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Gender Pay Gap in India : Who’s Responsible?

Gender pay gap refers to the difference in the earnings by men and women employed in the labor market. It has shown its presence in almost all sectors including agriculture, technology, healthcare, caring services, social work etc. The gap is not just a consequence of unequal pay but also of the difference in number of men and women working as paid employees within the labor market. A 2019 data suggests that women earn around 20% less than men in India.

This definition brings us to two structural gender inequalities that prevail within the workforce- occupational segregation and direct discrimination. The former owes to the restrictions on acceptable jobs for women such as drivers, couriers etc. and the fact that women, in general, have a lower Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) in comparison to their male counterparts. That is why they are often relegated to low-paid, low-end jobs in our country. After all a society can never approve of women driving their cars especially when it is busy accusing them of either love or activism, oh and in some cases even murder! Keeping this in mind we need to ask more such pressing questions as to what is the case with women of sports in India? Or without an adequate number of women representatives in politics, how can women centric policies be formulated or even advocated for that matter?

As opposed to what conventional wisdom would tell us, LFPR has shown a downward trend with an increase in overall economic growth and education of Indian women. One of the reasons for the same is that some women choose to marry into rich families and focus on domestic chores, not because they lack ambition but because they have been fed the idea of an ideal ‘Grehini’ or ‘housewife’ since their birth. Even the most ‘progressive’ families would not lag behind in teaching their daughters the sanskaar of sacrifice and compromise. It might not be necessary that this teaching takes place in a conscious manner but we must accept that since our childhood we have subconsciously assimilated gender roles in tandem with the power dynamics that operate within our own families.

A not so female friendly infrastructure at our disposal just adds on to the problem- lack of safe transport facilities, fear of violence and harassment, mobility restrictions imposed by family etc. One can argue that women are the most unsafe within the four walls of their own homes but the credibility of this contested statement lies outside the scope of this article.

We can only imagine the scenario when a woman, having limited agency within her own family, gets married. The patrilocal concept of marriage only further reduces her autonomy over her life. Have we all not heard or read cases of women ultimately bearing the wrath of the evil practice that dowry is? Let’s not forget that women in our country still get tortured and even killed when it comes to dowry affairs. Even if this doesn’t link directly to the socio-economic aspects of labor market in focus here, it certainly paints a picture describing the vulnerable condition of women in India outside the work space.

All these factors and many more such combined lead to the lower labor force participation rate mentioned earlier.
Apart from occupational segregation, the other form of inequality that persists on-the-job is direct discrimination. This owes to disparities causing women being paid less for doing the same amount of work as men. We are into the third decade of twenty first century but the prejudices pertaining to working women are still deeply ingrained in people’s minds. A survey by ‘Women of India Inc’ revealed such stereotypes that have a great influence over workplace treatment faced by women.

It says that 47% of women feel discriminated due to the widespread opinion that once married, they won’t be devoting as much to the work or that they will quit after maternity leave or that they are not as efficient as men. Certain workplace protections such as parental leave make it easier for women to get and keep jobs. The Maternity Benefit Act was a step in right direction but since it places the cost burden on the employers, the act does more harm than benefit by accentuating gender bias in the hiring process.
Now it would seem that as the level of education rises, this pay gap would narrow down.

However, monster salary index would tell you otherwise. The gap is highest at the top management roles. The gender gap follows an upward trend in the formal sector-it rises with an increase in employment years or experience. For the formal sector, this gap is still measurable but that is not the case with unorganized sector which routinely underpays women. Burdened with familial responsibilities, women anyway get lesser employment opportunities, and when they do, the remuneration is not worth the effort. Even though certain acts were passed in order to curb these differences such as Equal Remuneration Act, their effectiveness is again questionable since the informal economy is anyway left out of the purview of labor legislation and as for the formal economy, monster salary index is enough to get an idea of the ground reality.

Maria Mies, a sociologist and feminist author had stated that women lie at the lowest rungs of what she refers to as an iceberg economy. She says that the mainstream understanding of our economy only talks of the tip of the iceberg, namely capital and wage labor. The whole base on which this tip sustains, i.e., women’s unpaid housework, caring or nurturing work is unaccounted for. This process of devaluing a women’s work was later known as housewifisation. This is where the root cause of our argument lies. The sexual division of labor within households births the dominant theories which time and again doubt a woman’s intellectual capacity when it comes to matters as decision-making prowess.

If we look closer, this economy is in a way just a bigger and more nuanced structure mirroring an average individual household. What happens inside the closed doors of all of our homes, is reflected onto how the bigger structure operates.

A report by World Bank states that a lot of countries still have laws that make it difficult for women to work. Such restrictions on women’s legal capacity affects their decision making ability at the workplace as well. We need to question the policies adopted in this regard and the major flaws in their very design. For instance, property purchased in a wife’s name in India comes with certain tax benefits and relaxations. But does this mean that she actually has a say in these matters? Or is it just a sham in order to avail these benefits? Can we even expect a wife to contribute in financial decisions of her family in a country where marital rape is not illegal?

What we need is major structural adjustments not only within the corporate sector but also within our homes and minds without which a change is not feasible. When women can’t decide for themselves where they want to go, who they want to marry or how they wish to live their lives, how do we expect them to take business decisions and that too confidently?

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