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.