Gender equality describes the absence of obvious or hidden disparities among individuals based on gender. Disparities can include the discrimination in terms of opportunities, resources, services, benefits, decision-making power and influence. It is important to note that Gender is a social construct which is based on social roles, not sexual differences per se. The dichotomous nature of gender lends to the creation of inequality that manifests itself in numerous dimensions of daily life.
Income disparities linked to job stratification Wage Gaps
Between Men and Women or Wage Gaps Between Men and Womens between gender stems from processes that determine the quality and earnings associated with jobs in certain sectors. Earnings associated with jobs will cause income inequality to take form in the placement of individuals into particular jobs through individual qualifications or stereotypical norms. Placement of men or women into particular job categories can be based on particular qualifications of individuals or abilities associated with biological differences in men and women. Conversely, the placement of men or women into separate job categories is argued to be caused by social status groups who desire to keep their position through the placement of those in lower statuses to lower paying positions.
Gender roles in parenting and marriage
Gender roles develop through internalisation and identification during childhood. Sigmund Freud suggested that biology determines gender identity through identification with either the mother or the father. While some people agree with Freud, others argue that the development of the “gendered self” is not completely determined by biology, but rather the interactions that one has with the primary caregiver.
From birth, parents interact differently with children depending on their sex, and through this interaction parents can instill different values or traits in their children on the basis of what is normative for their sex. This internalisation of gender norms includes the choice of toys (“feminine” toys often reinforce interaction, nurturing, and closeness, “masculine” toys often reinforce independence and competitiveness) that a parents give to their children. Education also plays an integral role in the creation of gender norms.
Gender roles that are created in childhood may permeate throughout life and help to structure parenting and marriage, especially in relation to work in and outside home. Despite the increasing number of women in the labor force, women are still responsible for the majority of domestic chores and childcare. While women split their time between work and care of the home, men in many societies are pressured into being the primary economic supporter of the home. Despite the fact that different households may divide chores more evenly, there is evidence supporting the fact that women have retained the primary caregiver role within familial life despite contributing economically to the household. This evidence suggest that women who work outside the home often put an extra 18 hours a week doing household or childcare related chores as opposed to men who average 12 minutes a day in childcare activities.
Gendered media Media representations of men and women tend to conform to traditional gender norms, reinforcing the aggressive independence of men and the passive dependence of women. Although exceptions certainly exist, entertainment industries predominantly present men and women in roles that reinforce inequality between the sexes. Men are presented as career oriented, lazy, or incompetent in doing housework, and rarely are they presented as caregivers for their families. Women are almost always presented in advertisements for household care products, or conversely the archetypal “man-eater”. These presentations of gender in the media reinforce and hold up gender norms within the home as well as in the public sphere and contribute to gender inequities in society.
Gender Equality in India
Discrimination against women and girls is a pervasive and long-running phenomenon that characterises Indian society at every level. India’s progress towards gender equality, measured by its position on rankings such as the Gender Development Index has been disappointing, despite fairly rapid rates of economic growth.
In the past decade, while Indian GDP has grown by around 6%, there has been a large decline in female labour force participation from 34% to 27%. The male-female wage gap has been stagnant at 50% (a recent survey finds a 27% gender pay gap in white-collar jobs).
Crimes against women show an upward trend, in particular brutal crimes such as rapes, dowry deaths, and honour killings. These trends are disturbing, as a natural prediction would be that with growth comes education and prosperity, and a possible decline in adherence to traditional institutions and socially prescribed gender roles that hold women back.
A preference for sons
Cultural institutions in India, particularly those of patrilineality (inheritance through male descendants) and patrilocality (married couples living with or near the husband’s parents), play a central role in perpetuating gender inequality and ideas about gender-appropriate behaviour.
A culturally ingrained parental preference for sons — emanating from their importance as caregivers for parents in old age — is linked to poorer consequences for daughters. The dowry system, involving a cash or in-kind payment from the bride’s family to the groom’s at the time of marriage, is another institution that disempowers women. The incidence of dowry payment, which is often a substantial part of a household’s income, has been steadily rising over time across all regions and socioeconomic classes.
There is clearly a need for policy initiatives to empower women as gender disparities in India persist even against the backdrop of economic growth.
Current literature provides pointers from policy changes that have worked so far. One unique policy experiment in village-level governance that mandated one-third representation for women in positions of local leadership has shown promising results. Evaluations of this affirmative action policy have found that in villages led by women, the preferences of female residents are better represented, and women are more confident in reporting crimes that earlier they may have considered too stigmatising to bring to attention.
Female leaders also serve as role models and raise educational and career aspirations for adolescent girls and their parents. Behavioural studies find that while in the short run there is backlash by men as traditional gender roles are being challenged, the negative stereotype eventually disappears. This underscores the importance of sustained affirmative action as a way to reduce gender bias.
Getting to parity
For India to maintain its position as a global growth leader, more concerted efforts at local and national levels, and by the private sector are needed to bring women to parity with men. While increasing representation of women in the public spheres is important and can potentially be attained through some form of affirmative action, an attitudinal shift is essential for women to be considered as equal within their homes and in broader society. Educating Indian children from an early age about the importance of gender equality could be a meaningful start in that direction.
While the world has achieved progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment under the Millennium Development Goals (including equal access to primary education between girls and boys), women and girls continue to suffer discrimination and violence in every part of the world.
Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. Unfortunately, at the current time, 1 in 5 women and girls between the ages of 15-49 have reported experiencing physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner within a 12-month period and 49 countries currently have no laws protecting women from domestic violence. Progress is occurring regarding harmful practices such as child marriage and FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), which has declined by 30% in the past decade, but there is still much work to be done to complete eliminate such practices.
Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large. Implementing new legal frameworks regarding female equality in the workplace and the eradication of harmful practices targeted at women is crucial to ending the gender-based discrimination prevalent in many countries around the world.
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