Owing to the sacrifices of our founders, on this day, 73 years ago, our colonisers officially left India. Since then, our country has come a long way overcoming numerous challenges in the social, political and cultural sphere of governance. With the efforts of all citizens led by various governments, we have raised our literacy rates, life expectancy, revolutionised agriculture, and opened our markets to the world economy. While we have many accomplishments for a nation that suffered two centuries of imperialism, it is important to also reflect on where we stand now which would help us in determining the way forward. Let’s have a look at the status of women as we celebrate the 74th day of our independence, shall we?
Gender Equality Index
In the most recent Gender Equality Index, India ranked 95th out of 129 countries, based on issues ranging from health, Gender-Based Violence, climate change, and decent work. Gender inequality in India continues to be a major hindrance in helping the country realise its full socio-economic development potential.
Women in Workforce
The overall status of women according to the latest World Bank data can be described as “very poor” with the labour force participation rate of women at a historic low of 20.52 percent. India could add a minimum of $700 billion to its GDP by 2025, just by increasing its women’s Labour Force Participation by 10% and enabling its women to participate in the economy on par with men. The then International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s chief, Christine Lagarde, said in 2015 that India could increase its GDP by 27% by equating its number of male and female workers.
Data from the 2011 Census of India shows that youth (15-29 years) in urban India start working late, but the real story is that more than half of the young women population do not work – only 39% of women aged 25-29 are in the workforce, compared to 87% of men. This gender gap is downright grim. Unemployment rates are significantly higher in urban India.
Violence against women
Violence against women in India is systemic and is a common sight in both personal as well as professional spaces. Patriarchy, societal norms, intra-gender structures, power structures are all responsible for subjugation of the voices of women. Intimate partner violence is on the rise with nearly 31% of women having reported experiencing physical, sexual or emotional violence by their spouses. It is important to note here that many cases go unreported because of the stigma and societal pressure surrounding such cases.
Women also fear marginalisation and social exclusion; and are discriminated on the basis of not only their gender identity but caste, class, tradition and other realities in the society. The number of cases related to rapes, violence against women have seen a sharp increase over the years and delay in justice to the survivors of such heinous crimes has only encouraged these offences. This claim is backed by the data which states that even by the end of 2017, more than 1,28,000 rape cases were pending trial in India. To top it, the Indian law still does not classify marital rape as a crime which snatches women of all their rights and agency since marriage is upheld as a sacred institution in the Indian society and something as basic as sexual consent loses its meaning in front of it.
Women’s Political Representation
With only 14.3% women elected to our Lok Sabha, when it comes to women’s representation in parliaments, India ranks 142 out of 193 countries according to a report by Inter-Parliamentary Union released on 1st January 2020. Women are grossly under-represented in Indian politics. In India, gender quotas, the need of the hour, should become a talking point. The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments mandated reserved seats for women in the local governments which led to the rise of women’s representation from a mere 3-4% to a national average of 44% now. However, the Women’s Reservation Bill — a proposed law mandating 33% for women in the Lok Sabha and in all the state Legislative Assemblies — was first introduced in 1996. The Rajya Sabha passed the historic bill in 2010 but the failure of the Lok Sabha to get a consensus rendered it lapsed in 2014.
Violence and Trolling of Women in Politics
Women’s participation in politics at various levels of government has provoked significant hostility and discriminatory backlash. The most prominent ones take the form of expectations of sexual favours, character assassination- both online and offline on public platforms, verbal harassment, threats of violence & sexual abuse, emotional blackmail and kidnapping.
Since access to social media has become relatively easy nowadays, even the most privileged women politicians are targets of sexist, misogynistic, and hostile comments on various social media platforms. An Amnesty International report stated that 1 in 7 tweets about female politicians were abusive or problematic during the 2019 general election. This is nearly twice as much harassment than their counterparts in the United Kingdom and the United States have faced. In addition to this, the backhanded and sexist comments from male politicians work to create an online movement of more abuse and negativity for women in politics.
The above are some of the parameters we, at Femme First Foundation, have been tracking since our inception. As we aim to increase representation of women in politics and normalise gendered leadership, we feel it is imperative to also shed light on the various kinds of oppression women continue to face and initiate conversations on how to address them. The #StatusOfWomen2020 Report is a step towards that direction.