Indian Women Are Paid 34% Less Than Male Peers, Oxfam Reports

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Mar 29, 2019

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The gender pay gap in India is 34 percent, reports Oxfam India in a new working paper on labor force inequity, meaning women in the same position, with the same qualifications, earn only two-thirds of what their male peers earn.

This disparity is one of many factors discouraging Indian women from participating in the labor force; in fact, less than a quarter of Indian women currently do paid work outside their homes. Why?


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While more girls than ever are attending secondary and senior secondary school, where they overall outperform male students, “they are not finding suitable jobs for the skills that they have,” the report states. They are over-qualified for the less-skilled jobs in construction and agriculture, but due to gender bias, they are barred from entering more-skilled fields suitable to their education level, such as sales or appliance repair. The remaining option — informal, non-salaried, low-paying work, often as domestic workers — is usually not interesting to them because of their educational qualifications.

While some women can’t access jobs suitable to their education and skills, others who might be able to work are discouraged from doing so. The wide gender pay gap is disincentivizing, especially for women with more education, and “in many states a higher share of women possess college degrees than men,” the report states. It’s especially disincentivizing for women from marginalized communities and castes, who not only face a gender pay gap, but face societal and structural barriers to higher-earning employment. Women are further constrained by social and cultural limitations on their mobility, hampering their already limited options for participation in the workforce.

A further discouragement comes from partners. In newly affluent families, the report finds, men “do not want their women to continue working in the field of upper caste-classes because it is a reflection on their honor and pride — that as breadwinners they could not provide for their families.”

But the work that women do after they’re encouraged to stay at home to provide for their families goes unrecognized. These women, the report concludes, “bore the excessive burden of unpaid care work.” They do not, in fact, live a life of leisure as the cared-for spouse of an affluent earner. Rather, as the burden of household and family care work piles up, it leaves them with little autonomy over their time. The end result is that these women become further distanced from household decision-making — and further disempowered — as a result of their lack of income, the report concludes.


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The result is that “women’s time poverty increased manifold,” the report states. In other words, women have less time to accomplish what they need to get done, even as they supposedly ‘work’ less. This makes sense when, as the report does, you define work as an “activity performed by persons of any sex and age to produce goods or provide services for use by others or for own use.” When you include women’s domestic duties in the definition of work, women’s labor force participation rates shoot up to 81.7 percent, while men’s remains stagnant at 76 percent — meaning women work more than men, they’re just not paid for it.

This is evident in the fact that “women in India do almost 10 times as much unpaid work as men,” the report states. At the same time, they have increasingly less support to meet growing demands on their time. Increases in girls’ school enrollment leaves adult women with the sole burden of unpaid care and house work, which has also “increased manifold.” A simultaneous increase in nuclear family living means fewer adult women share this burden of unpaid work, as well.

Arguments against equal pay usually focus on cost, but the truth is gender parity in the workforce only offers gains — to society, to employers, to men and to women. “It is estimated that if [women’s] unpaid care work is recognized and there is direct public investment in the care economy of 2 percent of GDP, then India will create 11 million new jobs,” the report states. It cites estimates that gender parity in the workforce would increase Indian GDP by 43 percent, or Rs. 72 trillion.

In light of this, the only startling thing about India’s ‘wunderkind’ economic growth story is its inability to include women. This report makes clear that for such growth to continue, women must finally get their due.

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Written By Liesl Goecker

Liesl Goecker is The Swaddle’s managing editor and has been living and writing in Mumbai since 2010. She is passionate about women’s rights, everyone’s health, and caffeine.

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