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Indian Women Earn Only 65% Of What Men Earn And Merit Has Nothing To Do With It

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By Suhasini Patni:

We’re all victims of patriarchy. In India, sexist trends are evident in all spheres— whether you’re in your own house or working a 9 to 5 job. But it would be wrong to say there hasn’t been any development in our country. The International Labour Organization noted that female employment in India grew by 9 million between 1994-2010. 9 million! Now, who dare say there isn’t any development and empowerment in this country? However, the ILO also acknowledges that this number would have been twice as large if women has access to employment in “male-dominated” industries too. The problem at hand is not just patriarchy anymore, but also waste of precious human resource.

There exists a gender segregation in the workplace in terms of benefits, hours, leave, wages, opportunities, promotions, etc. This disparity doesn’t just exist because people are not used to seeing women work. While the traditional idea of women being designated as home-makers does say a lot about the labour force disparities, it doesn’t answer the question of segregation within the workplace. Think about it— there is a reason you rarely see female Uber drivers, and why women who work in malls are allowed to leave after 8 p.m. due to safety issues.

Statistics show that only 39% of all Indian women get access to primary school education. Therefore, when most women go out to look for jobs they only get manual and undesirable jobs in the agricultural sector or in handicrafts. In fact, the data from the employment and unemployment surveys of the National Sample Survey also indicates that a majority of female workers, about 63%, were engaged in the agricultural sector in contrast to male workers of whom 56% were in secondary or tertiary sector. The industries they work for are on the decline; handicrafts are dying, the mills are all closing, and large environmental problems are leading to less productivity in agriculture. While 44% women are employed in the agricultural sector, only 27% men share the same occupation. This occupational segregation is definitely a large reason for overall gender segregation in the workplace.

The women who are fortunate enough to find access to proper education join the rat-race for jobs in fast-developing industries and get severely trampled on by their male counterparts. New analysis of data from the 2011 census shows only half as many urban women work as their rural counterparts. Half the population of India is involved in the agricultural sector. Now that the agricultural sector is falling, you would expect that participation of women in the urban workforce would increase, but no. Perhaps this is because women from better-off homes who internalize the values of patriarchy, think that if they can afford to stay at home, they should do so and fulfill their primary duties of a wife and/or mother. Perhaps, rural women only work because they have to. According to India’s National Sample Survey, the proportion of working women in urban areas has increased from 11.9% in 2001 to 15.4% in 2011. But even in this, the fastest growing proportion is that of domestic housework. In The Distribution of Worker by Occupations and Gender in India 2011-12 survey, it was noticed that while 9.15% men were working in the positions of directors and chief executives, only 5.08% women were involved in the same. Perhaps this is why FICCI Ladies Organization, Hyderabad Chapter, is “exploring the possibility of offering a specialized training module for members to become independent directors in listed companies.”

The Companies Act 2013 prescribes that there should be at least one woman director in a Board, but it may be in the best interest of companies to have more than one woman director. While the FLO’s attempt at making women more “board-ready” may be a laudable effort to bring more women on company boards, it is questionable how progressive this initiative really is. Why do accomplished women need to be made board-ready when no such training is given to their male counterparts? It is as if women are being taught how to act and behave in what has clearly been demarcated as a “male space.” It is possible that if more time and effort is put into making the workplace better for women rather than giving them training they’d already learn on the job, that the idea of a woman being employed as a director may not be so eye-popping after all.

One of the things that can be looked over is the minimum wage law. While the minimum wage has increased, it benefits women marginally. Data from 2011-12 indicates that women still earn only 65% of what men earn. Of course, it would be incorrect to completely attribute this to discrimination, as a variety of factors are at play here such as education, type of job, experience, etc. In fact, Rashmi Patni, a former professor in the History department of Rajasthan University, observed that there was no wage difference between men and women in her workplace.
Nonetheless, we are still a long way from gender-neutral wages. The Government of India in 1954 declared that “(I)f minimum wages and consequently fair wages are to be calculated on the basis of the requirements of the worker and his family, there is every justification for rating the standard family at a lower number of consumption units in the case of a woman worker than in the case of a man, for she will not be expected to support at any rate her husband even though she may have other dependants and encumbrances. According to this line of reasoning, the wages of a woman worker should be based on two consumption units if those of a male worker are calculated on three.”

Another law that comes into question is the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961. This law has been manipulated to such an extent that most women are not eligible for the benefits. For instance, as this law applies only to regular and temporary workers, women are employed instead as casual or daily workers, to exclude them from the benefits. According to the NCEUS (2009), the Maternity Benefit Act was able to cover only 16% of eligible workers as of 1999-2000. Sometimes, the women who do get maternity leave, do not get any monetary benefits.

While the ILO suggests that strengthening anti-discrimination legislation in employment across all occupations will be essential for expanding employment opportunities for women, discrimination will never end if it is only perceived at a policy level. It is essential to reduce gaps in wages, improve working conditions, and remove ambiguity from the already existing laws; but this is not enough to help end segregation in the workplace.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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