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The Dichotomy of Indian Women: Underpaid and Overworked Across Sectors

Mani Chander

Did you know Serena Williams is paid less than Rodger Federer? Did you know Mithali Raj, the Indian Women’s Cricket team captain earns merely 7% of what Virat Kohli does? A top Indian women’s cricket player earns less than a male cricketer with the lowest-level Grade C contract, and while films with a male lead make $40 million at the box office, those with a female lead earn less than a quarter in Bollywood. Ever wondered why it is so rare in India to encounter a female Uber driver? Did you know that men Uber drivers earn at least seven percent more than women Uber drivers? Or that freelancing males make on average 50% more than their female counterparts?

The answer to these unsettling questions point to two predominant correlational factors – women have fewer economic opportunities and are persistently paid less compared to men. This reality spans across sectors and professions, even when years of experience, hours worked, and educational background of a man and woman are identical. Studies reveal that women are paid approximately 34% less than men for performing the same job with the same qualifications. Besides, societal norms, biases in recruiting and gender-based occupational segregation directly influence women’s occupational choices and in turn, their earnings.

The sectors where women are overrepresented are conventional, low-paying occupations. Even where women are over-represented, they are paid much lower than men for the same work. Take for instance, the agriculture sector – although 74% of the agricultural labor force consists of women, yet the wage gap is significant. Similarly, women in academia and those involved in care work, such as domestic workers are also paid considerably lower than their male counterparts. On the other hand, women continue to be substantially under-represented in stereotypically “male professions”, particularly in senior leadership positions. As per data from the World Economic Forum Report 2020, women in the country account for only 14% of leadership roles and 30% of professional and technical workers. An appalling 8.9% of firms have females as managers in India. 

Now, consider the prospects of women in a heavily male-dominant establishment such as the Indian army, for example. Until February 2020, women were inducted into the army through short service commissions, which only permitted them to serve 10 to 14 years, resulting in widening of the gender pay gap. Interestingly, the Central Government had opposed the inclusion of women in command positions before the Supreme Court of India claiming that women officers must deal with pregnancy, motherhood and domestic obligations towards their families. The Central Government went so far as to make the preposterous argument that women are not well suited to the life of a soldier in the armed forces. However, the Supreme Court held that the Government’s plea was based on discriminatory gender stereotypes and directed the Government to grant permanent commission and command positions to women officers at par with men. One must ask, what the future beholds for women in a country whose own government – that is mandated by the Constitution to promote gender equality – questions their ability to perform at par with men? 

The situation isn’t much different when it comes to politics. Even in the political space, women lack opportunities for growth at every level and continue to be extremely under-represented. Despite a massive push from various stakeholders, the Women’s Reservation Bill is yet to see light of day. It is not uncommon to find women being incessantly undermined and interrupted by men as they speak on the floor of the Parliament, on TV and on Twitter. In a study of more than one lakh tweets mentioning 95 prominent female leaders, it was found that one in every seven tweets that mentioned women politicians in India was “problematic” or “abusive” while one in every five was sexist or misogynistic. Such pervasive toxicity is bound to drive women away from politics and leadership roles which directly impacts the gender gap.

The industry of entertainment and sports also suffers from gross pay disparities. In Bollywood, movies with women leads make much less revenue when compared to those with male lead actors. Typically, even women-centric movies that do well have prominent men as leads. Television commercials continue to reinforce the stereotypical subservient woman on screen. The near-religious fever of the Indian people for the sport of cricket too is selective when it comes to men and women cricketers. A professional football player gets between Rs. 65 to 70 lakhs while a female footballer earns between Rs. 5 to Rs 10 lakhs. In Hockey, the gap widens as we see a minimum of ten-fold wage gap. So, do we only bleed blue for our men? 

Across sectors, no profession remains untouched by the gender pay divide. Is it not disconcerting that four out of five women in India do not work? Yet, those who do are penalised every step of the way, with constant discrimination and ostracisation that reinforce the misconception that it’s okay to pay women less. It is not okay, and the problem won’t correct itself. It is time we consciously acknowledge the pervasiveness of gender stereotypes and engage collectively to create a level playing field for all women – in farms or fields, boardrooms or courtrooms, schools or screens, parliament or entertainment among others, and foremostly, in our homes.

* Views are personal. This piece is the second in the series “Bridge the Gap” presented by The Womb. The author of the series is a Delhi based practicing lawyer who holds a special interest in gender justice. She is admitted to the New York State Bar and holds a Master’s degree from the University of Virginia School of Law, United States.

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