Different societies have faced many challenges when addressing various gender-related issues such as gender equality in terms of participation in political processes and the sharing of roles between women and men in their families and society. This problem has plagued even the most developed nations since time immemorial. For instance, women in western nations have had different achievements and losses. Coontz (2010) discusses these issues from the context of the economic status of American women and their limited role in society at the time. In this traditional society, freedom and individualism were reserved for men. Coontz (2010) informs that women were aware of the domineering of men but could not change the normalized perception of gender roles.
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Women’s roles in society have been evolving with time. In the late 19th century, many nations had imbalanced demographics concerning social structures. Men dominated most of the social activities. However, in modern society, such dominance has changed. Women are acquiring strategic roles in society. The question of how gender has evolved attracts large scholarly research, which is often open to criticism.
However, literal ideas such as those postulated by Mary Wollstonecraft, John Stuart Mill, and other writers of the Victorian Era to the Early 20th century reveal that apart from being conceived, gender can be performed. Such performance is manifested in societies in the form of gender inequality and gender discrimination. In all nations, including India, gender discrimination is an offense. The purpose of this paper is to define and show gender inequality in India. The paper will also present the initiatives that the country has taken to deal with this issue.
Reasons for Gender Inequality in India
Patriarchal society in India contributes to the witnessed discrimination against women or their inequality. Equality refers to a state of affairs in which people in a society or even isolated groups of people possess a status that is to some certain respects (Thorvaldur & Zoega, 2011). Gender inequality implies a situation where people’s access to the same status is curtailed based on their gender. Hence, gender inequality involves discrimination against women based on their sex.
In India, the root of many of discrimination against women may be traced from the patriarchal system. Strayer (2011) defines a patriarchal arrangement as a “system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, oppress, and exploit women” (p.33). The systems find application in different religious settings such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Muslim practices in India. For example, irrespective of the gender of the people who subscribe to Hinduism, wholesomeness, openness, openhandedness, and compassion shape the moral and ethical norms advocated by the religion.
The influence of Hinduism on ensuring the success of women requires them to depend on men for guidance. Here, men are superior to them. Thus, the female gender is subservient. It acts under the control of the male gender. Hinduism resulted in a large decline in women’s rights from 1600 to 1800BCE (Strayer, 2011). The Sati ritual explains well the dominance of men over women in the Hinduism religion. Sati entailed a funeral practice that was conducted among Indians. In the ritual, a widow would set herself ablaze to death. In this burning process, she used the husband’s burial pyre. Hinduism advocated that once women fulfilled their duty of death after the death of the husband by burning themselves, they would be reborn in a higher caste level.
The act of a woman killing herself upon the death of her husband reflects gender disparities in the Hindu religion. From a religious perspective, the life of a woman was not important in the absence of the man who was supposed to control her. As the ritual became even more sophisticated, women lost their rights to property ownership (Strayer, 2011). In Hinduism, women also married at a tender age. This case prevented them from completing their education so that they could acquire qualifications for performing various ritual sacrifices. Without men’s control, the religion spread the belief that women would become promiscuous.
Discrimination against Girls
The girl child in India has a lower reputation and consideration among conservative families. Educating girls is considered a bad choice and/or poor investment since she will be married off at someday in the future. Poor education leads to low dominance of women in jobs that require high skills and educational qualifications. In workplaces, the girl child faces discrimination. Although inexplicitly expressed and inconsistent with the law, a working girl child in India may face discrimination due to her caregiving roles (a stereotypically feminine role in society). For instance, supervisors may learn that a woman is taking care of a sick person.
Consequently, he or she may develop the perception that in addition to the work she is employed to perform, such a role diverts some of her attention from work so that she underperforms in her organizational job roles and responsibilities. In some conservative Indian families, men are served with food first. This way, they may end up taking all nutritious foods, leaving behind poor quality food for the girl child. This practice implies increasing cases of anemia among women in addition to difficulties while giving birth. Therefore, discrimination against the girl child occurs at the societal and familial level in India.
The Indian dowry system considers women a burden on their families. This perception contributes to discrimination against the girl child. Dowry is the sum paid in kind or even cash by the bride’s family to the bridegroom’s folks. This cultural practice is common among geographically disjointed Indian societies, religions, and people from different social classes (Babu, 2011). This practice only provides a limitation of the expansion of the girl child’s bargaining power. The practice also makes parents consider reducing investments in girls. The Indian Penal Policy (304B and 498a) prohibits the practice of dowry payment. However, despite the changing attitudes concerning dowries in India, dowry payment continues to be practiced as a cultural element.
In any society that acknowledges the contribution of its entire people on social, political, and economic development, people have equal accessibility to fundamental rights, including marriage rights. Indian law provides both women and men with equal marital rights. However, Muslims have permission to divorce their wives unilaterally (Mattias, 2011). The law also sets 18 years as the minimum age for marriage in the case of women while that of men is 21. However, among Indians who practice Islam, early child marriage is still legal under personal laws set out by Indian Mohammedan. Such practices constitute a major detriment for women empowerment.
Eliminating gender inequalities in India requires an understanding of its causes followed by analyzing its contributing factors. Such factors can be changed through political interventions or a change in social cognition among people. This strategy can decrease inequality levels. In the Indian context, inequality factors include health and survival, education, economic, and political factors.
Health and Survival
The first section on the causes of gender inequality in India revealed a high preference for baby boys than baby girls among Indian societies. This observation perhaps explains why India has high levels of sex-selective abortion. In nations in Europe and North America, for every 100 girls born, about 100 and 110 boys are born. Due to the permanence and biological advantages of women when compared to men, more girls survive than boys.
However, in India and other Asian nations, men exceed women (Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, 2013). For example, in 2011, a census conducted by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India (2013) indicated that Punjab had a sex proportion of 117 males to 100 females while Jammu and Kashmir had a proportion of 128 males to 100 females (44) in case of children of ages 0 to 1 year. This high boy: girl sex quotient is attributed to the affordability and misusing fetus devices such as ultrasound that help in determining sex. MacPherson (2007) provides estimates that more than 100,000 girls are not born in India due to female infanticide.
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In terms of health, Indian girls have a disadvantage compared to boys. For example, in 2005, only 42% of girls accessed vaccination compared to 45% in the case of boys. Female to male suicidal quotient in India is 1:2 (MacPherson, 2007). Although this proportion compares with other parts of the world such as the US, in 2012, some parts of India such as West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra recorded higher suicidal rates among women compared to men. This increased rate may be attributed to negative perceptions about girl child empowerment. The situation increases the likelihood of mental disarray, hopelessness, and apprehension. These conditions are a risk factor to suicidal thoughts and actual suicide (Vijaykumar, 2007).
Education inequalities may be measured from schooling, reservations, and literacy levels. In terms of schooling, India is progressing towards attaining its millennium development targets for ensuring gender equity in terms of accessibility to education. However, to achieve this goal, the country needs to increase the empowerment rate for the girl child by 300% to attain 0.95 of its GEEI commitment. GEEI refers to gender parity in schooling index.
Indeed, Vijaykumar (2007) asserts that fewer girls than boys attend schools in the rural areas of India. This challenge is attributed to the biased curriculum that targets the girl child, a low number of role models like female teachers, and the insufficient schooling facilities, including sanitary facilities for girls.
Indian women have lower literacy levels compared to men. Mattias (2011) asserts that the 2011 census in India indicated that women had roughly 65 literacy levels compared to approximately 82 among men. Very few girls enroll and complete the education systems in India compared to boys. This situation is detrimental to the empowerment and growth of women since literacy is an important factor that is responsible for higher economic development.
Although literacy levels for Indian women have been increasing as the nation works towards achieving its 2015 millennium development goals, gaps remain in school enrollment for girls. To increase skills and literacy levels for female students, India has established reservations for them. For example, 40 percent of state centers and 10 percent of the UTs centers admit exclusively female students (Vijaykumar, 2007). The NFE centers have also been increasingly admitting more girls through exclusive reservation for the girl child.
Economic inequalities occur in the form of labor involvement, salaries and wages, credit convenience, property tenure rights, and professional inequalities. According to Lockwood (2009), since the 1990s, in India, the participation of women in the labor force has been growing with roughly 120 female workers participating in the employment sector of about 240 million. Tea plantation employs about 47% female workers, 46% for cotton, and 39% in the horticultural industry.
While this finding shows a significant ratio of the absorption of women in the agricultural sector labor force, inequalities exist in wages. In the 2009 plaguing operations, men were paid a daily wage of roughly 100 rupees while women received roughly 60 rupees (Ministry of Labor and Employment, 2010). This finding represented a wage ratio of 1.87. Weeding operations had a wage gap of 1.18.
The Indian law supports equal access to credit, despite gender differences among its population. However, women do not have adequate collaterals that are necessary for permitting them to participate ardently in credit programs offered by banks. The only available option is to access credit through microfinance programs. These programs have been instrumental in leading growth of self-help groups in India.
Nevertheless, they have come under intense scrutiny due to the coercive practices that lure women to take an excessive number of loans until they become overwhelmed. Vijaykumar (2007) confirms how this situation implies increasing incidents of suicide among women who fail to repay their loans in time. Property rights law recognizes equality in property ownership for both men and women. However, a large proportion of land within rural areas is owned by men. Women are also not given active combat roles in the military.
Political inequality upholds differences between men and women in terms of their participation in political and decision-making processes. Based on this scale, India takes the 20th position across the globe. Political equality in India is higher than in the United Kingdom, Denmark, or Switzerland. Indian women take many elective posts in all levels of governance. In the 2014 elections, about 70 percent of men turned out to vote while about 66 percent of women turned out to participate in their suffrage rights.
State Initiatives to Reduce Gender Inequality
The government of India recognizes the need for eroding gender inequalities and discrimination in all Indian territories and states. This awareness has made the central government of India in collaboration with unions in different territories and states initiate various programs to increase equality levels for the girl child. The programs include “Swarna Jayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana, Awareness Generation Projects for Rural and Poor women, Condensed Course of Education for Adult Women, and Kishori Shakti Yojana, Swayamsidha Mahila Mandal Program” (Thorvaldur & Zoega, 2011, p. 571).
A program such as the Integrated Child Development Services aims at increasing school attendance among girls who reside in rural areas. These programs target either creating awareness on the equality of the girl child to the boy child or increasing the results of the girl child in all sectors of the economy and education.
The Constitution of India
The constitution of India provides ventilation for women to ensure they are not discriminated against. It cites goals such as ensuring economic, political social equity, and justice for all Indian citizens. Article 15 prohibits any discrimination based on sex, background, belief, or even race among other diversity differences. For example, religion comprises a set of beliefs, perceptions, and cultural systems that relate to the understanding of society’s existence.
Various signs, consecrated histories, and narratives about the rationale of life, its foundation, and the origin of the universe characterize religion. Religious beliefs shape morality and ethics. They also prescribe a certain lifestyle through a set of codes of acceptable behaviors within the doctrines of a given faith (Strayer, 2011). Based on the belief and lifestyle standards, religions view gender issues differently. The constitution prohibits any religious view that may lead to discrimination of the Indian people based on gender differences.
Section 3 of Article 15 in the Indian constitution permits the state to provide requisite provisions for children and women. However, apart from the constitution, the Indian legislature has developed policies to eliminate gender inequalities and discrimination. For example, the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 seeks to eliminate women’s discrimination in terms of dowry payment. The Sati Act of 1987 abolishes and spells punishment for Sati’s inhumane acts.
The parliament of India also introduces various amendments to the constitution to ensure equal participation of women in social, economic, and political processes. For example, Section 304-B of the Constitution expanded the India penal code to ensure that bride burning becomes an offense that attracts harsh punishment, including life imprisonment as the maximum sentence.
The Convention for the Elimination of Gender Inequalities
India is a party to the United Nations (UN). This privilege also makes it a party to organs that are established under the UN umbrella such as the Convention for Elimination of All Forms of Gender Discrimination (CEDAW). The convention describes various rights that apply to women in the preface and 30 clauses. It also establishes an agenda for eliminating discrimination against women. India accepts the convention.
Therefore, it has been committed to putting in place various mechanisms for eliminating inequalities and discrimination of women. Such mechanisms involve eliminating any act of discrimination targeting women from individuals, enterprises, and/or organizations. CEDAW requires nations to set up tribunals and various public institutions for protecting women against any inequality and/or discrimination. This involves eliminating discriminatory legal procedures and laws and adopting new ones that allow the participation of women in the social, economic, cultural, and political arena.
Gender inequality occurs when some people have better accessibility to rewards, capital, and work opportunities than others do due to their gender. It also occurs when gender contributes to determining people’s participation in political processes, accessibility to credit, education, and profiling in terms of their benefits in society. To mitigate the erosion of gender inequalities, women and men must get equal pays for similar job descriptions and roles.
They should have access to equal opportunities for promotion. Dealing with educational inequalities requires equal participation of women and men in schooling, acquiring literacy skills, and reservation in the higher institutions of learning and technical institutions. Even though India suffers from gender inequality in different factors, the state is trying to limit this issue.
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