Gender inequality or in other words, gender discrimination refers to unfair rights between male and female based on different gender roles which leads to unequal treatment in life. It is a social problem which causes unfair treatment in society between different genders. Nevertheless India is still a male dominated country, where women are often seen as subordinate and inferior to men. Even though India is moving away from the male dominated culture, discrimination is still highly visible in rural as well as in urban areas, throughout each and every strata of society. While women are guaranteed equality under the Constitution, legal protection has a limited effect where patriarchal traditions prevail.
Firstly, gender inequality has adverse effects on the male-female balance in the population. According to statistics of the General Office for Population and Family Planning, because of the gender discrimination, there are more new-born boys than girls. A strong preference for male child in the society skews the balance between two genders. Unfortunately, this situation has been prevalent for a very long time and its impact on the population are rather huge. As per the report of Ministry of Public Health, it is estimated that, despite the attempts to reduce the fluctuation between the birth of boys and girls, in 2020 there will be 4.3 million men more than women which might have huge repercussions.
Secondly, the discrimination of genders leads to some problems in education. Education is an important tool of growth. There are many empirical evidences that, increase in female education improves human development outcomes such as child survival, health and schooling. It is normally seen in developing and underdeveloped countries that girls are more likely to be influenced to approach education.
According to the Global Gender Gap Report released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2017, India was ranked 108 on the Gender Gap scale among 144 countries. When broken down into components of gender gap, India performs well on political empowerment, but it scored badly on sex selective abortion. India also scored poorly on overall literacy and health rankings of female population. India with a 2017 ranking of 108 had an overall score of 0.669 while Iceland topped the list with an overall score 0.878. The Constitution of India has tried to provide equality of status to women. Article 15 says that no woman can be discriminated against on the ground of sex and Article 39(a) emphasis that the men and women have equal rights to an adequate means of livelihood.
There are many spheres of life where women are denied opportunities. Discrimination against female starts with their birth and continues throughout their lives. This is evident from the declining child sex ratio of India. According to 2011 census, the child sex ratio in India was 919 females to 1000 males which declined from 927 female child to 1000 male child in the previous decade. The important factor for the declining sex ratio is female foeticide, extreme poverty, dowry and preference of male child in society. The economic gender discrimination can be viewed in the labour participation of women. As per census 2011, the workforce participation rate for females is 25.51% against 53.26% for males. Females are stereotyped in various advertisements like that of washing machine, cooking utensils, perfume, sops, beauty products etc.
Another major factor of discrimination lies in the right to education. According to the census 2011, the literacy rate of females is 65.46% compared to makes which is 82.14%. Only states like Kerala and Mizoram have a high female literacy rate. The main reason behind the low female literacy rate is the mindset of the parents for whom girl’s marriage is more important than her education. The gender discrimination is evident in the healthcare sector as well. It is the male child who gets all the nutrition and choicest foods while the girl child gets whatever is left behind. One of the main reasons for the high incidences of difficult births and anemia in women is the poor quality of food which a girl always gets either in her paternal home or with her in-laws.
Gender discrimination is witnessed in the political participation of women in India as well. Women’s participation in politics is not very impressive. The number of women politician is small as compared to men. The majority of women are indifferent to politics; this is a clear in their low participation in voter turnout, public demonstrations and in public debates. Women turnout during India’s 2014 Parliamentary general elections was 65.63% compared to 67.09% turnout of men.
The bill to provide 33% reservation of seats for women in Lok Sabha is still pending in Parliament. One such field where gender discrimination in India is rampant is sports. Although India boasts of several female sportsperson like PT Usha, Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik, Deepa Karmakar and so on, who have achieved accolades and made India proud. In Rio Olympics, only the female athletes won medals for own country. Female discrimination is far more common in the field of sports than in other field. Other career choices such as mechanics, engineers, drivers etc are also male dominated.
Various protective legislations have been passed by the Parliament to eliminate exploitation of women and to give them equal status in society. The Government of India has enacted various laws like Hindu Succession Act (1956), the Dowry Prohibition Act (1961), The DC and PNDT Act (2002), reservation of 33% of seats in Panchayat for women, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 to protect the interest of women in our society. Further, government has launched some schemes like, ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’’, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya’, ‘Mother and Child Tracking System’, ‘The Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana’ etc. to lessen the gender discrimination. Apart from these initiatives taken by the government of India, many organisations are working against gender discrimination. These include: All India Democratic Women’s Association, National Commission on Women, Ministry of Women and Children Development.
So, there are varied legislative safeguards and protection mechanisms for women but the ground reality is very different. Despite all these provisions, women are still being treated as second rate citizens in our country. Therefore, what is needed is the movement for women’s empowerment. We hope that our democratic government would be able to find solutions to the problem of gender discrimination and would take us all towards the cherished dream of a truly modern society in both thought and action.