Gender issues in India: an amalgamation of research

Content from the Brookings Institution India Center is now archived. After seven years of an impactful partnership, as of September 11, 2020, Brookings India is now the Centre for Social and Economic Progress , an independent public policy institution based in India.

The views are of the author(s).

Forty-two years have passed since the United Nations first decided to commemorate March 8 th as International Women’s Day, marking a historical transition in the feminist movement. Gender remains a critically important and largely ignored lens to view development issues across the world. On this past occasion of International Women’s Day 2017, here is an amalgamation of gendered learning outcomes across various crucial themes for public policy in India, emerging from Brookings India’s past research on political economy, financial inclusion and health.

research paper on gender gap in india

Shamika Ravi

Nonresident senior fellow - governance studies, nirupama jayaraman.

Political Economy

In 2016, India ranked 130 out of 146 in the Gender Inequality Index released by the UNDP.  It is evident that a stronger turn in political discourse is required, taking into consideration both public and private spaces. The normalization of intra-household violence is a huge detriment to the welfare of women. Crimes against women have doubled in the period between 1991 and 2011. NFHS data reports that 37 per cent of married women in India have experienced physical or sexual violence by a spouse while 40 per cent have experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence by a spouse. While current policy discourse recommends employment as a form of empowerment for women, data presents a disturbing correlation between female participation in labour force and their exposure to domestic violence. The NFHS-3 reports that women employed at any time in the past 12 months have a much higher prevalence of violence (39-40 per cent) than women who were not employed (29 per cent). The researchers advocate a multi-faceted approach to women’s empowerment beyond mere labour force participation, taking into consideration extra-household bargaining power.

Read more at: “ Beginning a new conversation on Women ”.

Gender inequality extends across various facets of society. Political participation is often perceived as a key factor to rectify this situation. However, gender bias extends to electoral politics and representative governance as well. The relative difference between male and female voters is the key to understanding gender inequality in politics. While the female voter turnout has been steadily increasing, the number of female candidates fielded by parties has not increased. More women contest as independents, which does not provide the cover for extraneous costs otherwise available when they are part of a political party.

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However, women also act as agents of political change for other women. In the Bihar elections in 2005, when re-elections were held, the percentage of female voters had increased from 42.5 to 44.5 per cent while those of male voters declined from 50 to 47 per cent in the interim period of eight months. As a direct result, 37 per cent of the constituencies saw anti-incumbency voting. The average growth rate of women voters was nearly three times in those constituencies where there was a difference in the winning party. District-wise disaggregation of voter registration also supports this hypothesis in the case of Bihar indicating the percolation of the winds of change. This illustration proves that women are no longer under the complete control of the men in their family in terms of electoral participation. The situation is only bound to improve from here. With the introduction of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), vulnerable sections like women now have more freedom of choice in their vote. Further, poll related incidents of violence against women have significantly decreased since the phased introduction of EVMs across multi-level elections in India.

Read more at:

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Beginning a new conversation on women

Extending the conversation to political representation is the next phase in the conversation. Women make up merely 22 per cent of lower houses in parliaments around the world and in India, this number is less than half at 10.8 per cent in the outgoing Lok Sabha. A steady increase in female voter participation has been observed across India, wherein the sex ratio of voters (number of female voters vis-à-vis male) has increased from 715 in the 1960s to 883 in the 2000s. Our studies have shown that women are more likely to contest elections in states with a skewed gender ratio. In the case of more developed states, they seek representation through voting leading to an increase in voter participation.

The situation can be rectified by providing focused reservation for those constituencies with a skewed sex ratio. Reducing the entry costs (largely non-pecuniary in nature – cultural barriers, lack of exposure) for women in order to create a pipeline of female leaders is another solution. These missing women, either as voters or leaders point to the gross negligence of women at all ages.

Read more at: Missing Women in Indian Democracy

Financial Inclusion

In the developing world, women have traditionally been the focus of efforts of financial inclusion. They have proved to be better borrowers (40 per cent of Grameen Bank’s clients were women in 1983. By 2000, the number had risen to 90 per cent) – largely attributed to the fact that they are less mobile as compared to men and more susceptible to peer pressure. However, institutions in microfinance are exposed to the trade-off between market growth and social development since having more female clients lead to the inevitable drip-down of social incentives. As an attempt to overcome this hurdle, a larger role can be played by donors with a gender driven agenda, for the financial inclusion sector will drive the idea further.

Gendered contextualisation of products is highly necessary for microfinance institutions (MFIs) – men and women do not ascribe to choices in a similar fashion. Trends emerging from prior research indicates that when health insurance coverage was held under the MFI sector, by both men and women, women benefited from the coverage only so far as they were the holders and not using spousal status (if their husbands were insured). Thus healthcare seeking behaviour becomes an important factor to be considered in insurance coverage under the MFIs.

The JAM trinity – Jan Dhan Yojana, Aadhar, Mobile – can be used to improve financial inclusion from a gender perspective as well. The metrics to consider would be the number of Jan Dhan accounts held by women, percentage of women holding Aadhar cards and access to mobile connectivity for women.

Read more at: A trade-off between Growth and Social Objectives Exists for Microfinance Institutions

In terms of healthcare focusing on women, the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) and National Health Mission are vital to the policy landscape. The JSY has improved maternal healthcare in India through the emphasis on institutional deliveries. Increase of 22 per cent in deliveries in government hospitals, was mirrored by an 8 per cent decline in childbirth at private hospitals and a 16 per cent decline in childbirth at home. The National Health Mission’s ASHA led to greater awareness and education of pregnant women as well as an increase in institutional maternal and neonatal healthcare. Improved infrastructure for maternal and neo-natal has been observed in community hospitals, in addition to the introduction of ambulance services.

A gendered increase in seek care is observed with a large 13 per cent increase in the number of women who report being sick in the last 15 days, driving the overall reportage. Further, an eight per cent decline in rural women seeking private healthcare, has been reported, while a 58 per cent increase in women seeking hospitalization has been reported. Further disaggregated, the data shows a 75.7 per cent increase for rural women seeking healthcare. The overall increase in usage of public hospitals is almost entirely driven by rural women who saw an increase of 24.6 per cent in utilisation of public hospitals over the 10 years (2004-2014). Our results show that the JSY had a significant, positive impact on overall hospitalisation of women in India. It increased the probability of a woman being hospitalised by approximately 1.3 per cent.

Read more at: Health and Morbidity in India

The healthcare sector in India has largely focused on maternal healthcare for women. The importance of research on mental health has been ignored in policy discourse. The significant relationship that mental health bears on violence has also been explored in further research. Every fifth suicide in India is that of a housewife (18 per cent overall) – the reportage of suicide deaths has been most consistent among housewives as a category, than other categories. India is the country with the largest rate of female deaths due to ‘intentional violence’.

Our work on childhood violence shows that girls are twice more likely to face sexual violence than boys before the age of 18. Larger the population of educated females in the country, lesser is the incidence of childhood violence at home – including lesser violent discipline, physical punishment as well as psychological aggression. Additionally, the lifetime experience of sexual violence by girls is strongly correlated with the adolescent fertility rate in a country. Further, a strong relationship is observed between female experience of sexual violence and female labour force participation within a country. The results show that the higher the labour force participation by women in a country, the higher is the incidence of sexual violence against them. This could be indicative of adverse working conditions within labour markets, and the difficulty of access to labour markets by young women in a country.


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Regions & Countries

In india and many other countries, there is little gap between men and women in attitudes on gender issues.

Most Indians support gender equality, but a new Pew Research Center survey finds that traditional gender norms still hold sway for many people in the country. And even though traditional norms tend to give men, rather than women, more prominent roles in several aspects of family and public life, women do not differ substantially from men in their opinions on these issues.

One example is how Indians view interactions between husbands and wives. Asked if they agree with the statement that “a wife must always obey her husband,” women in India (86%) are only slightly less likely than Indian men (89%) to say they either completely or mostly agree.

A chart showing that there are minimal gaps between men and women in India on gender attitudes

Pew Research Center conducted this analysis to find out how men and women in India differ – or don’t – in their views toward gender roles. It is based primarily on the March 2022 report “ How Indians View Gender Roles in Families and Society ,” part of the Center’s most comprehensive, in-depth exploration of Indian public opinion to date. For this report, we  surveyed 29,999 Indian adults  ages 18 and older living in 26 Indian states and three union territories. Many findings from the survey in India were previously published in “ Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation ,” which looked in detail at religious and national identity, religious beliefs and practices, and attitudes among religious communities. Interviews for this nationally representative survey were conducted face-to-face in 17 languages from Nov. 17, 2019, to March 23, 2020.

Respondents were selected using a probability-based sample design, and data was weighted to account for the different probabilities of selection among respondents, and to align with demographic benchmarks for the Indian adult population from the 2011 census.

We also relied on a 2019 survey of 34 countries to provide a global context for the India findings.

For more information on the India survey, read its methodology . Here are the questions used in this analysis.

Here are the questions used for the 34-nation survey, along with its methodology .

A table showing that in many countries, there is little to no gender gap in the shares who say men should sometimes have more rights to a job

This phenomenon, where women are either as likely as or only modestly less likely than men to express traditional attitudes about gender, is not unique to India. In a different survey of 34 countries conducted by Pew Research Center in the spring and summer of 2019, only 11 countries had statistically significant differences between men and women in the shares who say that if jobs are scarce, men should have more rights to employment than women. This included India, where Indian women (76%) were only somewhat less likely than Indian men (81%) to hold this view. In other words, in most of the countries surveyed, women were about as likely as men to favor job preferences for men in times of high unemployment.

Another question on the same 34-country survey asked respondents how important it is for women to have the same rights as men in their country. In most countries surveyed, women are more likely than men to voice support for gender equality, but this pattern is far from universal. In 14 countries, including Brazil and Poland, roughly the same shares of men and women say equal rights for women are very important, and in an additional seven countries, gender gaps on this question are 10 percentage points or less. In India, women (75%) are only modestly more likely than men (70%) to support equal rights for both genders.

Gender differences also are muted when it comes to Indians’ views about relationships between children and their parents. In Indian society, sons historically have been the primary caregivers for aging parents and the main beneficiaries of inheritance. In line with these and other traditions, families have tended to place higher value on – and provide more support to – their sons than their daughters, a set of attitudes and practices known as “ son preference .”

Today, while most Indian adults believe that sons and daughters should have equal responsibility to care for parents as they age, women (37%) are almost as likely as men (40%) to say it is sons who should have the primary responsibility for this. And when asked whether sons or daughters should be primarily responsible for a parent’s last rites or burial rituals, women (62%) are nearly as likely as men (64%) to say it should be sons. In addition, most Indians say sons and daughters should have equal rights to inheritance from their parents, but about a third of both women (33%) and men (34%) say that sons should have greater inheritance rights than daughters.

Against the backdrop of violence against women in India that has attracted both national and international attention, three-quarters of Indian men and women say violence against women is a “very big problem” in their country. The survey also asked respondents whether, to improve the safety of women in their community, it is more important to teach boys to respect all women or to teach girls to behave appropriately.

Around half of the Indian population – including 53% of women and 48% of men – says teaching boys to respect women is more important. But women (24%) are almost as likely as men (27%) to put the onus on women’s own behavior, saying that teaching girls to behave appropriately is the better way to improve women’s safety. Roughly a quarter of both men and women don’t take a clear position on the issue, with some saying both approaches are important, that women are already safe, or that the issue is one of law and order rather than gender norms.

A bar chart showing that about half of Indians favor improving women’s safety by teaching boys to respect women

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Among U.S. couples, women do more cooking and grocery shopping than men

Strong men, caring women: how americans describe what society values (and doesn’t) in each gender, on gender differences, no consensus on nature vs. nurture, in their own words: why do americans say men or women have it easier in the u.s., americans see men as the financial providers, even as women’s contributions grow, most popular.

About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .



Gender equality.

Every child deserves to reach her or his full potential, but gender inequalities in their lives and in the lives of those who care for them hinder this reality.

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Accelerating progress and opportunities across India for every girl and every boy

Wherever they live in India girls and boys see gender inequality in their homes and communities every day – in textbooks, in movies, in the media and among the men and women who provide their care and support.

Across India gender inequality results in unequal opportunities, and while it impacts on the lives of both genders, statistically it is girls that are the most disadvantaged.

Globally girls have higher survival rates at birth, are more likely to be developmentally on track, and just as likely to participate in preschool, but India is the only large country where more girls die than boys . Girls are also more likely to drop out of school.

In India girls and boys experience adolescence differently. While boys tend to experience greater freedom, girls tend to face extensive limitations on their ability to move freely and to make decisions affecting their work, education, marriage and social relationships.

As girls and boys age the gender barriers continue to expand and continue into adulthood where we see only a quarter of women in the formal workplace.

Some Indian women are global leaders and powerful voices in diverse fields but most women and girls in India do not fully enjoy many of their rights due to deeply entrenched patriarchal views, norms, traditions and structures.

India will not fully develop unless both girls and boys are equally supported to reach their full potential.

There are risks, violations and vulnerabilities girls face just because they are girls. Most of these risks are directly linked to the economic, political, social and cultural disadvantages girls deal with in their daily lives. This becomes acute during crisis and disasters.

With the prevalence of gender discrimination, and social norms and practices, girls become exposed to the possibility of child marriage, teenage pregnancy, child domestic work, poor education and health, sexual abuse, exploitation and violence. Many of these manifestations will not change unless girls are valued more.                   

The solution

It is critical to enhance the value of girls by investing in and empowering them, with education, life skills, sport and much more.

By increasing the value of girls we can collectively contribute to the achievement of specific results, some short-term (increasing access to education, reducing anaemia), others medium-term (ending child marriage) and others long-term (eliminating gender-biased sex selection).   

Changing the value of girls has to include men, women and boys. It has to mobilize many sectors in society. Only when society’s perception changes, will the rights of all the girls and all the boys in India be fulfilled.

Empowering girls requires focused investment and collaboration. Providing girls with the services and safety, education and skills they need in daily life can reduce the risks they face and enable them to fully develop and contribute to India’s growth.

Girls have an especially difficult time accessing life-saving resources, information and social networks in their daily life.  Access to programmes specifically tailored to the needs of girls – with a focus on education and developing life skills, ending violence and incorporating the needs and contributions of girls from vulnerable groups, including those with disabilities, can strengthen the resilience of millions of girls. Long-term solutions designed with and for girls can further strengthen this resilience and be a pathway of transformational and lifelong opportunity for girls.

All girls, especially adolescent girls, need platforms to voice the challenges they face in everyday life and explore the solutions that work for them so they can build better futures for themselves and their communities.

UNICEF India’s 2018-2022 Country Programme has been developed in response to the identification of deprivations that Indian children face, including gender based deprivations. Each programmatic outcome is committed to a gender priority that is noted explicitly in its programme, budget and results. These include:  

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In addition, three cross-cutting themes will support all outcomes: 

Strategic partnerships  

Key partners include the Ministry of Women and Child Development, especially its leadership of the Beti Bachao Beti Padao Programme, which UNICEF India is supporting at the national and state level. UNICEF India works closely with other UN agencies to support gender equality, especially with United Nations Population Fund and UN Women. Civil society organizations, including gender experts and activities are also key partners.  

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Research Paper on Gender Inequality in the Workforce in India essay

India demonstrates significant economy growth that contrary to universal norms results in lower female labor force participation. The issue is a deep-rooted problem, which is aggravated by a wide range of factors, the major of which are social norms and insufficient level of training and information on job opportunities. Despite the presence of these constraints, the paper suggests that there is a scope of possible measures, which can be implemented by the government to overcome the problem and mitigate its consequences. It is recommended to create a publicly available system of a more effective job search by increasing the availability of information about job opportunities. The strategies provided in the paper will help strengthen the country’s economic growth and increase the living standard. Further study should focus on understanding how to ensure that Indian women are provided with complete information about suitable jobs and establish a regular collection of the latest labor market data.

Introduction and Thesis

Low female labor force participation in India is a neglected and deep-rooted problem, which is aggravated by a wide range of factors. Despite the presence of these constraints, the paper suggests that there is a scope of possible measures, which can be implemented by the government to overcome the problem and mitigate its consequences. As a result, the strategies provided in the paper, will help strengthen the country’s economic growth and increase the living standard.

Background of the Problem

Developing effective strategies and measures to eliminate the issue requires identification of the current trends and reasons that affect the unique situation prevailing in the Indian labor market. The male part of the population demonstrates a significantly higher involvement in the labor market, which is 96% compared to the female half of India with 27% (Klasen & Pieters, 2015). The unemployment rate is the highest among urban women in India, amounting to 6.56% compared to 2.92% among rural women (Fletcher at al., 2017). The unemployment rate among Indian men is significantly lower, 2.11% and 3.24% in rural and urban areas, respectively (Fletcher at al., 2017). 76% of women in urban areas report their primary activities as domestic work, compared with 67% in rural areas (Fletcher at al., 2017). Women working in the informal sectors are usually unskilled, poorly educated and more vulnerable, and are considered a cheap source of labor, representing the most marginal workers (Lama & Majumder, 2018). Approximately 95% of Indian women aged 25 years and older are married (Fletcher, Pande, & Moore, 2017). This fact directly affects labor force participation, leading to a decline of the rate.

The observed situation is the result of the influence of a wide spectrum of social and legal forces, which hinder female workforce participation. The survey results demonstrate that about 50% of educated women in rural India are willing to become a part of a labor market, which demonstrates that the problem’s roots are external (Kapsos, Silberman, & Bourmpala, 2014). The literature suggests that the most notable constraints are social norms, insufficient level of training and information on job opportunities, and a lack of access to part-time work.

The main constraints are the traditional Indian gender norms, which provide for isolation of women from communicating with outside men and restriction of mobility outside homes (Pande & Moore, 2015). The situation is aggravated in rural areas, where men usually do not allow their women to leave the village for training and subsequent employment (Pande & Moore, 2015). It is not profitable for job trainers to educate such women, since there is a high probability that they will refuse to be employed in the future due to the lack of permission from their husbands (Pande & Moore, 2015). In the urban environment, the situation with the remoteness of jobs is simpler, but women experience difficulties due to the convection of power among the male in organizations.

Important causes of the problem are the lack of information about opportunities to return to work after the birth of a child (Fletcher at al., 2017). Klasen and Pieters (2012) found that urban women participation in the labor force at lower levels of education is dictated by economic necessity, and there is a pull factor for highly educated women entering the labor force. The level of education of a spouse has a greater negative impact than a positive effect on raising the level of education of women (Fletcher at al., 2017). Statistics show a decrease in women’s participation in the labor market by 1 percentage point in response to each additional year of male studies (Fletcher at al., 2017). There is negative impact of the emergence of the middle class and the growth of household income on Indian female participation in the workforce.

The present section provides evidence from academic literature on the presence of possible measures, which can be implemented by the government to overcome the problem. Combined with restrictive social norms, lack of information can significantly reduce women’s involvement in the labor market (Fletcher at al., 2017). Research results demonstrate the need to expand women access to information on job availability and opportunities of return to work after the birth of a child. Studies show that information obtained through active hiring or family bonding can affect women’s work and family outcomes (Jensen, 2012). An example of the effectiveness of this method is data on active recruitment of women in the business process outsourcing sector, which increased FLFP in the labor market by 2.4% (Jensen, 2012).

As a next step, it is recommended to stimulate the introduction of programs to improve the level of professional education of women and overcome job mismatch. This method can be extremely effective, as statistics proves that women with vocational education have more chances to work than women without education (Fletcher at al., 2017). Business training increases the likelihood that women will borrow for self-employment (Field, Jayachandran, Pande, Mel, & Mckenzie, 2013). Research data demonstrates that visits to job recruiters in villages to provide information to young women have had a positive impact on their participation in the labor market and enrollment for vocational training (Fletcher at al., 2017). Young women aged 18 to 24 years from villages attended by a recruiter were 2.4% more likely to work outside the home than young women from villages without a recruiting presence (Jensen, 2012). Young women from villages with recruiters were 2.8% more likely to attend computer or English courses, 5% were more likely to go to school and improved their nutrition level (Jensen, 2012).

In rural areas, where travelling to work is difficult due to long distances and poor road quality, proximity to workplaces is an important constraint (Fletcher at al., 2017). Therefore, an important element of the strategy for increasing women’s involvement in the labor market will be improving infrastructure and improving the quality of public transport. Most investigations incorporate wages as a key driver of female work supply (Heckman & MaCurdy, 1980). The Sri Lankan precedent shows that business preparing in addition to money stipends were progressively viable in expanding the benefit of ladies claimed organizations (De Mel, McKenzie, & Woodruff, 2014).

Discriminatory policies in the form of legal barriers to women’s employment have a direct impact on the involvement of women in the labor market. It is necessary to eliminate or reduce such existing restrictions on working time or differences in qualifications. Gupta (2014) shows that the reduction of trade barriers in India has actually reduced women’s employment. Although studies do not prove that these effects are directly related to discriminatory policies, factory laws that prohibit women from working in certain shifts are a likely culprit (Fletcher at al., 2017). It is recommended to stimulate equality enhancing laws. Such an intense impact of margins on labor force participation can improve the results for self-employed women by increasing income or gains from self-employment.

One more measure stipulates implementation of quotas, stimulating the number of female leaders. Women in spheres with women leaders were 39–52% more likely to start entrepreneurial activities than women in areas without leaders (Fletcher at al., 2017). The number of man-days worked in the program was higher by 6% in areas where quotas were set (Fletcher at al., 2017). In India, in professional sectors, where there has been a dramatic expansion and where working conditions are clearly good, women have achieved very good results. One example is financial services where only one in 10 Indian companies is headed by women, but more than half of them work in the financial sector (Fletcher at al., 2017). Today, women are headed by leading state and private banks in India. Another example is the aviation sector of India, which from the very beginning has positioned itself as a profession friendly to women. Nowadays, almost 12% of India’s 5,100 pilots are women, against 3% globally (Pande & Moore, 2015).

It is important to stimulate entrepreneurial activity in the country. A scope of researches centers around the job of female entrepreneurial movement in India. The authors Ghani, Kerr, and O’Connell (2012) conducted a detailed research of female business in India in the assembling and administrations segments. That paper finds that sufficient foundation and instruction levels anticipate higher female entry (Ghani at al., 2012). The data states that there are solid agglomeration impacts in both assembling and administrations segments. There are higher female possession among officeholder organizations inside an area industry pair predicts a more prominent offer of resulting business visionaries will be female (Ghani at al., 2012). Larger amounts of female pioneering action thusly have been related with more grounded financial development. Measurements demonstrate that the proportion of female to male laborers is directly associated with both development and expectations for everyday comforts (Das, Jain-Chandra, Kochhar, & Kumar, 2015). The listed measures and evidence of their effectiveness will allow the state and public organizations to develop a comprehensive strategy to solve the problem.

The study of relevant academic literature led to the conclusion that the problem of low involvement of the female population of India in the labor market can be mitigated by a number of measures and strategies. It is recommended to create a publicly available system of a more effective job search by increasing the availability of information about job opportunities. It is necessary to stimulate full employment for young and unmarried women and provide more opportunities for group training for women. The adoption of these programs will be stimulated by attracting industry investments, which will increase the level of wages and serve as a factor in attracting women to the workforce thus improving gender equality.

These promising areas require further study, which should focus on understanding how to ensure that Indian women are provided with complete information about suitable jobs. It is necessary to establish a regular collection of the latest labor market data and conduct surveys of the Indian population to identify further behavioral factors. More research is needed to better understand how women can get the maximum benefit from future government investment in education and training.

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Achieving Gender Equality in India: What Works, and What Doesn’t

Governance , Gender , Culture & Religions

Smriti Sharma

Achieving Gender Equality in India: What Works, and What Doesn’t

Photo: Anoo Bhuyan / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Discrimination against women and girls is a pervasive and long-running phenomenon that characterises Indian society at every level.

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 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%. The male-female wage gap has been stagnant at 50% (a recent survey finds a 27% gender pay gap in white-collar jobs).

Crimes against women show an upward trend , in particular brutal crimes such as rapes, dowry deaths, and honour killings. These trends are disturbing, as a natural prediction would be that with growth comes education and prosperity, and a possible decline in adherence to traditional institutions and socially prescribed gender roles that hold women back.

A preference for sons

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 central role in perpetuating gender inequality and ideas about gender-appropriate behaviour.

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.

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 payment, which is often a substantial part of a household’s income, has been steadily rising over time across all regions and socioeconomic classes.

This often results in dowry-related violence against women by their husbands and in-laws if the dowry is considered insufficient or as a way to demand more payments.

These practices create incentives for parents not to have girl children or to invest less in girls’ health and education. Such parental preferences are reflected in increasingly masculine sex ratios in India . In 2011, there were 919 girls under age six per 1000 boys, despite sex determination being outlawed in India.

This reinforces the inferior status of Indian women and puts them at risk of violence in their marital households. 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.

Affirmative action

There is clearly a need for policy initiatives to empower women as gender disparities in India persist even against the backdrop of economic growth.

Current literature provides pointers from policy changes that have worked so far. One unique policy experiment in village-level governance that mandated one-third representation for women in positions of local leadership has shown promising results .

Evaluations of this affirmative action policy have found that in villages led by women, the preferences of female residents are better represented, and women are more confident in reporting crimes that earlier they may have considered too stigmatising to bring to attention.

Female leaders also serve as role models and raise educational and career aspirations for adolescent girls and their parents .

Behavioural studies find that while in the short run there is backlash by men as traditional gender roles are being challenged, the negative stereotype eventually disappears . This underscores the importance of sustained affirmative action as a way to reduce gender bias.

Another policy change aimed at equalising land inheritance rights between sons and daughters has been met with a more mixed response . While on the one hand, it led to an increase in educational attainment and age at marriage for daughters, on the other hand, it increased spousal conflict leading to more domestic violence.

Improvements in labour market prospects also have the potential to empower women. An influential randomisation study found that job recruiter visits to villages to provide information to young women led to positive effects on their labour market participation and enrolment in professional training.

This also led to an increase in age at marriage and childbearing, a drop in desired number of children, and an increase in school enrolment of younger girls not exposed to the programme.

Recent initiatives on training and recruiting young women from rural areas for factory-based jobs in cities provide economic independence and social autonomy that they were unaccustomed to in their parental homes.

Getting to parity

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.

While increasing 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.

Educating Indian children from an early age about the importance of gender equality could be a meaningful start in that direction.

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