If Bollywood Is To Ensure Pay Parity, Here’s What Needs To Change

When it comes to gender disparity in terms of wages, Bollywood leads the pack, despite being one of the biggest industries globally and minting millions each year. According to most surveys, A-list actresses get paid 40-45% of what their male counterparts make.

While most people battling for pay parity in Bollywood jump at the chance to blame production houses and directors, logically, I find their contribution in promoting pay parity minimal. With producers and directors not at fault, what is the reason women actors are unable to earn as much as the men?

It’s no secret that male stars are far greater stars the female ones, thus making them way more bankable, despite lack of talent, lack of acting, etc. The universal law of money states that the more your contribution to the revenue of an organisation, the greater is your reward. When male stardom accounts for a massive portion of the money a film makes, as compared to the contribution of female actors towards the box office, it only seems fair that men are paid nearly twice as much as women.

No actress can come close to the massive stardom of Bollywood biggies, most prominently the Khans, Akshay Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, and a few honorable mentions including Hrithik Roshan, Varun Dhawan, etc. Majority of the films today have a male actor carrying it on their shoulders, despite there being a presence of exceptional female leads. Even women-centric films have prominent men carrying them (such as Dangal and Pink).

A major part of the audience claim they watch the film only because of the presence of their favorite actor, not bothering about the script, direction or story. Since actresses do not enjoy the kind of stardom in society the actors have, their solo films or films where they play the lead fails to create an impact.

Exceptions such as Raazi and Veere Di Wedding exist, but let’s stick to the majority. Unless the audience is comfortable, and embraces watching women in lead roles, pay parity seems impossible to achieve.

When a film like Race 3 (if you haven’t watched it, good for you) makes 10 times the money that Panga makes, or 5 times the money Chhapaak makes, you know there is something wrong with the audience. People not accepting women in commanding positions is not restricted to movies alone, but fans out to corporate worlds, politics and even the army.

Playing it in a different situation; Imagine the CEO of company A, and the CEO of company B. Company A is 10 times the size of B, and mints 10 times the money as B. Will it be fair for the CEO of B to ask for the same salary of A?

Male stars are way bigger organisations when it comes to the box office, and the numbers prove it. Research shows that Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Dangal, Mission Mangal and many more iconic films would have been duds at the box office sans the presence of Salman Khan, Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar.

In an interview to Pinkvilla, Saif Ali Khan agreed with his wife. “I would say it is terribly unfair. They should get paid as much. I completely agree with her. I think the industry is very economically driven, so the people that pull at the box office get paid more, fair or unfair, it is like that,” Saif said.

To this, Ajay Devgn added, “There are actors who are paid less than the girls.” Saif continued, “If the females tomorrow make a film which is shouldered by them and pull them off, immediately their fee will go up.”

There is definitely a change coming, in the attitude of the audience as well as the entertainment industry, although not as fast as we would have liked. With emergence of Kareena Kapoor Khan, Deepika Padukone, Kangana Ranaut we will definitely see some big changes.

The onus of this change, which will eventually lead to pay parity, lies on the shoulders of the audience, who need to accept women in lead roles. Unless the attitude of the audience changes, this revolution only seems a dream.

Kangana said, “I have heard successful women from the film industry say things like ‘we don’t deserve equal pay because heroes get bigger openings.'”

She continued, “If you don’t feel empowered, nobody can make you feel empowered. You have to feel like an equal. God has given me a pancreas, kidney, a heart and eyes. I am not inferior to others. If you don’t feel empowered no court can make you feel empowered. Half the battle is lost when you feel undeserving.”

Until then, keep throwing shade at the biggies and the producers of Bollywood.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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