I’ve been working with women – mostly very young women – in India since 2011. Not suprising that the median age is 29 since the Gen Y population has been dominating the labour force for over a decade now. In the next 10 years with both younger people and women entering the workforce, India is expected to add yet another 110 million people to its labour force.
How do women fare in the workforce? They are 48.5% of the total population of India. In 2009-10, women were 26% of all rural workers, and 13.8% of all urban workers. However, Indian women earn only 62% of men’s salary for equal work, and 26.2% of women compared to 9% of men cited lack of role models as a key barrier to advancement in the workforce in general. And if I go by the articles in the daily newspapers, harassment and bullying of women is much more common and tolerated in Indian companies especially. The behaviour may not be as prevalent (or has gone underground) in the many western companies that have moved operations to different parts of India.
Harassment of women is one way to look at the prevalence of male domination in the workforce. However, the more subtle forms of discrimination and exclusion are not as easy to track as women are more unlikely to report these incidents for the fear of losing their jobs. Understandable, as the role models are very few and far between of women executives in India.
India ranked towards the bottom of the 134 countries, with a ranking of 113, on the 2011 Global Gender Gap Index. This index measures the mobility of women in the workforce and socially in terms of access to economic and educational opportunities.
Statistics aside, it is more difficult to gauge the impact that the traditional Indian family exerts on their daughters. The expectation of women marrying young is still very much alive in India. The stories I hear from my young female colleagues of being pressured to marry by 25 in order not to bring shame on the Hindu family are heartbreaking. While I do not have access to research done to compare Hindu and Muslim women, I fear the social constraints are even harsher on the female Muslim population.
Among the Hindus, caste and class status seem to play a huge role. Women whose parents are professionals are more likely to develop careers and therefore stay in the workforce than women from the lower echelons of Indian society. The evidence I have is naturally anecdotal, but how women themselves view their role speaks volumes about the options that they see available to them. For example, I’ve witnessed young women quitting their jobs after they became pregnant at the request of their husbands.Their counterparts in most western countries would not dream of leaving a well-paying job just because their husbands told them to do so – the maternity or paternity leaves have been created to allow both parents a chance to participate in child rearing. The concept of a paternity leave is not even known in India.
When women in India so easily and without questioning put the dictates of their husbands ahead of their own wishes, it tells a lot about the dominance of patriarchy. All that, however, is about to be challenged as more educated Indian women are entering the workforce in the tens of millions in the next decade.