India’s battle for gender equality


The recent judicial judgments on triple talaq and right to privacy and the verdict in the Gurmeet Ram Rahim case have reinvigorated the conservation on women’s safety and gender equality.


  • These cases have shown the light on some of the social structures and practices that work to threaten constitutionally enshrined principles of equality and justice.

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 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 the India’s position ?

  • India’s progress towards gender equality, measured by its position on rankings such as the Gender Development Index  has been disappointing, despite fairly rapid rates of economic growth.
  • In the last decade, while India’s GDP has grown by around 6%, there has been a large decline in female labour force participation from 34% to 27%.
  • Crimes against women show an upward trend, especially brutal crimes like rapes, dowry, deaths, and acid attacks.
  • India has the lowest level of female participation in the labour force when compared to most other regional economies.
  • In 2011, there were 919 girls under age six per 1000 boys, despite sex determination being outlawed in India.
  • According to the National Family and Health Survey of 2005-06, 37 % of married women have been victims of physical or sexual violence perpetrated by their spouse,
  • Over 60% of women, between the ages of 20-24, with no education, were married before 18.
  • Regarding domestic violence, there are several gaps in the implementation of laws at the state level, as 82 % respondents are dissatisfied with the complaint redressal of government institutions such as helplines and police stations.
  • Only 72 % of the stakeholders involved in addressing domestic violence issues were aware of all the various provisions under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act.
  • As per other statistics, as of 2012, 40 % of all government schools lacked a functioning common toilet, and another 40 % lacked a separate toilet for girls.

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. For more details on computation.
  • 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 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 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.

What are the steps initiated by Judiciary?

  • Bombay High Court, recently in March 2016 has ruled out a judgement that “Married daughters are also obligated to take care of their parents”. This is a very bold step towards breaking the traditional norms of the defined roles in the society.


  • 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.
Print Friendly and PDF