Gender inequality in India

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Gender inequality in India refers to socially constructed differences between men and women in India that systematically empower one group to the detriment of the other.[1] Gender inequalities include unequal rights, responsibilities, and opportunities for Indian women and translate to poor health status, educational attainment, and economic status compared to men. Most notably, is the lack of opportunity for many girls to be born due to sex-selective abortions and shorter lifespans due to neglect as evidenced in India's highly skewed child sex ratio (under age 6) of 919 girls per 1,000 boys.[2][3][4] Despite gains in economic development, India performs poorly on global measures of gender inequality and in 2012, fell behind all other Asian countries except Afghanistan on the UNDP Gender Inequality Index, ranking 132nd out of 148 countries.[5] Women in India are at a particular disadvantage due to gender based violence and limited access to resources.[6] Gender inequality in India is a multifaceted issue that concerns men and women alike. Some argue that some gender equality measures, place men at a disadvantage. However, when India’s population is examined as a whole, women are at a disadvantage in several important ways.

Global rankings[edit]

India's Global Rank on Selected Gender Inequality Indices

Despite gains in economic development, India performs worse in equality measures than other countries with similar economies. As such, it has been deemed 'One of the worst countries for women' by the Times of India.[7] According to the Global Gender Gap Report released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2011, India was ranked 113 on the Gender Gap Index (GGI) among 135 countries polled.[8] Since then, India has improved its rankings on the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index (GGI) to 105/136 in 2013.[9] When broken down into components of the GGI, India performs very well on political empowerment, with a rank of 9 and score of 0.4, but is contrasted by its poor health and survival ranking of 135 out of 136 with a score of 0.9. On the OECD's new Social Institutions Gender Index (SIGI), India ranked 56th out of 86 in 2012, which was an improvement from its 2009 rank of 96th out of 102. The SIGI is a measure of discriminatory social institutions that are drivers of inequalities, rather than the unequal outcomes themselves.[10] It is important to note that no country in the world has achieved gender equality, but some have made more progress than others.[11]

Cultural context[edit]

Underlying causes of gender inequality lie with prevailing cultural beliefs and gender norms that promote the devaluation of women and social domination of men.[12] Amartya Sen, famed Indian economist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, highlighted the need to understand the socio-cultural forces that promote gender inequalities and result in poorer health outcomes for women.[3] In India, such cultural forces result in immense pressure to produce sons. Social structures are in place that favour sons for reasons related to kinship, inheritance, marriage, status, and economic security. These cultural factors cut across class and caste lines and result in discrimination of girls and women.[13] The power of cultural inequalities is evident in the extreme case of honour killings where families kill daughters or daughter in laws who fail to conform to gender expectations about marriage and sexuality.[14] When a women does not conform to expected gender norms she is shamed and humiliated because it impacts both her and her family’s honor, and perhaps her ability to marry. The causes of gender inequalities are complex, but a number of cultural factors in India can explain how son preference, a key driver of daughter neglect, is so prevalent.[4][15][16]

Patriarchal society[edit]

Patriarchy is a social system of privilege in which men are the primary authority figures, occupying roles of political leadership, moral authority, control of property, and authority over women and children. Most of India, with some exceptions, has strong patriarchal and patrilineal customs, where men hold authority over female family members and inherit family property and title. Examples of patriarchy in India include prevailing customs where inheritance passes from father to son, women move in with the husband and his family upon marriage, and marriages include a bride price or dowry. This 'inter-generational contract' provides strong social and economic incentives for raising sons and disincentives for raising daughters.[17] The parents of the woman essentially lose all they have invested in their daughter to her husband's family, which is a disincentive for investing in their girls during youth. Furthermore, sons are expected to support their parents in old age and women have very limited ability to assist their own parents.[18] Consequences of patriarchy on gender equality include restricted mobility and opportunities for women and girls as well as an increased responsibility for women and girls to uphold the family honor. In highly patriarchal societies like India, parents describe how family honour and a girl's reputation are more important than achieving gender equality. They believe it is in their daughter's best interest to be modest and behave conservatively because it is what husbands prefer and thus ensures a happier marriage.[11]

Son preference[edit]

See also: Son preference sections in Sex selection and Health disparities

A key factor driving gender inequality is the preference for sons, as they are deemed more useful than girls. Boys are given the exclusive rights to inherit the family name and properties and they are viewed as additional status for their family. They are also believed to have a higher economic utility as they can provide additional labour in agriculture. Another factor is that of religious practices, which can only be performed by males for their parents' afterlife. All these factors make sons more desirable. Moreover, the prospect of parents ‘losing’ daughters to the husband’s family and expensive dowry of daughters further discourages parents from having daughters.[19][20] Additionally, sons are often the only person entitled to performing funeral rights for their parents.[21] Thus, a combination of factors has shaped the imbalanced view of sexes in India. A 2005 study in Madurai, India, found that old age security, economic motivation, and to a lesser extent, religious obligations, continuation of the family name, and help in business or farm, were key reasons for son preference. In turn, emotional support and old age security were main reasons for daughter preference. The study underscored a strong belief that a daughter is a liability.[22]

Discrimination against girls[edit]

Discrimination against female children has been a topic of debate. It has been a subject of concern and sociological significance. This subject raises the cultural aspects about the role of a female child in society, what her human rights are as a human being and a number of sensitive issues.This issue is important because there is nearly universal consensus on the need for gender equality.[23] Gender based discrimination against female children is pervasive across the world. It is seen in all the strata of society and manifests in various forms.[24] As per the literature, the female child has been treated inferior to male child, and this is deeply engraved in her mind. Some argue that due to this inferior treatment, the females fail to understand their rights. This is more predominant in India as well as other lesser developed countries.[25]

Dowry[edit]

Dowry death rates per 100,000 people map for Indian States and Union Territories in 2012.

In India, dowry is the payment in cash or some kind of gifts given to bridegroom's family along with the bride. The practice is widespread across geographic region, class and religions.[26] The dowry system in India contributes to gender inequalities by influencing the perception that girls are a burden on families. Such beliefs limit the resources invested by parents in their girls and limits her bargaining power within the family. It also contributes to dowry-related domestic violence, suicides and dowry deaths. However, many cases of dowry-related domestic violence, suicides and murders have still been reported.[27] Dowry is more common in northern India and generally includes moveable goods to help set up a home. In the south, bride price, where the groom’s family gives goods or land is more common due to differences in kinship patterns. Brides in the south are more likely to marry close family relations while women in the north are in patri-local marriages, where she moves farther away to live with the husband’s family. The payment of a dowry has been prohibited under The 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act in Indian civil law and subsequently by Sections 304B and 498a of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).[28] Several studies show that while attitudes of people are changing about dowry, the institution has changed very little, and even continues to prevail.[4][29]

Marriage laws[edit]

Men and women have equal rights within marriage under Indian law, with the exception of Muslim men who are allowed to unilaterally divorce their wife, but informal customs tend to afford women less power the marriage and deem the father as the ‘natural’ head of the household.[25] The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for women and 21 for men.[25] However, in 2005, 27.6% of girls age 15-19 are married, divorced, or widowed.[30] Nearly 2% of married women are co-wives.[31]

Stigma of unmarried women and widows[edit]

Tribal widow and single women protesting for their rights in Jawahar, Maharashtra India. photo by KamliBai Jawaharalt

Indian women tend to be valued by society in relation to their role in the family, namely as a wife, daughter-in-law, and mother. Women who fall outside of these roles, such as widows and single women, face discrimination and in many cases, loss of property. Since a woman is considered incomplete without being married, a strong social stigma exists for unmarried adult women, widows, and divorcees. A divorced woman's children also face social stigma.[32] In some cases, widows are expected to dress as girls as they are considered to be a woman child. Meanwhile, widowers (men) do not face the same stigma and social code allows for men to remarry.[33] The strength of the belief that women are not complete without a husband is seen in the historical practice of sati, where widows would commit self-immolation on the funeral pyre of their husband.[33]

Types of gender inequality[edit]

Main article: Capability approach

Gender inequalities can be examined in terms of outcomes, or 'functioning' and inputs and opportunities, or 'capabilities'. Martha Nussbaum provides us with a capabilities framework from which to assess gender inequalities. By considering capabilities, and functionings, we get a more complete picture of gender inequality.[34] Nussbaum argues that there are capabilities that are central to human life and conditions required for assuring that individuals are afforded dignity. The list includes life - being able to live a full life, bodily health, bodily integrity, or freedom to move freely without threat of violence, freedom of thought, emotional freedom - to love and have attachments, practical reason to plan one's own life, affiliation - to be able to socialize, speak freely, and to be protected from discrimination, the ability to interact and live with concern for the environment, the opportunity to play and recreate, and control over one's environment through political participation and right to property and employment on an equal basis with others. The types of gender inequalities listed here include most of these capabilities. Autonomy, or Amartya Sen's concept of 'agency',(the ability of a person to participate freely in economic, social, and political actions) is a cross-cutting issue in the list below.

Health and Survival[edit]

Some of the greatest examples of gender inequality in India are with health and survival measures of the population.[9]

Mortality and natality inequality[edit]

Despite a biological advantage over men for longevity and survival; however, in spite of this there are more men in India than women.[24][35][36] India has a low sex ratio, the chief reason being that many women are never born and those who are die prematurely due to discrimination.[37] This has given rise to the term "India's Missing Women", coined by Amartya Sen. By applying Sen's calculations, the The Hindu estimates that over the past 50 years, 68 million women are missing and that rates are not decreasing.[38] Sex selection before birth and neglect of the female child after birth, in childhood and, during the [teenage] years, has resulted in males outnumbering females in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and South Korea.[24] In North America and Europe the sex ratio of the population is 105 women per 100 men; in India, the ratio in 2011 was 940 women per 1,000 men, with some states as low as 618 (Daman Diu),877 (Haryana).[39]

Sex-selective abortion[edit]

Birth sex ratio map for India, boys per 100 girls in 0 to 1 age group according to 2011 census.[39]

Sex selection before birth and neglect of the female child after birth, in childhood and, during the [teenage] years, has resulted in males outnumbering females in China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and South Korea.[24] In North America and Europe the birth sex ratio of the population ranges between 103 to 107 boys per 100 girls; in India, China and South Korea, the ratio has been far higher. Women have a biological advantage over men for longevity and survival; however, in spite of this there have been more men than women in India and other Asian countries.[24][35][36] This sex ratio in India has been attributed to female infanticides and sex-selective abortions among more urban populations. Sex selection before birth and neglect of the female child after birth, in childhood and, during the [teenage] years, has resulted in males outnumbering females in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and South Korea.[24]

Compared to the normal ratio of births, 950 girls for every 1,000 boys, most states of India, especially Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Haryana, have much lower sex ratios according to 2011 census.[39] This has been attributed to increasing misuse and affordability of foetus sex-determining devices, such as ultrasound scan, the rate of female foeticide is rising sharply in India. Female infanticide (killing of girl infants) is still prevalent in some rural areas.[37] The government and activist groups seek to raise the status of girls and combat female infanticide. One estimate states an expected 15 million girls were not born over the last decade.[40] Unbalanced sex ratios may lead to problems like marriage squeeze[41] and lower replacement rate. In addition, it can also cause greater abuse against women and higher crime rate.[citation needed] It will have negative effects on the economy, such as lower female participation rate and inefficient allocation of labour due to gender discrimination.[42]

Gender selection and selective abortion were banned in India under Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostics Technique Act in 1994.[43] The practice continues illegally. Other institutional efforts, such as advertisements calling female foeticides a sin by the Health Ministry of India[44] and annual Girl Child Day[45] can be observed to raise status of girls and to combat female infanticide. But, it did not appear to have much effect in the rate of female foeticide.[citation needed]

Gender-based violence[edit]

A 2011 opinion poll reports that India was identified by 12% of survey respondents to be one of five most dangerous place in the world for women to live in. This compares to 42% respondents who identified Afghanistan as dangerous for women.[46]

Domestic violence[edit]

Average annual crime rates per 100,000 women in India by its States and Union Territories. Crime rate in this map includes all Indian Penal Code crimes such as rape, sexual assault, insult to modesty, kidnapping, abduction, cruelty by intimate partner or relatives, importation or trafficking of girls, persecution for dowry, dowry deaths, indecency, and all other crimes identified by Indian law.[47]

Domestic violence against women in India is a big problem.[48][49] For example, a paper published in the International Journal of Criminology and Sociological Theory shows that in 2007, there were 20,737 reported case of rape, 8,093 cases of death due to dowry, and 10,950 cases of sexual harassment with total crime of 185,312.[50] A U.N. Population Fund report claimed that up to 70 percent of married women aged 15–49 in India are victims of beatings or coerced sex. IPV, in-law abuse, sexual assault and rape, sexual harassment ‘eve teasing’) also note violence against transgendered people. Sexual violence and sexual harassment against women continue to be identified as major problems.[37] The Constitution of India contains a clause guaranteeing the right of equality and freedom from sexual discrimination.[51]

Rape[edit]

Rape seems to be on the rise in India, according to India's National Crime Records Bureau, which reported 22172 cases in 2010. It has also gained much international press due to the 2012 Delhi gang rape and brazen assaults on Indian women and tourists alike in public spaces.

Sexual harassment or Eve teasing[edit]

Eve teasing is a form of sexual harassment unique to south Asia that is very common and includes the intent to intimidate a woman and assault her modesty through comments, gestures, and touching. Eighty two percent of women in a New Delhi study reported being eve teased in the past year.[52] Evidence suggests that sexual harassment is enabled by structural gender inequalities, patriarchal value systems that support inequality, and sexism.[53] Harassment itself is often the result of a power imbalance between groups and used as a threatening tool to reinforce the social status quo.[54] Street harassment in the United States has been described as a means to maintain women’s subordinate status, restrict their social status and mobility in physical space, frighten women, and to reinforce fear of rape’.[55] Furthermore, a study of female Indian youth (n=40) in a the university setting reported that ‘street harassment’ affected their daily lives and led them to curtail their time in public to avoid the threat.[56]

Half of the total number of crimes against women reported in 1990 related to molestation and harassment at the workplace.[37] Many activists blame the rising incidents of sexual harassment against women on the influence of "Western culture". In 1987, The 'Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act' was passed[57] to prohibit indecent representation of women through advertisements or in publications, writings, paintings, figures or in any other manner.

In 1997, in a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court of India took a strong stand against sexual harassment of women in the workplace. The Court also laid down detailed guidelines for prevention and redressing of grievances. The National Commission for Women subsequently elaborated these guidelines into a Code of Conduct for employers.[37] The Indian Parliament passed the The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, which came into force from 9 December 2013. The Act seeks to protect women from sexual harassment at their place of work and provides an effective grievance redressal mechanism.

Honor killings[edit]

Women belonging to any class, caste or creed and religion can be victims of acid throwing, a cruel form of violence and disfigurement, a premeditated crime intended to kill or maim the woman permanently and act as a lesson to 'put her in her place'. In 2011, 5,182 cases of dowry-related harassment and 8,391 cases of dowry death.” National Crime Records Bureau (n.d.) A 1997 report claimed that at least 5,000 women die each year because of dowry deaths, and at least a dozen die each day in 'kitchen fires' thought to be intentional.[58] The term for this is "bride burning" and is criticised within India itself.[27] The most recent NCRB report said that 8,233 dowry death reports were filed in the country in 2012.[59] Honor killings are an extreme for of gender based violence and are due to beliefs that a girl's reputation is tied to the honour of her whole family. It is estimated that more than 1,000 women are killed this way each year, especially in the Northern states of Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh.[60] Women and girls were killed for marrying or being in relationships without their families’ or village elders’ consent, or for marrying outside their caste.[27]”.

Dowry deaths[edit]

Main article: Dowry death

A 1997 report claimed that at least 5,000 women die each year because of dowry deaths, and at least a dozen die each day in 'kitchen fires' thought to be intentional.[58] The term for this is "bride burning" and is criticised within India itself.[27] The most recent NCRB report said that 8,233 dowry death reports were filed in the country in 2012.[59]

Child health[edit]

Immunization rates[edit]

Immunization rates for 2 year olds was 41.7% for girls and 45.3% for boys according to the National Family Health Survey-3, indicating a slight disadvantage for girls.[30]

Malnutrition[edit]

Malnutrition rates in India are nearly equal in boys and girls, which indicates a slight male bias because due to the physiology of boys, they are naturally more likely to be malnourished. Immunization rates for 2 year old children was 41.7% for girls and 45.3% for boys according to the National Family Health Survey-3, indicating a slight disadvantage for girls.[30]

Mental health[edit]

Unlike many places in the world, young Indian women far outpace their male peers in suicide, with suicide rates ranging from 102-168/100,000 and 78-96/100,000 respectively.[61] Furthermore, studies in south India have found that gender disadvantages, such as negative attitudes towards women’s empowerment, young age of marriage, and dowry disputes, are risk factors for suicidal behavior and common mental disorders like anxiety and depression.[62] A 2008 survey of New Delhi youth, ages 14–19 (N=550) found that 15.8% reported suicidal ideation and 5.1% had attempted suicide. Interestingly, the prevalence among women for both measures was significantly higher than that of men at 19.9% and 7.2% respectively[49]. Evidence is also mounting that young Indian women, especially rural dwellers, are at a disproportionately high risk for suicide, anxiety, and depression.

Education[edit]

Schooling[edit]

India is on target to meet its Millennium Development Goal of gender parity in education by 2015.[63] UNICEF's measure of attendance rate and Gender Equality in Education Index (GEEI) capture the quality of education.[64] Dspite some gains, India needs to triple its rate of improvement to reach GEEI score of 95% by 2015 under the Millennium Development Goals. In rural India girls continue to be less educated than the boys.[65] According to a 1998 report by U.S. Department of Commerce, the chief barrier to female education in India are inadequate school facilities (such as sanitary facilities), shortage of female teachers and gender bias in curriculum (majority of the female characters being depicted as weak and helpless vs. strong, adventurous, and intelligent men with high prestige jobs)[65]

Literacy[edit]

Though it is gradually rising, the female literacy rate in India is lower than the male literacy rate.[37] According to Census of India 2011, literacy rate of females is 65.46% compared to males which is 82.14%.[66] Compared to boys, far fewer girls are enrolled in the schools, and many of them drop out.[37] According to the National Sample Survey Data of 1997, only the states of Kerala and Mizoram have approached universal female literacy rates. According to majority of the scholars, the major factor behind the improved social and economic status of women in Kerala is literacy.[37] From 2006-2010, the percent of females who completed at least a secondary education was almost half that of men, 26,6% compared to 50.4%.[5] In the current generation of youth, the gap seems to be closing at the primary level and increasing in the secondary level. In rural Punjab, the gap between girls and boys in school enrollment increases dramatically with age as demonstrated in National Family Health Survey-3 where girls age 15-17 in Punjab are 10% more likely than boys to drop out of school.[67] Although this gap has been reduced significantly, problems still remain in the quality of education for girls where boys in the same family will be sent to higher quality private schools and girls sent to the government school in the village.[68]

Reservations for female students[edit]

Under Non-Formal Education programme, about 40% of the centres in states and 10% of the centres in UTs are exclusively reserved for females.[65] As of 2000, about 0.3 million NFE centres were catering to about 7.42 million children, out of which about 0.12 million were exclusively for girls.[65] Certain state level engineering, medical and other colleges like in Orissa have reserved 30% of their seats for females.[69] The Prime Minister of India and the Planning Commission also vetoed a proposal to set up an Indian Institute of Technology exclusively for females.[70] Although India had witnessed substantial improvements in female literacy and enrolment rate since the 1990s, the quality of education for female remains to be heavily compromised as the country continues to hold greater value for male than female.

Economic Inequalities[edit]

Labor Force Participation[edit]

The labor force participation rate of women was 80.7 in 2013.[5] Women's participation in the formal labour sector is low, comprising only 19% of the sector. Seventy percent of women in the formal sector work in the public sector.[71]

Wage gap[edit]

In 2004-2005, the gender pay gap in the formal sector was 57%.[71]

Access to credit[edit]

Although laws are supportive of lending to women and Microcredit programs targeted to women are prolific, women often lack collateral for bank loans due to low levels of property ownership and microcredit schemes have come under scrutiny for coercive lending practices. Although many microcredit programs have been successful and prompted community-based women's self-help groups, a 2012 review of microcredit practices found that women are contacted by multiple lenders and as a result, take on too many loans and overextend their credit. The report found that financial incentives for the recruiters of these programs were not in the best interest of the women they purported to serve.[72] The result was a spate of suicides by women who were unable to pay their debts.[73]

Occupational inequalities[edit]

Military service[edit]

Women are not allowed to have combat roles in the armed forces. According to a study carried out on this issue, a recommendation was made that female officers be excluded from induction in close combat arms, where chances of physical contact with the enemy are high. The study also held that a permanent commission could not be granted to female officers since they have neither been trained for command nor have they been given the responsibility so far.[74]

Property Rights[edit]

Women have equal rights under the law to own property and receive equal inheritance rights, but in practice, women are at a disadvantage. This is evidenced in the fact that 70% of rural land is owned by men. Laws, such as the Married Women Property Rights Act of 1974 protect women, but few seek legal redress.[25] Although the Hindu Succession Act of 2005 provides equal inheritance rights to ancestral and jointly owned property, the law is weakly enforced, especially in Northern India.[75]

Political[edit]

The percent of women in elected positions is improving and similar to that of the United States, but lower than its neighbors. Most Indians believe that a woman politician can be effective as a male politician (US Dept of state). However, in 2009 only 58/543 of the lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament seats were held by women and 23/243 seats in the Rajya Sahba, or upper house, were held by women.Presently(as of May 2014), 53/543 of the Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament seats are held by women.[76] India is likely fall short on its 2015 Millennium Development Goals for increased numbers of women in politics.[63]

Discrimination against men[edit]

Some men's advocacy groups have complained that the government discriminates against men through the use of overly aggressive laws designed to protect women,[77][78] and by other socio-economic methods that favour females, such as lower taxes and higher benefits.[79] These benefits are argued to be necessary to redress the historic and continuing wealth imbalance between the genders.[80] The Men's rights movement in India call for gender neutral laws, especially in regards to child custody, divorce, sexual harassment, and adultery laws. They also point out that laws are particularly harsh, in that they are unbailable and carry long sentences, in relation to anti-dowry, anti-rape, and anti-sexual harassment. They also point out health disparities among men, such as higher rates of suicide and that sexual harassment is also a problem for men.

Political and legal reforms[edit]

Since its independence, India has made significant strides in addressing gender inequalities, especially in the areas of political participation, education, and legal rights.[10][81] Policies and legal reforms to address gender inequalities have been pursued by the government of India. For instance, the Constitution of India contains a clause guaranteeing the right of equality and freedom from sexual discrimination.[82] India is also signatory to the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW.[83] However, the government maintains some reservations about interfering in the personal affairs of any community without the community’s initiative and consent.[25] A listing of specific reforms is presented below.

Organizations[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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