NEW DELHI — There is an increasing focus on women's empowerment and gender equality in our public discourse and every year it reaches its peak on the occasion of International Women's Day. But how much of equality actually exists when it comes to wages or pay scale in offices in India? Is "equal pay for equal work" a reality? Or a distant dream yet to be achieved?
There have been quite a few significant surveys in the recent past that have attempted to throw light on the existing difference between men and women in pay scales.
The findings of one such survey conducted by the International Labor Organization in 2017, for instance, point to the extreme levels of disparity in wages for women in India. The survey, quite clearly, reflected that men earn more than their women counterparts for similar jobs. The gap in many cases is as staggering as 30 per cent.
2016 data from the Monster Salary Index suggests that gender pay gap in India is still thriving. According to the Index, the median gross hourly salary for men was Rs 345.8 whereas it was only Rs 259.8 for women.
"The gender pay gap on average was 25 per cent in 2016. This figure varies across industries, however. In the manufacturing sector, the gender pay gap was 29.9 per cent whereas in the IT sector it was a whopping 38.2 per cent," the Index said.
However, there have been multiple laws to protect the right of equal pay for both the genders, such as the "Equal Remuneration Act of 1976,” which was passed with the aim of providing equal remuneration to men and women workers and to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender in all matters relating to employment and employment opportunities.
This legislation not only provides women with a right to demand equal pay, but any inequality with respect to recruitment processes, job training, promotions and transfers within the organization can also be challenged under this Act.
And to say that the gap is only in wages is quite inappropriate as another recent survey conducted by ILO shows that the gender gap in the labor force has increased in recent years.
The data revealed that India's Female Labor Force Participation rate has remained visibly low and it ranks at 121 out of 131 countries, one of the lowest in the world. India had the lowest FLFP rate in South Asia, with the exception of Pakistan. Globally, only parts of the Arab world had lower FLFP rates than India.
But what is keeping the female labor force way behind men in pay scales?
"The largest number of women are in the unorganized sector and the problem with gender wage gap is in sectors like garments and agricultural industries. In the organized sector, there is less chance of a wage gap, but there are no social securities and no laws which govern the unorganized sector. That is why the wage gap is alarming," Meera Khanna, Vice-President, The Guild of Service, told IANS.
Lawyer and activist Flavia Agnes pointed out that although the laws for protecting equal wage rights are not sufficient in India, the existing ones have to be put to use.
"If people don't come with cases of wage discrimination, reports of widening wage gap will continue to surface. The law won't come to an individual, one has to approach the law. One can always approach High Court or Supreme Court or file a PIL," Agnes noted.
Talking about gender balance in corporate houses or government offices, Khanna mentioned that creating a coherent working atmosphere should be the first criteria.
"There are no women in certain fields like chemical or civil engineering, we still find less women choosing this. Simultaneously, there are certain professions where the gender balance is the other way, like in the professions of nursing and domestic work. So, creating a different work field for men and women is not a solution," she added.
According to Agnes, one of the reason that women are fewer in number compared to men in the corporate sector or in government is because of the notion that women also have to handle their families.
"It is also the reason why women are often not paid at par with men. There are also socio-cultural biases that men can be better team leaders and will be able to contribute more in a profession," she maintained.