In the Budget speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recognised the importance of ‘Nari Shakti’ as the harbinger of India’s bright future and for women-led development during the ‘Amrit Kaal’. In her first budget speech in 2019, she had also used the phrase “Nari tu Narayani,” recognising the importance of woman empowerment. But in the last 3 years, ‘Nari Shakti’ has been more enervated and debilitated. Despite so much propaganda, there is no discernible improvement in the status of women in the world. In the case of India, women’s condition is more abysmal and deplorable.
According to the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2022 report, around 240 crore women of working age are not afforded the equal economic opportunity and 178 countries maintain legal barriers that prevent their full economic participation. In 86 countries, women face some form of job restriction and 95 countries do not guarantee equal pay for equal work.
According to the World Economic Forum, sadly none of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, and nor likely will many of our children. Gender parity will not be attained for almost a century.
Similarly, according to United Nations (2022), 70% of the 130-crore people living in conditions of poverty are women. In urban areas, 40% of the poorest households are headed by women. Women predominate in the world’s food production (50-80%), but they own less than 10% of the land. Around 80 % of the displaced by climate related disasters and changes around the world are women and girls.
Violence against women continues to be an obstacle to achieving equality, development, peace as well as the fulfilment of women and girls’ human rights. Violence negatively affects women’s physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health, and may increase the risk of acquiring HIV in some settings. Violence threatens women’s and girls’ safety, and it sets barriers to their potential for prosperity or filling leadership roles. Violence against women – particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence – is a major public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights.
Estimates published by WHO indicate that globally about 1 in 3 (30%) of women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Most of this violence is intimate partner violence. Worldwide, almost one third (27%) of women aged 15-49 years who have been in a relationship report that they have been subjected to some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner.
In India, violence against women is rampant too. According to the NCRB, which functions under the Union Home Ministry, a total of 371,503 cases of crime against women were reported across the country in 2020 in comparison to 405,326 in 2019 and 378,236 in 2018. The dip by 8.3% in crimes against women in 2020 compared to 2019, may be due to failure of many women to report crime in the time of pandemic.
Crimes against women includes cases of rape, outraging modesty, dowry deaths and harassment, acid attacks and kidnapping. “Majority of cases under crime against women were registered under ‘Cruelty by Husband or his Relatives’ (30.2%) followed by assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty’ (19.7%), kidnaping and abduction of women (19.0%) and rape (7.2%).
Domestic violence, sexual harassment has increased during the pandemic as women has to cope with agony, anguish of male members of family who lost jobs or remained home for longer period. Domestic works including child care increased the burden of women killing their leisure and rest.
Of the total cases of crimes against women during the Covid pandemic-induced lockdown, there were 28,046 incidents of rape involving 28,153 victims. Out of the total victims, 25,498 were adults, while 2,655 were below the age of 18 years, the report stated. The number of rape cases, as defined in Indian Penal Code section 376, stood at 32,033 in 2019, 33,356 in 2018 and 32,559 in 2017. The figure for 2016 was 38,947, as per NCRB data from corresponding years. With 5,310 cases, Rajasthan reported the maximum number of rapes in 2020 while Uttar Pradesh reported 2,769 cases, Madhya Pradesh 2,339 cases, Maharashtra 2,061 cases and Assam 1,657 cases.
Rape cases are increasing but are found false after probe or sometimes, the victim forms an agreement with the accused and does not want to pursue the case. “Despite making strict laws, including capital punishment, for raping a minor of less than 12 years, the number of cases is not coming down significantly. One of the major reasons is delay in justice and a lower conviction rate.”
PERVASIVE GENDER INEQUALITY
Gender equality, also known as sexual equality or equality of the sexes, is the state of equal ease of access to resources and opportunities regardless of gender, including economic participation and decision-making; and the state of valuing different behaviours, aspirations and needs equally, regardless of gender.
UNICEF says gender equality “means that women and men, and girls and boys, enjoy the same rights, resources, opportunities and protections. It does not require that girls and boys, or women and men, be the same, or that they be treated exactly alike.
Gender inequality -contrary to gender equality- remains a major barrier to human development. Gender inequality means when one is deprived of rights, opportunities and privileges based on gender. Girls and women have made major strides since 1990, but they have not yet gained gender equity. The disadvantages facing women and girls are a major source of inequality. All too often, women and girls are discriminated against in health, education, political representation, labour market, etc.—with negative consequences for the development of their capabilities and their freedom of choice.
Gender bias is undermining our social fabric and devalues all of us. It is not just a human rights issue; it is a tremendous waste of the world’s human potential. By denying women equal rights, we deny half the population a chance to live life to its fullest. Political, economic and social equality for women will benefit all the world’s citizens. Together we can eradicate prejudice and work for equal rights and respect for all.
The World Inequality Report 2022 presents the most up-to-date and complete data on the various facets of inequality worldwide as of 2021 including gender inequalities. Despite women constituting 50% of the world population, the gender inequality in global earnings has found that overall, women’s share of total incomes from work (labour income) neared 30% in 1990 and stands at less than 35% presently.
The Gender Inequality Index is generally considered the most definitive template for measuring gender inequality, which takes into account Maternal Reproductive Health, Parliamentary representation and Female Workforce participation. This Gender Inequality Index (GII ) is part of the Human development report (HDR). The HDR (2020) has calculated India’s GII to be of the order of .488, with 123rd place out of 162 countries. It means India is behind 122 countries out of 162 countries in regard to reducing gender inequality. In 2018, India was ranked at 122.
This is largely because of poor Parliamentary representation (11.6%), abnormally high maternal mortality rate (174 out of one lakh) and very low women participation in the workforce (23.5%) as against 81.6% for men. In contrast, China has reduced gender inequality to .16, largely because 61% women participate in the labour workforce and the mortality rate is 27 per lakh.
Other reasons behind the poor ranking are a combination of factors including cultural preferences, lack of budget allocation for key schemes involving the betterment of women and disinterest at government-level in spending the allocated money.
GENDER GAP WIDENED
The wearying of ‘Nari Shakti’ is reflected in India’s abysmal position in World Economic Forum’s gender gap index. The Index was first introduced in 2006 to benchmark progress towards gender parity and compare economies’ gender gaps across four dimensions: economic opportunities, education, health, and political leadership.
The pandemic has exposed sharp economic and social inequalities and has widened the already existing gap with the most vulnerable in society, including unequal impacts affecting women and girls by virtue of their gender. The Index-2021 stated that India, home to 65 crore women, has widened its gender gap by 3% this year to 66.8%. This means only 32.65 % gap closed to date.
The report estimates that it will take an average of 135.6 years for women and men to reach parity on a range of factors worldwide, instead of the 99.5 years outlined in the 2020 report. In other words, the time it will take for the gender gap to close grew by 36 years in the span of just 12 months, thirty-six years marks the largest loss in one year since the report started in 2006. In India, in the 2020 index, it was expected that it would take 99.5 years to bring equality between men and women but as per the 2021 report, it would take 265 years, which means one generation.
In India, the decline also took place in the economic participation and opportunity sub-index, albeit to a lesser extent. Most of the decline occurred on the political empowerment sub-index, where India regressed 13.5%, with a significant decline in the number of women ministers (from 23.1% in 2019 to 9.1% in 2021).
WORST FEMALE LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION RATES (LFPR)
The LFPR basically tells what percentage of the total women of the working-age (aged 15 years and above) are seeking work; it includes both — those who are employed as well as those who are as yet unemployed but seeking work. Labour force participation rates (LFPR) by women, was 33.1% in 2011-12 and slipped to 25.3% in 2017-18 coinciding with a 45-year high in unemployment and further to 20% now, among the lowest in the world. At 21%, India has one of the worst labour force participation rates (LFPR) by women, even not half the global average (47%). In other words, 79% of Indian women (aged 15 years and above) do not even seek work.
Some say, in India, gender inequalities are pervasive with the female labour income share being equal to 18%. This value is one of the lowest in the world, slightly higher than the average share in West Asia at 15%. No matter which cluster of countries one compares with — high income or low, highly indebted or least developed — India comes off worse.
The two theories that are usually circulated to explain India’s low female labour force participation rate (FLFPR) are that women typically step out of the workplace to make way for the menfolk when unemployment is high and that many of them step out of the workforce to educate themselves. A recent Pew Research Centre on gender dynamics in the home and the economy adds a third explanation that suggests that the problem may be more deep-rooted: That India’s persistently low FLFPR is the result of the deep-seated conservatism of Indian society.
This is underlined by the fact that FLFPR has worsened with slowing of the Indian economy before pandemic afflicted and the consequences of Covid thereafter. The Pew Survey showed that more than half the Indians think men should get job preference when jobs are scarce.
According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) report, now, more than half of the 90 crore Indians of legal working age — roughly the population of the US and Russia combined — don’t want a job. Between 2017 and 2022, the overall labour participation rate dropped from 46 per cent to 40 per cent. Among women, the data is even starker. The fact that women constitute 48% of the population but remain mostly excluded from access to economic opportunities was clear after the lockdown was lifted in 2020. About 2.1 crores disappeared from the workforce, leaving only 9 per cent of the eligible population employed or looking for positions. women accounted for 10.7% of the workforce in 2019-20, but suffered13.9% of the job losses in April 2020. Women do not join the labour force in as many numbers because jobs are often not kind to them. Though they represent 49 per cent of India’s population, women contribute only 18 per cent of its economic output, about half the global average.
BURDEN OF FAMILY CARE ,COMMUNALISM AND PRIVATISATION EXACERBATE WOMEN’S PLIGHTS
Traditionally, women were considered to be caretakers of the home. They had to look after the running of the family smoothly, they had to manage the expenses in the most economical way possible, they had to look after aged in-laws, nurture the child, etc. They were expected to obey the orders of their husband, the elders of the family, but kept in isolation when it came to the major decision related to the family.
In early times, the status of women in India was inferior to men in practical life. They are considered the perfect homemaker in the world. With their incomparable quality of calmness of mind, they can easily handle the toughest situation. Indian women are completely devoted to their families. They are preached in the name of Saraswati, Durga, Parvati and Kali. Religious fanaticism and superstition are used to perpetuate the inferior status of women and project them as subordinate to men. According to Pew Research Centre, 80% of the Indians with a college education believe women must obey their husbands.
Present times are a poisonous period for women. In past, communal polarisation, preference for male children, patriarchal mindset, confining women into four walls of houses, and using women as objects of advertisement had adversely affected the lives of women. Now price rise, essential commodities, privatisation of essential services and public-sector have affected. Privatisation leads to downsizing, retrenchment and maximisation of profit through wage cut, increasing working hours affect women more. Privatization of education and health affect women more because privatisation leads to a rising of cost of those services and male children are given preference ahead of female children.
To emphasize ‘Nari Shakti’, Sitharaman said the government has comprehensively revamped the schemes of the Ministry of Women & Child Development. But the allocation for the women and child development ministry went up from Rs 24,435 crores in 2021-22 to Rs 25,172.28 crores in 2022-23, an increase of a paltry 3%, which is negative in real term. Revised estimates for 2021-22 was Rs 23,200 crores.
Gender budgets have continued to remain under 5% of the total Union Budget since the exercise was made mandatory in 2006. In 2020-21 the gender budget was 4.7% of the total budget outlay. It had shrunk to 4.4 % in 2021-22 and estimated to decline to 4.32% in 2022-23. What is reprehensible is that the government spent a whopping 80% of funds under its flagship Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (BBBP) scheme on media campaigns.
In December 2021, the parliament Committee on Empowerment of Women chaired by Heena Vijaykumar Gavit found that out of a total of Rs 446.72 crore released during the period 2016- 2019, a whopping 78.91% was spent only on media advocacy. Hence, it is high time to fight for gender equality especially privatisation, communalism, religious fanaticism and superstition. The government should enhance expenditure on women-specific programmes.
The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English