Why does Vinita earn less than Sandeep? She’s a woman.
In rural Jharkhand, farms are full of ripened paddy. Vinita Kumari and Sandeep Baraik are both agricultural labourers engaged in the back-breaking task of harvesting the crop. They both work the exact same hours in the same job, side by side, on the same field. Yet, Sandeep’s daily income is Rs 100 (roughly USD 1.5) while, Vinita’s is only Rs 60 (90 cents). This is a 40% gender pay gap. This is hardly the problem of one village in a remote corner of India. World Economic Forum research on the global gender pay gap shows it will take another 170 years to bridge the gap between what women and men earn for the same work. And the global gender pay gap has been widening instead of reducing over the last few years.
In India on average women earn 27% less than men. This is the logical underpinning of patriarchy which conspires in every way to see women as lesser. Domestic and care work, traditionally assigned to women, is unpaid and unvalued labour. This does not even make it into economic measures like the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) even though without this unpaid work our economy would flounder. This logic is extended to women’s work, even when there is no labour segregation. In fact, employers in many sectors prefer hiring women because they need to be paid less.
Research shows that women put in more labour in the agricultural sector than men. But they are still disempowered in terms of decision making. In fact, because they are not in the decision-making roles, women are rarely counted as farmers. Among working women in rural areas, 87% work in agricultural occupations. The payment of low wages to women workers in farms is a microcosm of how women’s labour and efforts are culturally and socially devalued which then enables the economic discrimination.
The persistent myth of women’s inferiority, her lack of value to the family economically and materially devalues her labour and her productive contributions. This begins from the moment a child is born from the preference for male children. The practice of dowry reinforces this -- a woman is so inherently undervalued, that her natal family pays to send her to another family.
To address gender pay gap, therefore, we need to start at the root of patriarchy. It is not enough to enact laws and enforce them. The underlying reason for the skewed economics lies in how we understand work, and what skills we value. The gendered division of labour needs to be challenged within the family so that women and their work is equally valued. Also, care work needs to be redefined as not being ‘naturally’ a women’s sphere. Women need to be given mobility and equal opportunities at education. Only then can we truly redress the root of the behemoth that is patriarchy. The gender gap is only a symptom of the larger disease.
Article by Madhura Chakraborty
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