Is celebrating Women’s Day enough to achieve gender equality?

There is a need for all stakeholders, particularly men, to shoulder responsibility to bridge the gender gap. Men should be prepared to use their privilege to support gender equality.

International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on March 8 to focus on the women’s rights movement, bringing attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and crime against women.  The theme for International Women’s Day 2023 is ‘Cracking the Code: Innovation for a gender equal future’.

Notwithstanding the celebrations over Women’s Day year after year in India, gender pay gap is a persistent issue with women often earning significantly less than men for performing the same work. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, women in India earn just 71% of what men earn. This disparity is not only unfair, but it also has a significant impact on the economic stability and growth of the country.

Miffed over the report, the Union Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani had led an Indian delegation to Davos and the World Economic Forum (WEF) agreed take into account the participation of women at panchayat level to rank countries in its future Global Gender Gap reports, which will enhance India’s position at the global level. The international body is re-examining and changing the indices for the ranking according to a written assurance given to Smriti Irani. She had questioned the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index assessment which ranked India at 135th place in terms of gender parity. Irani had said the Index failed to take into account the political empowerment and financial inclusion of women at the grassroots level.

However, the WEF report is not alone in indicting us.  According to a report by the International Labour Organisation, the gender pay gap in India stands at 27% as of 2023. This means that, on average, women in India earn 73% of what men earn for doing the same job. This gap is even wider in certain industries, such as the technology sector, where women earn just 60% of what men earn.

Ironically even in the technology sector, there is a gender gap. Despite the fact that women make up nearly 30% of the Indian technology workforce, they are often paid less than their male counterparts. A study by the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) found that women in technology roles earn 29% less than men, with the gap being even wider at the senior management level. This disparity is not only unfair, but it also limits the potential for economic growth in the sector, as it discourages women from entering the sunrise technology sector in India.

Another example of the gender pay gap in India is the disparity in the retail sector. A study by the Retailers Association of India found that women make up for 70% of its retail workforce in India, but they are often paid less than men for performing the same work. The study found that women earn just 67% of what men earn in the retail sector, with the gap being even wider at the upper management level. This disparity not only limits the potential for economic growth in the retail sector, but it also has a significant impact on the economic stability of women and their families.

 One of the main reasons for the gender pay gap in India is the lack of women in leadership position in India. According to a report by McKinsey, just 14% of senior-level positions in India are held by women. This lack of representation at the top levels of organizations leads to a lack of role models for women and a lack of policies and practices that support gender equality. The gender pay gap in India is not only an economic issue but also a societal one, as it is deeply rooted in cultural and societal biases.

The struggle to achieve gender equality and bridge the gap between men and women is a long and difficult one. The last Global Gender Gap Index for 2022 placed India at 135th spot out of 146 countries.  India’s ranking in 2021 was 140 out of 156 countries. The Global Gender Gap Index benchmarks the current state and evolution of gender parity across four dimensions: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival, and political empowerment. India ranks poorly among its neighbours and is behind Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Bhutan. Only Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan perform worse than India in the region.

There have been enough numbers from the ground to indicate that India, with a female population of approximately 66 crore, has faltered on the road to gender parity. The best way to improve India’s abysmal ranking is to do it right by women. For that, it is imperative to increase representation of women in leadership positions at all levels so that women get greater access to jobs and resources. It is up to the Government to move beyond tokenisms and help women overcome staggering economic and social barriers.

 It’s a time to celebrate the achievements of women, whether social, political, economic or cultural. On International Women’s Day we have to remember that as long as one woman faces discrimination, harassment, inequality or oppression, there will be no purpose in celebrating the Day.

Every child deserves to reach her or his full potential, but gender inequalities in their lives and in the lives of those who care for them hinder this reality. Wherever they live girls and boys see gender inequality in their homes and communities every day – in textbooks, in movies, in the media and among the men and women who provide their care and support. Across India, gender inequality results in unequal opportunities, and while it impacts on the lives of both genders, statistically it is girls that are the most disadvantaged.

In India, girls and boys experience adolescence differently. While boys tend to experience greater freedom, girls tend to face extensive limitations on their ability to move freely and to make decisions affecting their work, education, marriage and social relationships. As girls and boys age, the gender barriers continue to expand and continue into adulthood where we see only a quarter of women in the formal workplace.

The tasks are cut to reduce excess female mortality under five, improving nutrition of women and girls,  gender responsive support to enable out-of-school girls to learn and enabling more gender-responsive curricula and pedagogy, ending child marriage and ensuring girls’ access to menstrual hygiene. On its part, the government has launched schemes like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao to ensure the protection, survival and education of the girl child. To bring women in the mainstream of political leadership at the grass root level, the government has reserved 33% of the seats in Panchayati Raj Institutions for women. Capacity Building of Panchayat Stakeholders including Elected Women Representatives is conducted with a view to empowering women to participate effectively in the governance processes.

There is a need for all stakeholders particularly men to shoulder this responsibility to bridge the gender gap.  It’s time for everyone, regardless of gender or gender identity, to celebrate the progress that women have made towards equality. Men should be prepared to use their privilege to support gender equality. Feminism isn’t just about improving the lives of women, it’s about dismantling all damaging gender stereotypes and roles. Achieving gender equality should be as important for men as it is for women.