Are Women in India Empowered Enough?
On 8 March 2019, along with the rest of the world, India too will be celebrating International Women’s Day Lectures, cultural events are routine, while politicians of various party colours will invariably mouth platitudes and clichéd resolutions about the welfare and empowerment of women. But as a student of Economics I have to evaluate how far have women gained from India’s growth story?
Despite a high growth rate and plentiful Government measures to encourage gender equality, the gender gap still exists in India. Lack of gender equality not only limits women’s access to resources and opportunities, but also imperils the life prospects of the future generation. We need women, not just in our boardrooms but on our shop floors, in our factories and on our workstations.
Gender inequality can arise due to gaps in (i) economic participation and opportunities; (ii) educational attainment; (iii) health and survival; and (iv) political empowerment. India’s relative position in the world was low in terms of gender inequality in all the four categories except political empowerment. As per the estimates of 2017 GGGI, India ranked 15th in terms of the gender gap in political empowerment. The progress in gender equality has been slow in all structures of power and types of decision-making, with power still remaining firmly in men’s hands. Indian women represent only 11.8 percent. .
Social mores, rising incomes of men, and gender-based segregation in the job market may be limiting women’s economic empowerment in India. India’s shocking gender gap in the labour force makes us much poorer as a nation, both economically and socially. Men outnumbered women – 934 women for every 1000 men in 1981 and 943 in 2011. The sex-ratio was below 1000 in all the states except Kerala; it was low in some of the developed states such as Haryana and Punjab, and declined in many states over the Census years.
For low-income families, education of girls is unaffordable. The female literacy rate has been lower than men’s; it was 29.8 percent against the male literacy rate of 56.4 percent in 1981, and 65.5 percent against the male literacy rate of 82.1 percent in 2011.Gender disparities, particularly at higher levels of education, are still prevalent and there is considerable concern over the quality of education.
Gender inequality in health outcomes in terms of the infant mortality rate (IMR) is more appalling. The IMR among girls was higher than that among boys with an increasing gap between the two. Gender disparities in IMR in urban India fluctuated widely and remained higher than that of rural India in the past 10 years
The latest round of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) conducted in 2015-16 shows that the proportion of working women has witnessed a sharp decline compared to a decade ago. In 2005-06, when the last NFHS survey was conducted, 43% of married women in the age group of 15-49 years had reported working in the past 12 months. This proportion has declined to 31% in the latest survey. 98% of married men in the same age bracket reported having worked in the last 12 months, the data shows. As per ILO data, in 1991, the unemployment rate of female in India 3.95% and it increased to 4.16% in 2018 (% of female labour force). According to research by a US-based society unemployment rate among women engineers in India is five times higher than that of men.
According to the survey of the National Family Health Survey (NHFS-4), 27 per cent of women have experienced physical violence since the age 15 in India. This experience of physical violence among women is more common in rural areas than among women in urban areas. Domestic violence cases, where women reported physical abuse in rural and urban areas, were at 29 per cent and 23 percent, respectively.
Every industry sector in India employs more men than women. Moreover, the gender gap among Indian professionals is worse than the global average in every sector Three in four employees in high-tech industries are men
For growth to be sustainable and inclusive, the people, irrespective of gender, must have the opportunity to participate productively in the growth process. Drawing more women into the formal labour force, along with creating jobs, relaxing the pressure to get married and enforcing safety measures can be real sources of empowerment. These changes will make for a more productive country, a more empowered country and most certainly a happier/content country. While Women’s Day aims at making women happy for one day, why not aim at making women happier every single day.
Mithilesh Kumar Sinha