs of women and men are equally valued and favoured.
Fact-Sheet of position of Women in Indian Society:
- Economic participation: Only 18% of India’s GDP is from paid work by women, compared to 40% in China.
- Labour force: India ranks 120 among 131 countries in female labour force participation rates.
- In the past decade, while Indian GDP has grown by around 6%, there has been a large decline in female labour force participation from 34% to 27%, compared to 48% globally.
- Wage gap: The male-female wage gap has been stagnant at 50% (a recent survey finds a 27% gender pay gap in white-collar jobs).
- Crime against women: The rate of crimes against women in India stands at 53.9 percent in India. In Delhi, the capital city, 92 percent of women reported having experienced sexual or physical violence in public spaces.
- Parliament : Only 14% of India’s elected members of Parliament are women compared to 24% of the members of the House of Representatives in the US.
- The 2018 Global Gender Gap report ranks India at a dismal 108 out of 149 countries.
- With a remaining gender gap of 34.2 per cent, India ranks fourth in the South Asian region, well behind Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
- NITI Aayog’s Report: India’s official think tank NITI Aayog has recently released a report highlighting states’ performance on different indicators. Except two, all states fall in the red zone - a NITI Aayog criteria for poor performers.
NITI Aayog has considered six criteria:
- sex ratio at birth (female per 1,000 male),
- average female to male ratio of average wages,
- percentage of married women aged 15-49 years who have ever experienced spousal violence,
- percentage of seats won by women in the general elections to state legislative assembly,
- ratio of female labour force participation rate to male labour force participation rate
- percentage of women in the age group of 15-49 years using modern methods of family planning.
And the results are worrying for all states.
The role of gender in the economy seen from the point of view of companies and society at large:
- Companies across the world with more than one woman on their boards have generated shareholder returns 3.3% higher each year than companies with no women on the board.
- A Harvard Business Review study shows that companies with women occupying 30% of leadership positions are 15% more profitable than companies with no women in leadership positions.
- The economic impact of achieving gender equality in India is estimated to be US$700 billion of added GDP by 2025.
- The IMF estimates that if Indian women participated in the workforce to the same extent as women across the world, India’s gross domestic product (GDP) would be higher by 27% and grow an additional 1.5% each year.
Women’s participation in the labour force:
It can be analysed across three income levels:
- Low Income group: Women in very low-income households work by necessity, mostly in the informal sector.
- An estimated 120 million, or 97% of all female workers, fall into this category.
- Here, participation rates of rural women are twice as high as those of urban women and they presumably work on agriculture or low-paying jobs.
- Middle income group: As families become more prosperous and the need to generate income diminishes, fewer women enter the labour force. Societal norms favour women playing the role of caregivers and home-makers.
- College going women: In this last category of college-going women, one observes a curious phenomenon. While 44% of graduating college students are women, only 25% of entry-level professionals are women. This indicates yet another cultural norm of early marriage and home-based roles for women.
Legal and Constitutional Safeguards against Gender Inequality:
- 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.
- Women have equal right to vote in our political system.
- Article 15 of the Constitution provides for prohibition of discrimination on grounds of sex 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.
- Various protective Legislations have also been passed by the Parliament to eliminate exploitation of women and to give them equal status in society. For instance:
- 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 interreligion;
- 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.
- the Parliament from time to time brings out amendments to existing laws in order to give protection to women according to the changing needs of the society, for instance, 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.
Potential Areas of Focus:
- Legislation at the national or state level mandating gender equality can go a long way in removing these hurdles.
- Better education for the girl child, removal of barriers to entrepreneurship and other such legislative actions make the system more conducive for women to succeed in.
- Corporations can come in support for women employees in the form of child care, maternity leave and flexitime can go a long way in this regard.
- The private sector and business community will be crucial in helping bridge the gap between skills and jobs and enable access to decent work for women.
- Vocational and technical training, life skills and financial literacy programmes for women to help them develop marketable skills and better decision-making abilities cannot be undertaken in a meaningful way without the involvement of industry.
- The Government of India’s MUDRA scheme to support micro and small enterprises and direct benefit transfers under the Jan Dhan Yojana seeks to empower women. Women entrepreneurs account for about 78 percent of the total number of borrowers under MUDRA.
- Companies can also invest in women entrepreneurs through microfinance, and bring their goods and services into supply chains.
- Enhancing women’s access to the internet and ICT can create a merging market of connected women who can be linked to business opportunities.
- In addition, as employers, the private sector can invest in women’s security against violence at home and in public spaces, and take steps to ensure their mobility through inclusive transport.
Conclusion: As rightly said by Swami Vivekanand, 'Just as a bird cannot fly with one wing only, a Nation cannot march forward if the women are left behind'. Men and women are the two holes of a perfect whole. Strength is borne of their union their separation results in weakness. Each has what the other does not have. Respect for women and their freedom is something we must build into our society - for society’s sake more than for women’s sake.