Skip to main content

Approaching gender equality in India today: paradoxes and challenges

By IMPRI Team

Despite the fact that the Constitution of India grants men and women equal rights, gender inequality and gender disparities remain. It therefore becomes imperative to question why there is no structural and visible change, especially in the realms of higher education and work, but also in domestic spaces. It is in this backdrop that #IMPRI Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organized a Special Lecture under IMPRI #WebPolicyTalk series: The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps, named Paradoxes and Challenges in Approaching Gender Equality in India Today.
The talk was chaired by Prof Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Professor, IMPRI; Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. The Speaker of the event was Prof. Mary E. John, Former Professor, Center for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi. And, the discussants for the talk were Dr Leena Pujari Associate Professor and Head, Department of Sociology, K C College, Mumbai; Prof Indira Ramarao, Scholar-in-Residence, Centre for Women’s Studies, Bangalore University, Bengaluru &Former Professor of Sociology, University of Mysore; Prof Pushpesh Kumar, Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Hyderabad.

Socio-cultural political landscape

Prof. Vibhuti Patel started the discussion by stating that the socio-cultural political landscape for gender equality in India today is determined by complex mixture of new and the old. She mentions that numerous modern institutions of governance, judiciary and politics rest on traditional gender norms that are biased against women as well as sexual and gender minorities. She opines that modernization, globalization, urbanization and the like have all led to some irreversible changes for women.
Some of these changes, she exclaims, are positive but most of them are problematic. On the one hand, opportunities for better education for mass of girls and women have expanded but that doesn’t translate into jobs or careers. Over the last quarter of the century, decision-making power of women in local self-government has increased and all political parties put up candidates for the reserved seats for women in rural and urban Panchayati raj institutions but the same politicians vehemently oppose women’s reservation in the state legislative assembly and council, and the parliament.
She also talks about how women, despite entering the male dominated sectors, have been the target of strong backlash with increased violence both within and outside the home. Besides that, they have also been victim to acute wage differential discrimination and sexual harassment at workplace. While equality, liberty, dignity, are all guaranteed by the fundamental rights of the constitution of India, religion-based family laws pursue double standards in most intimate relations such as marriage, divorce, custody and guardianship rights. She further states that reforms and legislation do not match the ground reality that is devoid of intersectional justice and a level playing field for all.

Connect or dis-connect between higher education, violence and work

The discussion was then taken over by Prof. Mary E. John, who starts her presentation by stating the fact that albeit living in one of the most gender unequal societies in the world, some attention has to be paid to a few areas where the story isn’t as bad as we think it is. She begins the discussion with the very basic conception of binary gender because that is how data is stored in our statistical systems to this day. She then states that in her presentation, she will be focussing on three categories, namely higher education, violence and work and try and see how they connect or disconnect in our understanding.
Elaborating on higher education, Prof. John talks about how despite being under scrutiny in recent years, public university has not exactly been at the heart of our concerns. She expands on that with the picture at independence when the first data sets in higher education were put together. She brings to notice that there were one lakh students at that time that were enrolled in public universities, of which 10% (=10,000) were women. This proportion increased to 40% in 2001, and has now reached 49% as per 2019-20. She then points out that because we have an adverse sex ratio, the parity has actually been crossed, thus implying that the proportion of women enrolled in higher education in India is actually more than that of men.
Prof. John then puts up a pertinent question. In that, she asks why this enormous presence of women is not more visible to us. She explains that answering this question would need an intersectional data analysis. In order to do so, she takes the discussion forward by putting forth the idea of how the differences of caste make their intersection with gender. Explaining the data, she states that a much better proportion of upper-caste men are to be found in our higher educations than scheduled castes or OBCs, while in women there is a gender gap very visible in SCs and OBCs, which is practically non-existent in the case of upper-caste women.
Data based on religion point towards the fact that the ratio in Hindus is 27.5:24.7. This ratio is much lower in Muslims, who have been more and more excluded from accessing higher education. Here too, there is differential between the figures of men and women. Interestingly, the small populations of Christians and Sikhs in India have sent more women for higher education in India, than they have sent their men. The proportion of women is relatively considerably higher in both of these religions, especially in Sikhs.
Moving to the most recent figures of 2019-20, she points out that the gross enrolment ratio (GER) has actually jumped to 27%. She explains that a certain degree of democratization can now be seen thanks largely to reservations. However, she mentions, that 10-12% of the upper-castes are still highly overrepresented in our higher education institutions today even as other groups are slowly catching up with the exception of STs. In a similar vein, Muslims are also terribly underrepresented. Intersectionally, however, women are equally present across all these groups.
Next, Prof. John continued the discussion by talking about sexual harassment and violence. She spoke about the Task Force set up by UGC in the wake of the Delhi case in 2012. This task force was responsible for reviewing and recommending on gender and sexual harassment. In talking to women especially and men, Prof. John says that what they found was a very deep intersectionality in terms of vulnerability which was compounded by one’s location. She also pointed out that disability turned out to be one of the most structurally vulnerable factors that had actually not made an impact on us prior to these investigations. In terms of violence, Prof. John reveals a shocking figure pointing out that 98% of the rape cases in India are actually by people known to the victim and only a bear 2% is the other classic stranger rape.
Prof. John then takes the discussion towards another important theme which is work and employment. In this area as well, Prof. John makes some very surprising revelations. She talks about the misconception that most people have regarding finding work opportunities in rural areas as compared to the urban areas. She points out that the employment opportunities for women are actually more in the former as compared to the latter. These numbers are roughly the same for men across all locations. However, she also points out that the female rates have declined over the years in rural India. The urban figures, that are practically half of those of our rural India, have also declined over the years. Prof. John then concludes her presentation by putting forth various paradoxes and challenges. In doing this, she raises extremely pertinent questions including topics like early marriage as coupled with compulsory marriages and unpaid domestic work coupled with poorly paid domestic workers.

SakSham Report

The discussion is then taken forward by Dr. Leena Pujari. Her presentation is focussed on the SakSham Report, and covert cases of sexism that are visible on Indian campuses of higher education today. She talks about how gender equality from being something that was thought of as unworthy for a topic of deliberation, has now become a buzzword of sorts. However, she opines that this brings a certain danger. She believes so because this in kind of proliferation, it becomes very hard to keep track of how this is being interpreted and disseminated and whether feminist insights, struggles and discourses underpin this kind of proliferation. Therefore, in her opinion, this discourse on gender equality is largely an exercise in tokenism and has now become a perfunctory affair.
Dr. Pujari then goes on to talk about how the gender regime with a focus on the savarna, able-bodied and cis-het student is constructed in very interesting ways within campuses in India. She also points out that gender equality is largely interpreted as gender parity today. She opines that truncated, piecemeal and fragmentary approaches will not help and a sustained dialogue has to be mounted at different levels in multiple forums to actually be able to create an environment where gender is taken seriously. Further, she believes that the focus should now also be on curriculum and pedagogy considering the androcentric nature of knowledge production. Particular reforms and feminist pedagogical interventions should constitute important components of the sensitization process.
Therefore, it is not just curriculum, what we actually need is a necessary pedagogical shift with the necessary feminist insights. In her opinion, what we need is a campus that is sensitive to questions of gender and committed to an environment of equality and economy for multiple genders. And Dr. Pujari believes, we need to really combat the culture of silence and impunity that is inimical to gender justice in institutions of learning.

Lack of substantive justice

Prof. Pushpesh Kumar then attempts to the connect the three themes covered by Prof. John in the context of neoliberal India. He points out that a lack of substantive justice is an apparent theme in terms of offering a number of rights to women and the LQBTQIA+ community. In his opinion, the fact that despite the existence of committees like ICC and the rights offered to people of the aforementioned community, barely anything is actually being translated to proper rules and laws, and this, he believes, serves the neo-liberal agenda.

Opportunities for women

Prof. R. Indira then takes the discussion forward by stating the fact that opportunities have increased but not everybody has the same kind of opportunity. She also talks about how there is a need to look at education from a different perspective. She points out that albeit the number of women in higher education institutions is increasing, it has also become increasingly important to follow them up and know where they end up going. In this context, she talks about early and compulsory marriages as well.
With regards to violence, and committees like ICC, Prof. R. Indira opines that in most institutions they want people who just tow the line rather than people who are actually aware gender-aware. Therefore, she believes this is an issue that needs to be looked into, of how the committees which have the responsibility to make institutions gender sensitive are themselves gender insensitive. She concludes the discussion by quoting Prof. Mary E. John, saying “Intersectionality is about invisible women.” Prof. R. Indira believes that it is these invisible women in campuses, in workforce, in discourses on violence, in decision-making bodies that we have to be talking about.
---
Acknowledgement: Palak Bothra, Research Intern at IMPRI

Comments

TRENDING

Sorry state of Indian academics: why was I thrown out of Delhi varsity interview room?

By Dr. Abhay Kumar*  The interview for the post of political science (Guest) was scheduled on Saturday afternoon, September 10, 2022. Given my previous experience, I was not willing to appear for it. But friends persuaded me to go and fight for our rights. I reached the college well before the time. When my turn came and I entered the room. The first question was asked about my experience. I said that I had taught for four semesters at NCWEB. I mentioned that I had taught ”Comparative politics”, “International Relations”, “Comparative Political Thoughts” and “Indian Government and Politics”. I said that as a teacher I had taught all the articles listed in the syllabus of the same Delhi University and the expert could ask anything about any reading or ideas. Friends, the first question asked by a female member, perhaps she is the principal of the college if I am not wrong, to give the full form of NCWEB! The second question asked by a male expert, perhaps he is the political science dep

Musician and follower of Dr Ambedkar? A top voilinist has this rare combination!

Some time back, a human rights defender, Vidya Bhushan Rawat, who frequently writes for Counterview, forwarded to me a video interview with Guru Prabhakar Dhakade, calling him one of India's well known violinists.  Dhakade is based in Nagpur and has devoted his life for the Hindustani classical music. A number of his disciples have now been part of Hindi cinema world in Mumbai, says Rawat. He has performed live in various parts of the country as well as abroad. What however attracted me was Dhakade's assertions in video about Dr BR Ambedkar, India's undisputed Dalit icon. Recorded several years back at his residence and music school in Nagpur, Dhakade not only speaks candidly about issues he faced, but that he is a believer in Dr Ambedkar's philosophy. It is in this context that Dhakade narrates his problems, even as stating that he is determined to achieve his goal. A violinist and a follower of Ambedkar? This was new to me. Rarely do musicians are found to take a

Tokens, symbols or incipient feminists? : First generation women sociologists in India

By IMPRI Team  The online event on the theme ‘Tokens, Symbols or Incipient Feminists? : The first Generation of Women Sociologists in India’ was held as an initiative of Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi under the #WebPolicyTalk series of The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps. Inaugurating the session, Zubiya Moin welcomed the speaker and participants to the program, followed by an introduction to the eminent panelists. Commencing the program, Prof Vibhuti Patel made her opening remarks welcoming Prof Kamla Ganesh, Feminist Sociologists and then greeted Prof Ratna Naidu and the editors of book ‘Reimaging Sociology in India: Feminist Perspective’, Dr Gita Chadha and Dr. Joseph M.T. along with Prof Arvinder Ansari and also welcomed all participants. She set up the stage by making us familiar with women sociologists and their works. Dr Gita Chadha, Editor of the book ‘Reimaging Sociology in India: Feminist Perspective’ After th

Omission of duty by BSF and police: Hindu forcefully kidnapped, taken to Bangladesh

Kirity Roy, Secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), & National Convenor, Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (PACTI) writes to the Chairman, National Human Rights Commission: *** I am writing this to focus on the life and situation of the poor and marginalized villagers living alongside the Indo-Bangladesh border of West Bengal. Through the several complaints we made throughout the years to your good office, it is now evident that the people of this border are living in an acute crisis, not only from a financial perspective but also in terrible distress. The people of the border are devoid of their basic rights and are subjected to immense torture, harassment and restrictions mostly enacted by the Border Security Force personnel, who are supposed to be posted at the international borders with intentions to protect the Indian citizenry. However, on the contrary, incidents of victimizing Indian citizens are being witnessed at large by the BSF. 130 Bhot

Tamil Nadu govt claiming to reform Hindu religion, temples. People deserve better

By NS Venkataraman  For the last several decades, there have been hate campaign against Hinduism in Tamil Nadu in a subtle or not so subtle manner. Initially, it was a hate campaign against brahmins and the brahmins were abused, insulted and physically attacked. Fearing such conditions, many brahmin families left Tamil Nadu to settle down in other states in India or have gone abroad. Now, the brahmin population in Tamil Nadu is at microscopic level, for which these hate campaigners against brahmins were responsible. Later on, emboldened by the scenario of scared brahmin families not resisting and running away, the hate campaigners started focusing on Hindus. For some years, when M.G.Ramachandran and Jayalalitha were the chief ministers of the state, the hate Hindu campaigners were not much heard, as both these chief ministers were staunch believers in Hindu philosophy and have been offering prayers in temples in full public view. However, in the last eighteen months in

Emerging dimensions of India’s foreign policy in the context of global politics

By IMPRI Team  The three-day course took place recently, providing participants with an understanding of the development of Indian foreign policy, the complexity of geopolitics, and its flexibility to adjust to and even shape global outcomes. Many distinguished academics, senior scholars, former Indian diplomats, and journalists who are skilled observers and commentators of India’s foreign policy will serve as instructors for this course. Day 1 The three-day immersive online certificate training on “Emerging Dimensions of India’s Foreign Policy and Global Politics”, an initiative by the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), began on July 14th, 2022 at 5:00 PM (IST) on Zoom platform. Dr Souravie Ghimiray served as the emcee throughout the 3 days of the event and welcomed the distinguished speakers of Day 1. The esteemed panel on Day 1 consisted of, Dr Soumita Basu, Associate Professor, Department of Intern

Demographic parameters of India@75: resource allocation, political representation

By IMPRI Team  As per UN Population Prospects 2022, India is going to be the most populous country in the world. In this regard, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi with #IMPRI Center for Human Dignity and Development (CHDD) , organized a panel discussion, #WebPolicyTalk, as part of the series The State of Population Development- #PopulationAnd Development on India@75: Most Populous Country? The moderator of the event was Mr Devender Singh, Global Studies Programme, University of Freiburg and a Visiting Senior Fellow at IMPRI. The panellists for the event were Prof P.M Kulkarni, Demographer, Retired Professor of Population Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University(JNU) , New Delhi; Dr U.V Somayajulu, Co-Founder, CEO and Executive Director, Sigma Research and Consulting ; Dr Sonia George, General Secretary, Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), Kerala; Prof K.S James, Director and Senior Professor, International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), Mumbai. Th

Bhagawat Gita shows the way for the attitude to life and desirable goal of life

By NS Venkataraman*  When a mother delivers a human body, this body has no identity. Then, parents, relatives, friends consult each other and discuss the alternate appropriate names and arrive at a suitable name for this human body and this body is known and identified by this name. This human body, which steadily grow just like animals, plants and others and after experiencing the pleasures and pains of worldly life alternately for several years, perish one day, for the body to be burnt or buried. This body, bearing a name as it’s identity, comes in to the world and goes away from the world and the name that is the identity for the body also goes away along with the body. This is the scenario for several thousands of years that have gone by. The question: One question that does not seem to be still “convincingly explained” in a way that will appeal to the brain in the human body, is as to whether this human body only consists of flesh, bone and blood with well

Implementing misleading govt order to pollute Hyderabad's 100 year old reservoirs

Senior activists* represent to the Telangana Governor on GO Ms 69 dated 12.4.2022 issued by the Municipal Administration and Urban Development (MA&UD), Government of Telangana: ‘...restrictions imposed under para 3 of said GO Ms 111 dated 8.3.1996 are removed...’: *** Ref: GO Ms 111 dated 8.3.1996: ‘To prohibit polluting industries, major hotels, residential colonies or other establishments that generate pollution in the catchment of the lakes upto 10kms from full tank level as per list in Annexure-I...’ We come to your office with grievance that GO Ms 69 dated 12.4.2022 issued by Government of Telangana not only contains false information issued ‘By Order and in the name of the Governor of Telangana’ , without any scientific or expert reports, but also that implementation of the said GO is detrimental and can be catastrophic to the Hyderabad city as two 100 year old reservoirs Osman Sagar and Himayath Sagar were constructed as dams on river Moosa and river Esa, with the first and

Tattoos and intimidating gestures can't always win cricket matches for India

By Sudhansu R Das  Team India waited with baited breath for the outcome of the Pakistan vs Afghanistan match. Speculation was on about India’s return to the game if Pakistan loses to Afghanistan until Pakistan’s tailender, Naseem hit two massive sixes to win the match for Pakistan. Unfortunately, Afghanistan lost the match after being in a strong position till the last over of the game; two full touch balls in the final over turned the match into Pakistan side. The Afghanistan team would never forget this blunder and shock for a long time. India’s team management should introspect and take tough decision keeping in view of the tough match situation in the world cup matches. India lost two crucial matches in the Asia Cup. It could not defend a big total of 176 against Pakistan due to mediocre bowling attack, sloppy fielding and unimaginative captainship. It failed against Sri Lanka in similar fashion; it could not defend another respectable T 20 total of 171 runs. It was a pat