In Focus: Why Is It Important to Bridge the Gender Inequality Gap in India

The Global Gender Gap Index of 2022[1], released by the World Economic Forum, in July placed India at the 135th position out of 146 countries. Contrastingly, in 2021, India was placed in the 140th position out of 156 countries. The Global Gender Gap Index benchmarks the current state and evolution of gender parity across four areas of concern- economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival, and political empowerment. At present, India fares the worst in the health and survival category.

Discrimination affects many aspects of the lives of women, from career development and progress to mental health disorders. While Indian laws on rape, dowry and adultery have women’s safety at heart, these highly discriminatory practices are still taking place at an alarming rate.

What is Gender Inequality?

Gender inequality is a social phenomenon in which men and women are not treated equally. The treatment may arise from distinctions regarding biology, psychology, or cultural norms prevalent in society. Some of these distinctions are empirically grounded, while others appear to be social constructs. It has serious and long-lasting consequences for women and other marginalised genders. Exposure to violence, objectification, discrimination and socioeconomic inequality can lead to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and PTSD. Gender inequality in education has a direct impact on economic growth by lowering the average quality of human capital. In addition, economic growth is indirectly affected by the impact of gender inequality on investment and population growth.

In many developing countries, the disparity in access to quality education between girls and boys adversely impacts the girls’ ability to build human and social capital, narrowing their job opportunities and reducing their entitled wages in labour markets. Often women and girls are confined to fulfilling roles as mothers, wives, and caretakers. Gender norms position girls as caretakers, which leads to discrimination with respect to the distribution of domestic duties. 47% of the Indian population is female, out of which only 19% of the population actively contributes to the country’s GDP.[2]If India were to bridge this gap, it could expand the GDP by a third by 2050, equating to $6 trillion.

Rural households that are headed by women suffer more from poverty than those headed by men. Social and cultural barriers, a lack of kindergartens, as well as the burden of unpaid housework, prevent women from developing their skills and from generating an income.

Within the context of population and development programs, gender equality is critical because it will enable women and men to make decisions that impact more positively on their own sexual and reproductive health as well as that of their spouses and families.

 

Gender Inequality in the Workplace

Men and women alike may face issues regarding gender inequality in the workplace, although women typically deal with it more often than men. Gender inequality occurs in the workplace due to traditional gender roles and persistent gender bias. Traditional gender roles may be indicative of how much extra time and effort an individual can put into their jobs since employees are usually expected to go above and beyond to prove their worth. There are gender biases that may inadvertently give the advantage to one gender over the other in the workplace, such as the idea that men have more physical capability or that women are better in nurturing roles.

Gender equality in the workplace is very important for one to grow and develop a business.

When a business proactively takes steps to resolve gender discrimination, it automatically enables them to increase productivity, alleviate conflict, and reduce the chances of legal issues. Gender equality is the key to capturing skills, ideas and perspectives that each gender has to offer. People prefer to work at companies that prioritise equality, diversity, and inclusion. Gender inclusion in the workplace varies depending on the business. However, excluding an individual from team projects, company outings, meetings and necessary decision-making because of gender falls within the realm of gender inequality. When an individual is not included in tasks or events, it can prevent them from becoming productive workers.

Gender equality in the workplace means employees of all genders have access to the same rewards, opportunities, and resources at a company, including:

  • Each gender can fully participate in the workplace.
  • Equal opportunities for each gender for promotions, and career progression to achieve leadership positions.
  • Equal pay and benefits for equal work.
  • Equal consideration of needs.
  • Acceptance rather than discrimination against those who have caregiving and family responsibilities.

There are several benefits for companies who maintain gender equality in the workplace, including the following:

  • Positive company culture A gender-equal work environment where all employees feel respected and valued creates an overall more positive workplace for all your employees. When you have a gender-diverse environment, your employees will likely notice that their co-workers have talents and strengths they don’t possess themselves. The appreciation for these differences will help promote an environment of respect among the team.
  • More innovation and creativity People of different genders bring unique talents, strengths and skills into the workplace, which can improve collaboration and result in a stimulating and creative environment. In fact, companies often find that gender diversity can lead to greater innovation within the workplace.
  • Build a great reputation – By promoting gender equality in the workplace, a business can foster a great company reputation with the outside world. People who have similar values will want to work for them, and with happy employees, the business will have a positive and productive workforce.
  • Improved conflict resolution – Strong communication skills among employees are essential for company-wide success. People of different genders naturally communicate differently, with some preferring to communicate problems directly and others working as peacemakers. When you combine these different communication styles in one work environment, you can more easily achieve conflict resolution.

 

The Legal View

A look at some of the decisions court has taken over the years, championing women’s rights in the workplace, at home, and in public spaces to give women their due:

 

Daughters’ Rights in Hindu Undivided Family Property (HUF)

A landmark judgment in protecting women’s rights in the context of the family is the SC judgment in Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma (August 2020) where the court held that daughters would have equal coparcenary rights in Hindu Undivided Family property (HUF) by virtue of their birth and could not be excluded from inheritance, irrespective of whether they were born before the 2005 amendment to the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.

Before the 2005 amendment, there was marked discrimination in determining the rights of a son and daughter in claiming the inheritance. A son could claim a share in HUF property “as a matter of right,” however, a daughter did not have any rights after marriage as she was considered to be a part of her husband’s family. Even after the amendment, judgments of various courts and the Supreme Court itself in Prakash v. Phulvati (2016) held that a daughter could be eligible to be a co-sharer only if the daughter and the father were alive as of September 9, 2005 (the date of the amendment). The Supreme Court, by virtue of the Vineeta Sharma judgment, extended the benefit of the 2005 amendment and legitimised the position of women as an integral part of their father’s families.

 

Protection at the Workplace

The court has also sought to provide for the safety of women in the workplace by protecting them from sexual harassment. In the case of Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan [1997 AIR 3011 (SC)], the court framed detailed guidelines for employers to follow to provide for a mechanism to redress the grievances of their female employees. The court felt the need to develop guidelines to “check the evil of sexual harassment of working women at all workplaces” in the “absence of domestic law occupying the field.” These guidelines were eventually formalised as legislation with the passing of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, a vital law to protect millions of women who enter the country’s workforce every year.

 

Participation in Defence

The Supreme Court also held in its 2021 judgement in the case of The Secretary, Ministry of Defence v. Babita Puniya & Ors. that all women army officers are eligible for permanent commissions, allowing them to be in commanding roles in the defence forces. Women officers are now on par with their male counterparts when it comes to promotions, rank, benefits and pensions, thereby fortifying their position in the defence sector, an institution with rigid gender norms.

The court also slammed the Indian Army on August 18, 2021, for disallowing women to appear in National Defence Academy (NDA) examinations. The Supreme Court ordered that women can also sit for National Defence Academy (NDA) examinations. It allowed women candidates to take the examination and said the army’s policy for women was based on “gender discrimination.” The Supreme Court told the Centre that women candidates must be allowed to sit for the entrance exam to the National Defence Academy in November 2021. It cannot defer for one year. Further, medical standards should be tentatively notified and UPSC to issue a corrected notification for the November exam.

 

Acid attack

The Supreme Court, in the case of Laxmi v. Union of India (2014), a PIL brought about by Laxmi, an acid attack survivor, issued guidelines for the welfare of acid attack survivors, besides imposing a country-wide restriction on the sale of acid and compensation to the victims. The judgement led to an amendment in the criminal law, making acid attacks a specific offence and framing a victim compensation scheme for the survivors.

 

Triple Talaq

In the case of Shayra Bano v Union of India [2017 SCC 963 (SC)], the court declared that the practice of instant triple talaq (talaq-e-bidat) is against the basic tenets of the Quran. Talaq-e-bidat is a practice that gives a man the right to divorce his wife by uttering ‘talaq’ three times in one sitting, without his wife’s consent. The court directed the Centre to pass legislation in this regard, which led to the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights of Marriage) Act, 2019. As per the Act, any Muslim husband who pronounces triple talaq on his wife shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend up to three years and a fine. The judgement also saw a heartening departure from the conservative approach taken by the court in Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum (1985). The court also departed from its traditional reluctance to issue judgments in matters of faith while passing its verdict in the Sabrimala (2019) issue. The court held that devotion cannot be subjected to gender discrimination and permitted the entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala Temple despite a centuries-old custom banning the entry of menstruating women.

The expanding sphere of women in civil society, politics and the armed forces in India has been marshalled and punctuated by various judgments of the court. These judgements have slowly but surely chipped away at some of the anachronistic customs and norms that have long kept women on the sidelines and have paved the way for the executive and the legislature to take up steps to uphold women’s rights in the country.

As the importance of women’s rights in the public and private spheres continue to grow, it is imperative that the law too continues to evolve, accommodating their aspirations and desires.

In March, 2021, in the case of Lt. Col. Nitisha and Ors. v. Union of India, the Supreme Court issued a judgement declaring that the Army’s criteria on Permanent Commissions indirectly discriminated against women. In this case, 86 Army officers had approached the SC alleging gender-based discrimination in the Indian Army. The army officers were women who had a Short Service Commission (SSC) and were applying for a Permanent Commission (PC) in the army. Although the criteria adopted to select women PC officers were nearly identical to the ones used for men, some sub-criteria imposed an unfair burden on women. The Court held that the Army’s criteria indirectly discriminated against women officers. The Bench stated that invisible forms of discrimination must be eliminated to achieve substantive equality.

 

SC Gets Three New Women Judges

On October 31, 2021, nine new Chief Justices were appointed by the Supreme Court. Out of the total, three are female judges, a first in the Indian judicial appointments history. This decision was historic because for the first time these many women judges have been appointed and another reason was for the first-time camera was allowed inside the swearing-in room. The newly appointed judges are Justices Hima Kohli, BV Nagarathna and Bela M. Trivedi. Justice Nagarathna is going to be the first female Chief Justice of India in 2027.

 

Conclusion

 

According to Swami Vivekananda, “That nation which doesn’t respect women will never become great now and nor will it ever in the future.” A concerted effort and the support of everyone can and shall pave the way for a truly equal society.

However, skewered gender roles do not provide enough opportunities to improve access to education for women. As a first step, actively breaking the gender bias on the domestic front is the key. Only when women are seen as more than caregivers and housekeepers, will their individuality and potential be truly respected. In this mission, parents play a crucial role, they should teach their child to be respectful towards all genders and refrain from typecasting genders into specific roles. Many other developmental schemes and initiatives for improving the status of women havealso been implemented, but the law and the judiciary can only extend assistance to a certain limit. Real change will only ensue when we as a community and society take conscious initiatives to break the age-old biased practices embedded in our culture.

Skewered gender roles do not provide enough opportunities to improve access to education for women. As a first step, actively breaking the gender bias on the domestic front is the key. Only when women shall be seen as more than caregivers and housemakers, will their individuality and potential be truly respected. In this mission, parents play a crucial role, they should teach their children to be respectful towards all genders and refrain from typecasting genders into specific roles. Many developmental schemes and initiatives for improving the status of women also have been implemented, but the law and the judiciary can only extend assistance to a limit. A real change shall only ensue when we as a community and society take conscious initiatives to break the age-old biased practices embedded in our culture.  

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