The status of India’s women - Hindustan Times
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The status of India’s women

ByHT Editorial
Mar 07, 2023 08:33 PM IST

The glass ceiling is shattering across fields. But a lot more is needed to ensure gender equality

Do women get a fair deal in India? Even at the risk of being symbolic, this is a question worth asking on International Women’s Day. Numbers speak for themselves. The share of women Members of Parliament who got elected to the Lok Sabha in the 2019 general elections is just 14%. Only 33% of women over the age of 15 are working or even looking for a job, compared to 77% of their male counterparts, according to the latest report of the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS). An average Indian woman spends 19.5% of her time engaged in either unpaid domestic work or unpaid care-giving services, according to the Time Use Survey (TUS) conducted between January and December 2019. For men, this number is just 2.5%. The latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS) shows that 58% of Indian women in the age group of 15-49 are anaemic, more than double the share of men who suffer from this problem.

For the cause of equality to advance in India, the realm of economic struggles must intersect with struggles being waged in the realm of gender and caste. (Getty Images/iStockphoto) PREMIUM
For the cause of equality to advance in India, the realm of economic struggles must intersect with struggles being waged in the realm of gender and caste. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Have things changed for better or worse? The answer to this question is slightly more complicated.

When it comes to health indicators, the NFHS does show some improvement in the last couple of decades. While there is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that women are breaking the glass ceiling in various fields of work, numbers from macro surveys such as the PLFS continue to disappoint. In the social realm, there is reason to believe that greater social mobility and freedom of choice have led to the mutation of old forms of violence/oppression against women into new ones. If the 1980s were about dowry deaths, the 2020s are increasingly making news about the violence faced by women within live-in relationships.

How can things improve? One cannot move sincerely on this front without recognising that the Indian society at large does have a bigger problem of entrenched patriarchal vices than other countries, not just in the developed but even developing world. This is where social movements and behavioural change are still important. However, it will be a mistake to ignore the fact that a lot of structural problems facing women are delinked from the larger problem of inequality in Indian society and economy. For the cause of equality to advance in India, the realm of economic struggles must intersect with struggles being waged in the realm of gender and caste.

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