Gender-based discrimination is the reason for 98 percent of the employment gap between males and females in urban India, an extensive analysis by Oxfam India has found.
The 'India Discrimination Report 2022' further revealed that self-employed urban males earn 2.5 times more than their female counterparts, 83 percent of this wage gap is attributed to gender-based discrimination.
The research found that discrimination against women in India is so high that there is hardly any difference observed across religious and caste-based sub-groups. All women, regardless of their socio-economic position, are highly discriminated against.
The report stated that the "high gender inequity is so much so that the probability of a woman being employed in decent jobs has no bearing on her endowments. In simple terms, this means that the employment status of women does not depend on their educational qualifications. This leads to the alarming result emerging from a mathematical model that gender discrimination is almost total in the country."
"This is partly because women candidates are not selected by employers due to their gender-linked prejudices. More importantly, a sizable segment of qualified women is not available in the labour market because of “family responsibilities” or the need to conform to social norms, status within the caste hierarchy and community, family traditions, etc, that are often at odds with participation in the labour force."Professor Amitabh Kundu, Lead Author, Oxfam India’s 'India Discrimination Report 2022'
60% Men, Mere 19% Women in Salaried & Self-Employed Jobs: Findings From Urban India
Government data from the Periodic Labour Force Survey, as analysed by Oxfam India, revealed that all women in urban India, regardless of their socio-economic position, are highly discriminated against.
As per the Oxfam report, which derives from the PLFS survey, 60 percent of urban men are engaged in salaried jobs or are self-employed, whereas this figure is reduced to a mere 19 percent for women.
Although the probability of obtaining employment at higher ages is greater for both genders, there is more improvement for men. This implies that there is a disproportionately higher chance of more educated men at higher ages getting jobs than women in similar positions.
Endowment factors explain only 2 percent of the probability of being employed for women. In other words, societal discrimination is behind 98 percent of the total employment gap between genders.
Improvement in Education Level Does Not Improve Chances of Women Working: Findings From Rural India
In a counterintuitive discovery, the Oxfam India report has found that as the education level of a rural household increases, the chances of a woman from that household stepping out to partake in salaried or self-created employment reduces.
While 53.8 percent of the 15+ population of men is engaged in salaried or self-employed work in rural areas, the figure for women is 23.3 percent only.
Surprisingly, in rural areas, any “social capital” gains, in terms of the education of the heads of households, reduce women’s probability of participation in regular salaried or self-employed work, implying that women from such households are less likely to seek and get jobs.
Women in well-educated and economically better-off households often withdraw from the labour force due to socio-cultural reasons.
Age improves the probability of participation but, here too, the impact is much less for women than for men.
An improvement in the education level of women does not improve the probability of their participation in regular or self-employed work. This indicates that gender-based discrimination explains the almost total employment disparity in rural areas.
The data shows that family and societal factors are far more important for women taking up ‘employment’ than their personal qualifications.
"Women do not enter the labour market due to “family reasons,” a lack of safety associated with travelling and timing requirements of jobs in addition to esoteric reasons ranging from “societal norms” and practices that associate respectability with staying out of the workforce for women."Oxfam India Discrimination Report 2021
However, there is a deviation from this norm for women belonging to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities, as observed by the Oxfam India study.
SC and ST women start working at an early age without any formal education due to desperate socio-economic conditions, the report noted. This means that more than educational qualifications or age, social factors are greater determinants for rural women stepping out – or keeping away – from work.
Notably, persons belonging to SC and ST communities earn Rs 5,000 less than the national average.
Self-Employed Men Earn 2.5 Times More Than Self-Employed Women: A Look at the Wage Gap
An examination of gender-wise wage data yields grim statistics, pointing to a wide wage gap between the two genders.
"The average earning in urban areas is INR 15,996 for men and merely INR 6,626 for women above 15 years of age. Men’s earnings thus work out as 2.5 times that of women's. Eighty-three per cent of this gap can be attributed to gender discrimination. In rural areas, 93 per cent of the gap in earnings between men and women is due to gender discrimination."Professor Amitabh Kundu, Lead Author, Oxfam India’s 'India Discrimination Report 2022'
Young salaried women tend to get more discriminated against but age or experience appears to improve their ability to bargain for better pay. This is reflected in the decrease of the discrimination component to 54 percent when the age group of 25 years and above is considered.
The main reason for the decrease could be that younger women report disruption in their jobs due to marriage, child-bearing, etc, that weaken the strength of their endowments.
The trend and pattern of discrimination in earnings can be explained in terms of factors that are similar to those in employment.
"Importantly, its magnitude has gone up not only in casual work but also in regular employment. High discrimination in the latter could be due to women getting jobs at lower levels, not getting promotions, etc. This shows that their earnings are not commensurate with their human capital," stated the report.
Coming to rural areas, while the earnings of men are higher than women in regular jobs in these regions, the magnitude of difference is much higher in urban areas.
The average monthly income is Rs 13,600 for salaried men in rural areas and Rs 9,757 for women. As much as 91.1 percent of the gap in earnings of men and women of the 15+ population is explained by discrimination.
A similar split characterised the incomes in the self-employment category: the average earning of self-employed men is Rs 9,348, while that for women is less than half of this – Rs 4,383.
Female casual workers earn about Rs 3,000 less than their male counterparts, and 96 percent of this gap has been attributed to gender-based discrimination.
Sadly, the extent of discrimination has increased since 2004-2005 in rural areas while there has been no decline in urban areas, as per the Oxfam India report.
Effect of COVID-19: Key Findings
Women during the first quarter of the pandemic (April-June 2020) recorded massive increase in their unemployment rate, similar to that of men in urban areas. However, in rural areas, the unemployment rate for women was less than that of men over the same period.
The diminished effect of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdowns on women employment in rural areas could be due to women being engaged in agriculture and home-based activities in rural areas.
There was, nonetheless, a massive drop in casual employment for women in urban areas but it didn’t lead to an increase in the share of self-employment, unlike the trend among men.
Yet, the urban unemployment rate for women did not rise above men because a large segment of women workers were engaged as domestic help and in unskilled jobs, on a regular basis, which saw less impact.
The pandemic-induced lockdowns constrained the mobility of women much more than men, resulting in high employment losses in urban areas. Income losses, however, were less because of womens' engagement in the low-paying service sector, as their services were retained at full or partial payment.
Religion and caste can also be cited as crucial factors behind the employment statistics during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In rural areas, the sharpest increase (17 percent) in unemployment was among Muslims during the first quarter of the pandemic. Among the salaried workers, Muslims emerged as the most affected group for which the percentage figures went up from 11.8 to 40.9 in rural areas. Muslims, in rural areas, recorded the maximum decline in earnings (13 percent), while for the others, it was close to 9 percent. In rural areas, within the self-employed category, Muslims saw the highest fall (18 percent) in earnings which dropped to below 10 percent for SC and ST communities as well as others.
Notably, the unemployment rate for members of the SC and ST communities in rural areas doubled, and it increased by two-and-a-half times for those in urban areas over the first quarter of the pandemic.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The Oxfam India report indicated that while employer prejudice is a leading cause behind the inequity between men and women in workplaces, social norms also serve as a major factor.
"The high degree of gender discrimination is best explained by the existence of a large segment of well-qualified women not ‘wanting’ to join the labour market because of household responsibilities or “social status”... It is thus patriarchy that makes a large segment of women, who have the same or even higher qualifications as compared to men, stay outside employment."Oxfam India Discrimination Report 2021
To tackle these concerns, Oxfam India recommends the following policy interventions:
Actively enforce legislations for the protection of the right to equal wages and work.
Work to actively incentivise the participation of women in the workforce, including enhancements in pay, upskilling, job reservations, easy return-to-work options, particularly after maternity leave, and the option to work from home, wherever possible.
Work to ensure a more equitable distribution of household work and childcare duties between women and men.
Implement “living wages” as opposed to minimum wages, particularly for all informal workers, and formalise contractual, temporary, and casual labour as much as possible.