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Muqbil Ahmar

Muqbil Ahmar writes on culture and poetry. He is a writer and theater activist, who wants to bring about harmony and amicability in the present day society. Music, poetry and good food are his passions.

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Gender Pay Gap in India: Time to Bridge It Up

Besides unequal payment, women suffer from unequal representation—women constitute half of the Indian population—yet they account for one-fourth of labor force.

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Gender pay gap in India was estimated as 24.81% for 2013. A report by the World Economic Forum says women working in India’s corporate sector are paid one-third of a man in similar position. The study also ranks the country as one of bottom ten countries in workforce participation. Besides unequal payment, women suffer from unequal representation—women constitute half of the Indian population—yet they account for one-fourth of labor force. Despite seen as an emerging economy of the 21st century, India is highly unequal in gender pay disparities—it ranks a lowly 87 out 144 countries in World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap report.

Although the principle of equal pay for equal work was visualized as harbinger of gender justice at workplace, it has done little to overcome glaring pay disparities in India. It is reduced to a jurisprudential principle that frequently sees use in service disputes involving the government and employees. It was envisioned as a hefty piece of legislation to protect women’s rights; however, the legislation has done little to further the greater principle for Indian female workers, who find themselves at the mercy of employers and frequently abandoned by the State.

The disparities are greater in traditional occupations like agriculture—which is still one of the largest employers in the Indian economy. In rural north India, labor force is divided according to gender and in which certain agricultural activities are assigned to women, including drying and storing of grain, while other tasks like plowing and harvesting are reserved for men only. About 94% of working females are in the unorganized labor sector—this further complicates matters, making them susceptible to unequal treatment and works to exacerbate the existing pay gaps. Since childcare is considered primarily as a woman’s responsibility, they are often compelled into part-time jobs or take long breaks to take care of children. Returning after the break, women are paid lower wages than their male colleagues. Moreover, even if women do not have children, they are subject to pay discrimination even as they are viewed as potential mothers, needing a break in future.

Upper caste women find it more difficult to obtain work
Although cultural as well as social norms vary in states within India, a study observed women mostly excluded from paid labor market. Additionally, higher castes women find it more difficult to get paid work, even in cases where their survival depended on it. Actually, if upper caste women sought gainful employment, they will be forced to give up property rights or in worse circumstances be forced to leave their villages. Paid work is just not a feasible option open to them due to the existence of restrictive social norms.

Government schemes such as MNREGA bridge the pay gap
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the flagship UPA program, played a big role in enhancing India’s rural women’s participation in workforce and ensuring that the principle of equal pay for equal work was implemented. Its goal: “no discrimination on the basis of gender in payment of wages”, led to a positive impact on gender pay disparities in rural parts of the country.

Consequently, female participation in MNREGA registered greater than 33%. Features like female involvement in social audit process, equal wages, predictable working hours, work sites within manageable distances as well as direct payment of wages to bank accounts helped women claim what has always been rightfully theirs and that usually got diluted. Additionally, benchmarking payments with respect to the MNREGA minimum wage as well as transferring the payment online to individual bank accounts made women independent of their husbands.

Pay parity for women helps the entire country and economy
If research were to be believed, rise in female labor participation rate benefits the entire economy. Besides potential GDP growth, equal employment opportunities together with pay parity for women would also result in enhanced growth and productivity, even in private sector. In fact, if women’s work inside their homes is assessed, according to a McKinsey study, it could contribute 0.3 trillion dollars to India’s total economic output. It’s time women got their due.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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