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Discrimination Against Women in Workplace

Context:

The Supreme Court of India has strongly criticized an outdated and patriarchal notion, asserting that regulations penalizing female employees for marrying are unconstitutional. The court deemed the termination of employment based on marriage as a clear instance of gender discrimination and inequality, emphasizing that such patriarchal rules undermine human dignity, the right to non-discrimination, and fair treatment.

Relevance:

GS2-

  • Issues Related to Women
  • Gender
  • Employment
  • Issues Relating to Development

GS3- Indian Economy- Inclusive Growth

Mains Question:

The Supreme Court of India has strongly criticized an outdated and patriarchal notion, asserting that regulations penalizing female employees for marrying are unconstitutional. In this context, discuss the challenges faced by women workforce and analyse the efficacy of government initiatives in this regard. (15 Marks, 250 Words).

More on the Ruling:

  • These remarks were part of a ruling that upheld the rights of a former lieutenant and Permanent Commissioner Officer in the Military Nursing Service, who was discharged from service in 1988 due to her marriage.
  • Justice Sanjiv Khanna, leading the bench, directed the Union Government to compensate her with ₹60 lakh within eight weeks. The government had appealed to the Supreme Court against a 2016 decision by the Lucknow Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal, which had ruled in her favor.
  • The Court, declaring her dismissal as “wrong and illegal,” pointed out that the rule against marriage applied only to female nursing officers.
  • Women have faced a prolonged and challenging struggle for gender parity in the Army, achieving permanent commission rights after judgments in 2020 and 2021. The Court stressed that the Indian Army’s purported encouragement of more women to join the forces must be substantiated by concrete actions.

Other Challenges Faced by Women in the Workplace:

Patriarchal Social Norms:

  • Entrenched patriarchal norms and traditional gender roles frequently restrict women’s opportunities for education and employment.
  • Societal expectations often prioritize women as caregivers and homemakers, dissuading their active engagement in the workforce.
  • The civilian sector also faces challenges, as women frequently encounter uncomfortable personal inquiries during job interviews, such as inquiries about their plans for marriage and motherhood.

Gender Wage Gap:

  • In India, women commonly encounter wage disparities compared to men performing similar tasks.
  • The World Inequality Report of 2022 reveals that men in India command 82% of labor income, leaving women with only 18%. This wage gap can deter women from pursuing formal employment opportunities.

Unpaid Care Work:

  • The responsibility of unpaid care and domestic tasks disproportionately falls on women, limiting their time and energy for paid employment.
  • Married women in India spend over 7 hours daily on unpaid care and domestic work, while men devote less than 3 hours.
  • Employed women follow closely, spending 348 minutes (5.8 hours) per day on such chores, impacting their ability to engage in paid work.
  • This unequal distribution persists across income levels and caste groups, resulting in a significant gender disparity in domestic responsibilities, which acts as a substantial barrier to women’s workforce participation.

Social and Cultural Stigma:

Certain communities may stigmatize or resist women working outside the home, leading to lower rates of labor force participation.

Female Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR):

  • Despite an increase in girls’ enrollment in Class 10, India’s Female LFPR has decreased from 30% to 24% in the past two decades.
  • Domestic work remains a key factor contributing to lower female LFPR, even among educated women. India’s female LFPR (24%) is the lowest among BRICS countries and select South Asian nations, with China boasting the highest at 61%.

Lack of Economic Empowerment:

  • Globally, women’s labor force participation is 51%, compared to 80% for men. In India, it stands at 23% as per the latest PLFS Survey.
  • The gender pay gap is prominent, with India ranking among the bottom five countries, displaying a gender pay gap of 34%.

Access to Productive Capital:

  • Women often struggle to access funds and capital for farming, starting a business, or other development work.
  • Limited access to informal networks further hinders women from participating in high-profile projects and opportunities.

Crisis of Regular Employment:

  • The lack of employment opportunities, rather than a voluntary withdrawal from the labor force, often explains why women are not reported as workers.
  • This crisis of regular employment has likely intensified during the pandemic and lockdown.

Glass Ceiling Effect:

  • In corporate settings, women earn on average 79% of what men earn, hold only 5% of Fortune 500 CEO positions, and represent 17% of global Board positions.
  • Discrimination against women, even in prestigious companies like Google, for their reproductive choices is highlighted in reports.

Safety Issues:

Concerns about safety and harassment at work sites, both explicit and implicit, contribute to inhibiting women’s participation in the workforce.

Way Forward:

  • To enhance women’s participation in the workforce, currently at a dismal 19.9% for women of all ages according to the latest Periodic Labour Force data (October-December 2023), barriers in education, employment, opportunities, and ingrained biases need to be dismantled.
  • The reality is that numerous girls, particularly those from impoverished backgrounds, must discontinue their education due to various factors, ranging from economic constraints to inadequate sanitation facilities.
  • The Supreme Court’s assertion that rules considering marriage and domestic responsibilities as grounds for disqualification of women employees are unconstitutional should resonate with all organizations.
  • From an economic standpoint, narrowing gender disparities in labor force participation has the potential to significantly enhance global GDP. Regions with substantial gender gaps stand to experience considerable growth benefits.
  • Furthermore, numerous developed countries would witness an upswing in their average annual GDP growth, particularly noteworthy during periods of almost negligible economic expansion.
  • The UN’s Gender Snapshot 2023 presented a bleak assessment of global gender parity, warning that without corrective measures, the next generation of women will continue to disproportionately engage in household chores, lag behind men in leadership roles, and face persistent gender imbalances.

Conclusion:

Government initiatives for girls and women, though regularly announced, will have little impact if they are constrained by rigid social and cultural norms. The essential aspect of human well-being involves the freedom to choose work under conditions of dignity, safety, and fairness. Ensuring that women possess this fundamental right is valuable in its own right. This would promote workplaces as facilitators rather than obstacles in the pursuit of gender equality.


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