The gender pay gap refers to the difference in average earnings of people based on gender. It is a widely recognized indicator of gender inequities, and it exists across industries and professional levels. The gender pay gap in India has persisted for years. Despite advancements in various sectors, women in India continue to face wage disparities compared to their male counterparts. In 1993-94, women earned 48% less than men. While the gap narrowed to 28% by 2018-19, the COVID-19 pandemic dealt a setback – a 7% increase in the gender pay gap by 2020-21.
Barriers to Equality
While factors like education and experience contribute to the gender pay gap, discrimination based on gender remains a significant driver of wage disparities. Discriminatory practices include paying women lower wages for work of equal value, undervaluing female-dominated occupations, and the motherhood pay gap—where mothers receive lower salaries than non-mothers.
The Indian job market presents challenges for women, with the labor force participation rate (LFPR) for women declining from 42.7% in 2004-05 to 25.1% in 2021. Structural barriers, along with unpaid care responsibilities, deter women from entering the workforce. For those who do, access to secure and protected jobs remains elusive. Compared to other BRICS countries, India’s LFPR for women is notably lower, and the number of women in regular employment is only a fraction of men.
Role of the Informal Workforce
The informal workforce in India compounds the gender pay gap problem. A staggering 92.1% of women are engaged in informal employment. Rural women are especially affected, with 93.1% in informal employment. These workers receive significantly lower wages than their formal counterparts, perpetuating wage disparities. Moreover, women’s concentration in low-paying industries exacerbates the issue.
The gig economy, characterized by flexibility, has the potential to provide opportunities for women to enter or reenter the workforce. However, this potential has not been fully realized, partly due to the limited income-generating capacity of gig work. While the gig economy offers flexibility, it may not provide sufficient income to sustain households, leading women to leave the workforce when conditions improve.
The COVID-19 pandemic further widened the gender pay gap, with women in sectors like construction, beauty, domestic work, and sex work being disproportionately affected. A significant number of women lost their jobs, and household income decreased, necessitating women’s entry into the workforce. However, this increase in labor force participation often resulted in low-paying, precarious jobs and increased family debt..
Unpaid Care Work: A Stumbling Block
Unpaid care work is a significant obstacle to women’s access to decent work, often forcing them out of the workforce. In India, insufficient public services place the responsibility of care on women, limiting their paid employment opportunities.
Globally, women’s unpaid care work is valued at around US$11 trillion annually, equivalent to 9% of the global GDP. Women perform more than three times as much unpaid care work as men. This extends to the paid care sector, where approximately two-thirds of the workforce are women.
Policy Interventions and Future Prospects
Addressing the gender pay gap in India necessitates comprehensive and targeted interventions. India must prioritize policies that promote gender equality, recognize and redistribute care work, and create opportunities for women to access decent work.
However, gender-neutral policies alone cannot bridge the gender pay gap in India. Effective interventions must consider social norms and stereotypes that restrict women’s access to opportunities and perpetuate inequalities in unpaid care work. Encouraging women to pursue non-traditional livelihoods and empowering them to challenge societal norms is crucial.
Ensuring fair compensation for all, regardless of gender, is fundamental to narrowing the wage disparity. This endeavor not only promotes social equity among working women but also enhances overall economic prosperity. Through concerted efforts, India can achieve the goal of economic growth that is truly inclusive and equitable.