The Unchanging Contours of Gender Inequality in India

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India has the dubious record of Global Hunger Index going up from 83 rank in 2000 to 97 in 2016, while the political establishment is gloating over Ease of Doing Business ranking going up from 130 to 131! Of particular concern to the discerning, is the non-moving contours Gender Inequality Index, which puts India at 131 in global ranking with GII of 0.53. The Global Gender Gap Report (2017) has assessed that it will take 217 years to close the economic and political empowerment chasm between men and women.

India ranks 108 in the overall ranking amongst 144 countries. What is most disconcerting though, is its very low ranking in terms of economic participation opportunity (139) and health & survival (141). As per the Human Development Report (2016) India’s Maternal Mortality Rate as 174 per lakh, 12.8% participation in Parliament and only 26.8% participation of women in workforce as against 79% for men. This record is quite dismal, compared to minnows like Bangladesh, Vietnam, Tajikistan and Paraguay.

One of the severe manifestations of gender inequality is the sexual harassment in workplace. Women broke silence by exposing sexual assault and harassment by people in powerful position. They are the Silence Breakers, winning accolades as Time Persons of The year (2017). India is not far behind in this regard. It has its unique story in Vishakha vs State of Rajasthan 1997 case, when a low caste social worker, Bhanwari Devi, was gang raped. She raised her voice against the age old pernicious practice of child marriage.

Showing unusual alacrity & sensitivity, the Supreme Court issued guidelines to pre-empt sexual harassment in work place. The guidelines have now become an Act (2013). Section 375 of IPC has also been amplified to include acid attack, voyeurism and stalking in the ambit of rape. The Supreme Court has also struck down exception 2 of Section 375 of IPC which condoned sex with married girls under the age of 18, as not being rape.

The global gender gap report brings out how the global GDP will increase by 5.3 trillion dollars by 2025, by closing the gender gap in economic participation by 25%. The Scandinavian countries and West European countries show a very low level of gender inequality, of around 5% to 10%. Surprisingly United States has a dubious record of 20% as GII, which is more than that of China which is around 16%. This is because of the fact that the labour force participation of women, representation in the legislative process is far higher in China compared to the United States. The racial bias and discrimination also contributes to high gender inequality.

In India the GII manifests in its abnormally low share of women getting elected to the Parliament (12%). There is no political consensus for providing 33% reservation to women in the Parliament, while 33% reservation is available to women in the Panchayats. This has ushered in a tectonic shift in the decision making process at the grassroot level. Women leaders like Smt. Bhanwari Devi as a Sarpanch of Gram Panchayat, Ribia, Panchayat Samiti, Churu, has rendered yeomen service in the area of provision of clean drinking water and better infrastructural facilities in schools in Rajasthan. Women are also playing a significant role in the decision making process for improving health care, education and sanitation in states like Kerala, West Bengal and Karnataka. It is therefore, a pity that we are not replicating such useful experience of women participation in the Parliament.

Gender budgeting was introduced in 2005-06 to promote schemes specific to the welfare of women. Sadly the allocation to gender specific schemes constitutes only 4.5% of the budget in 2017-18 and is showing a declining trend. Our politicians exhibit a lot of tokenism towards women by opening all women banks, police stations run exclusively by women. The allocation for Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao was a mere Rs.200 crore in 2017-18 budget!  Gender inequality index will reduce not through higher budget allocation for women specific programs alone but by a transformational change in attitude towards women.

Absence of gender discrimination is part of the fundamental rights (Article 15(1)) guaranteed to women in the Indian Constitution. It also provides for making special provision for welfare of women (Article 15(3)). Despite such fundamental guarantees, gender inequality is unyieldingly high in India. It time that reservation of 33% of seats to women in Parliament, adequate allocation for health care and nutrition of girl child is made by the state. Economic growth with persistent high gender inequality is indefensible in a liberal democracy like India.

About the author

The author teaches Constitutional law. [email protected], Ph-91-7381109899

 

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