In India, gender discrimination accounts for over 98% of the employment and earning gap between men and women, Oxfam's India Discrimination Report published last week has revealed.
Be it salaried jobs or self-employment, gender discrimination affects women across the board. Gender biases not only result in lesser pay but also result in women leaving the workforce. Discrimination based on gender, according to the report, is all pervasive in women's experience at work in India.
Amitabh Behar, CEO of Oxfam India told BOOM, "Our report reveals that employers still pay women less than men. 75% of the wage gap in regular/salaried jobs is because of gender discrimination – not because women have lesser levels of education and experience. In self-employment, women earn less than men and 85% of the earning gap is because of their gender."
The report found that if women face inequality in employment, it is 100% because of gender discrimination. While there is a significant pay gap between men and women, the report found that 83% was because of gender-based discrimination and only 17% was because of lack of education and work experience.
Why gender discrimination affects pay
Behar said that gender discrimination in the labour market "has been total." The pay gap because of discrimination was the highest in casual labour where 95% of the gap was because of gender discrimination, as compared to 83% overall.
Explaining why the pay gap is connected to gender, Behar said, "Labour markets don't operate in a vacuum and they reflect the prejudicial treatment that women experience in our society. Employers can have gender-linked prejudices that might lead to unfavourable recruitment strategies. For example, they might consider women's marital status or motherhood responsibilities as obstacles that will hinder their productivity in the workplace."
More women are leaving the workforce
While several earlier studies have shown that workplaces cater to the needs of men, the India Discrimination Report found that the rate of participation of women in the labour force had been rapidly declining going from 42.7% in 2004-05 to 25.1% in 2021. This was despite economic growth in the country during this period.
The report found that between 2019-20, 60% of all males aged 15 years and more have regular, salaried and self-employed jobs while only 19% of all similarly aged females held jobs.
Long commutes make things worse
Travelling to the workplace has been a challenge for women in absence of proper public transport systems to ensure last-minute connectivity. "Mobility is an issue that hinders women's involvement in the labour market," Behar said, adding that India had one of the worst commuter gender ratios in the world. "Data shows that for every four men, one woman commutes for work. According to the last census, over 45% of working women do not commute, one of the reasons being the lack of safe transport options."
Behar said most women either walk or rely on public transport, and workplaces that are not well connected by public transport or have a long commute time will have lesser participation of women.
Caste, religion adds to gender bias
The report said that people from the Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes earned Rs 5,000 less than a non-SC/ST person on average. Similarly, non-Muslims earned Rs 7,000 per month more than Muslims. "People's social identities often overlap to create distinct and compounding experiences of discrimination. The marginalisation of SC women is different – doubly marginalised because of her gender identity and her caste identity - from the marginalisation of 'Forward Caste' women," Behar said.
The report indicates that the SC and ST communities in rural areas are facing a rapid increase in discrimination in casual employment. The data shows that the unequal income among rural SC and ST casual wage work is because of 79 per cent discrimination in 2019-20, a sharp increase of 10 per cent from 2018-19, the report said.
Behar said that the report concluded that caste-based discrimination is relatively higher in rural areas. "The probability of women in rural areas being discriminated against in getting hired or receiving pay for their gender as well as their caste becomes much more. Our analysis has been limited to the intersectionality between region and gender and there is definitely further scope to delve into this," he said.
Self-employment isn't a boon
Salaried or self-employed, the discrimination based on gender is reflected in both cases. The Oxfam findings indicate that employment inequality faced by women in the labour market is 100% in rural areas and 98% in urban areas because of discrimination in regular salaried jobs and self-employment.
Self-employed men earn 2.5 times more than women, and in rural areas self-employed men earn twice that of their female counterparts.
How does South Asia fare in the gender pay gap?
While the gender pay gap stands at 24% globally, the numbers stand at 33% in South Asia which includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. In the region, the disparities are starker in rural areas.
This isn't good news for the economy
Behar said that diminishing numbers of women in the workforce will have "economic repercussions". "Women's employment is reflective of economic opportunities and women's higher participation in the workforce leads to economic success," he said, adding that lower gender inequality is associated with higher GDP per capita across nations.
He said that the World Economic Forum estimates that raising women's participation in the labour force can increase India's GDP by 27%. "Per capita incomes are estimated to rise by as much as 20% by 2030 if women's paid employment rates were raised to the same level as men's in 15 major developing economies," he said.
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