Sexism in India

The Gender gap index for India compared to other countries. Gender gap index is one of many multi-dimensional measures of gender inequality. India was scored at 0.66 by World Economic Forum, and ranked 101 out of 136 countries in 2013.[1]

Gender inequality in India refers to health, education, economic and political inequalities between men and women in India.[1] Various international gender inequality indices rank India differently on each of these factors, as well as on a composite basis, and these indices are controversial.[2][3]

Gender inequalities, and its social causes, impact India's sex ratio, women's health over their lifetimes, their educational attainment, and economic conditions. Gender inequality in India is a multifaceted issue that concerns men and women alike. Some argue that some gender equality measures, place men at a disadvantage. However, when India’s population is examined as a whole, women are at a disadvantage in several important ways.

Gender statistics

The following table compares the population wide data for the two genders on various inequality statistical measures, according to The World Bank's Gender Statistics database for 2012.[4]
Gender Statistic Measure[4] Females
Infant mortality rate, (per 1,000 live births) 44.3 43.5 32.6 37
Life expectancy at birth, (years) 68 64.5 72.9 68.7
Expected years of schooling 11.3 11.8 11.7 12.0
Primary school completion rate, (%) 96.6 96.3 [5]
Lower secondary school completion rate, (%) 76.0 77.9 70.2 70.5
Secondary school education, pupils (%) 46 54 47.6 52.4
Ratio to males in primary and secondary education (%) 0.98 1.0 0.97 1.0
Secondary school education, gender of teachers (% ) 41.1 58.9 51.9 48.1
Account at a formal financial institution, (% of each gender, age 15+) 26.5 43.7 46.6 54.5
Deposits in a typical month, (% with an account, age 15+) 11.2 13.4 13.0 12.8
Withdrawals in a typical month, (% with an account, age 15+) 18.6 12.7 15.5 12.8
Loan from a financial institution in the past year, (% age 15+) 6.7 8.6 8.1 10.0
Outstanding loan from banks for health or emergencies, (% age 15+) 12.6 15.7 10.3 11.6
Outstanding loan from banks to purchase a home, (% age 15+) 2.26 2.35 6.6 7.4
Unemployment, (% of labor force, ILO method) 4 3.1 [5]
Unemployment, youth (% of labor force ages 15-24, ILO method) 10.6 9.4 15.1 13.0
Ratio to male youth unemployment rate (% ages 15-24, ILO method) 1.13 1.0 1.14 1.0
Employees in agriculture, (% of total labor) 59.8 43 [5]
Employees in industry, (% of total labor) 20.7 26 [5]
Self-employed, (% employed) 85.5 80.6 [5]
Cause of death, by non-communicable diseases, ages 15-34, (%) 32.3 33.0 29.5 27.5
Life expectancy at age 60, (years) 18.0 15.9 [5]

Global rankings

India's Global Rank on various Gender Inequality Indices. These indices are controversial.[2][3]

Various groups have ranked gender inequalities around the world. For example, the World Economic Forum publishes a Global Gender Gap Index score for each nation every year. The index focuses not on empowerment of women, but on the relative gap between men and women in four fundamental categories - economic participation, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.[6] It includes measures such as estimated sex selective abortion, number of years the nation had a female head of state, female to male literacy rate, estimated income ratio of female to male in the nation, and several other relative gender statistic measures. It does not include factors such as crime rates against women versus men, domestic violence, honor killings or such factors. Where data is unavailable or difficult to collect, World Economic Forum uses old data or makes a best estimate to calculate the nation's Global Gap Index (GGI).[6]

According to the Global Gender Gap Report released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2011, India was ranked 113 on the Gender Gap Index (GGI) among 135 countries polled.[7] Since then, India has improved its rankings on the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index (GGI) to 105/136 in 2013.[6] When broken down into components of the GGI, India performs well on political empowerment, but is scored to be as bad as China on sex selective abortion. India also scores poorly on overall female to male literacy and health rankings. India with a 2013 ranking of 101 had an overall score of 0.6551, while Iceland, the nation that topped the list, had an overall score of 0.8731 (no gender gap would yield a score of 1.0).[6]

Alternate measures include OECD's Social Institutions Gender Index (SIGI), which ranked India at 56th out of 86 in 2012, which was an improvement from its 2009 rank of 96th out of 102. The SIGI is a measure of discriminatory social institutions that are drivers of inequalities, rather than the unequal outcomes themselves.[8] Similarly, UNDP has published Gender Inequality Index and ranked India at 132 out of 148 countries.

Problems with indices

Scholars[9][3] have questioned the accuracy, relevance and validity of these indices and global rankings. For example, Dijkstra and Hanmer[2] acknowledge that global index rankings on gender inequality have brought media attention, but suffer from major limitations. The underlying data used to calculate the index are dated, unreliable and questionable. Further, a nation can be and are being ranked high when both men and women suffer from equal deprivation and lack of empowerment.[2] In other words, nations in Africa and the Middle East where women have lower economic participation, lower educational attainment, and poorer health and high infant mortalities, rank high if both men and women suffer from these issues equally. If one's goal is to measure progress, prosperity and empowerment of women with equal gender rights, then these indices are not appropriate for ranking or comparing nations. They have limited validity.[2] Instead of rankings, the focus should be on measuring women's development, empowerment and gender parity, particularly by relevant age groups such as children and youth.[10][11] Nevertheless, it is widely accepted that India along with other developing countries have high gender inequality and low women's empowerment than developed nations.[12][13]

Economic inequalities

Labor participation and wages

The labor force participation rate of women was 80.7 in 2013.[14] Nancy Lockwood of Society for Human Resource Management, the world's largest human resources association with members in 140 countries, in a 2009 report wrote that female labor participation is lower than men, but has been rapidly increasing since the 1990s. Out of India's 397 million workers in 2001, 124 million were women, states Lockwood.[15]

Over 50% of Indian labor is employed in agriculture. A majority of rural men work as cultivators, while a majority of women work in livestock maintenance, egg and milk production. Rao[16] states that about 78 per cent of rural women are engaged in agriculture, compared to 63 per cent men. About 37% of women are cultivators, but they are more active in the irrigation, weeding, winnowing, transplating and harvesting stages of agriculture. About 70 per cent of farm work was performed by women in India in 2004.[16] Women's labor participation rate is about 47% in India's tea plantations, 46% in cotton cultivation, 45% growing oil seeds and 39% in horticulture.[17]

There is wage inequality between men and women in India. The largest wage gap was in manual ploughing operations in 2009, where men were paid [18]

Access to credit

Although laws are supportive of lending to women and Microcredit programs targeted to women are prolific, women often lack collateral for bank loans due to low levels of property ownership and microcredit schemes have come under scrutiny for coercive lending practices. Although many microcredit programs have been successful and prompted community-based women's self-help groups, a 2012 review of microcredit practices found that women are contacted by multiple lenders and as a result, take on too many loans and overextend their credit. The report found that financial incentives for the recruiters of these programs were not in the best interest of the women they purported to serve.[19] The result was a spate of suicides by women who were unable to pay their debts.[20]

Occupational inequalities

Military service

Women are not allowed to have combat roles in the armed forces. According to a study carried out on this issue, a recommendation was made that female officers be excluded from induction in close combat arms, where chances of physical contact with the enemy are high. The study also held that a permanent commission could not be granted to female officers since they have neither been trained for command nor have they been given the responsibility so far.[21]

Property Rights

Women have equal rights under the law to own property and receive equal inheritance rights, but in practice, women are at a disadvantage. This is evidenced in the fact that 70% of rural land is owned by men. Laws, such as the Married Women Property Rights Act of 1974 protect women, but few seek legal redress.[22] Although the Hindu Succession Act of 2005 provides equal inheritance rights to ancestral and jointly owned property, the law is weakly enforced, especially in Northern India.[23]

Education inequalities


India is on target to meet its Millennium Development Goal of gender parity in education by 2015.[24] UNICEF's measure of attendance rate and Gender Equality in Education Index (GEEI) capture the quality of education.[25] Despite some gains, India needs to triple its rate of improvement to reach GEEI score of 95% by 2015 under the Millennium Development Goals. In rural India girls continue to be less educated than the boys.[26] According to a 1998 report by U.S. Department of Commerce, the chief barrier to female education in India are inadequate school facilities (such as sanitary facilities), shortage of female teachers and gender bias in curriculum (majority of the female characters being depicted as weak and helpless vs. strong, adventurous, and intelligent men with high prestige jobs)[26]


Though it is gradually rising, the female literacy rate in India is lower than the male literacy rate.[27] According to Census of India 2011, literacy rate of females is 65.46% compared to males which is 82.14%. Compared to boys, far fewer girls are enrolled in the schools, and many of them drop out.[27] According to the National Sample Survey Data of 1997, only the states of Kerala and Mizoram have approached universal female literacy rates. According to majority of the scholars, the major factor behind the improved social and economic status of women in Kerala is literacy.[27] From 2006-2010, the percent of females who completed at least a secondary education was almost half that of men, 26,6% compared to 50.4%.[14] In the current generation of youth, the gap seems to be closing at the primary level and increasing in the secondary level. In rural Punjab, the gap between girls and boys in school enrollment increases dramatically with age as demonstrated in National Family Health Survey-3 where girls age 15-17 in Punjab are 10% more likely than boys to drop out of school.[28] Although this gap has been reduced significantly, problems still remain in the quality of education for girls where boys in the same family will be sent to higher quality private schools and girls sent to the government school in the village.[29]

Reservations for female students

Under Non-Formal Education programme, about 40% of the centres in states and 10% of the centres in UTs are exclusively reserved for females.[26] As of 2000, about 0.3 million NFE centres were catering to about 7.42 million children, out of which about 0.12 million were exclusively for girls.[26] Certain state level engineering, medical and other colleges like in Orissa have reserved 30% of their seats for females.[30] The Prime Minister of India and the Planning Commission also vetoed a proposal to set up an Indian Institute of Technology exclusively for females.[31] Although India had witnessed substantial improvements in female literacy and enrolment rate since the 1990s, the quality of education for female remains to be heavily compromised as the country continues to hold greater value for male than female.

Health and survival inequalities

On health and survival measures, international standards consider the birth sex ratio implied sex-selective abortion, and gender inequality between women’s and men’s life expectancy and relative number of years that women live compared to men in good health by taking into account the years lost to violence, disease, malnutrition or other relevant factors.[32]

Sex-selective abortion

Birth sex ratio map for India, boys per 100 girls in 0 to 1 age group according to 2011 census.[33]

In North America and Europe the birth sex ratio of the population ranges between 103 to 107 boys per 100 girls; in India, China and South Korea, the ratio has been far higher. Women have a biological advantage over men for longevity and survival; however, there have been more men than women in India and other Asian countries.[34][35] This higher sex ratio in India and other countries is considered as an indicator of sex-selective abortion. Sex selection before birth and neglect of the female child after birth during her childhood contributes to males outnumbering females in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and South Korea.

The European and American average ratio at birth is 950 girls for every 1,000 boys. The child sex ratio in India is within the normal natural range in all eastern and southern states of India, but significantly higher in certain western and particularly northwestern states such as Punjab, Haryana and Jammu & Kashmir (120, 118 and 116, as of 2011, respectively).[33] This has been attributed to increasing misuse and affordability of foetus sex-determining devices, such as ultrasound scan, the rate of female foeticide is rising sharply in India. Female infanticide (killing of girl infants) is still prevalent in some rural areas.[27] The government and activist groups seek to raise the status of girls and combat female infanticide. One estimate states an expected 15 million girls were not born between 2000 and 2010.[36]

Gender selection and selective abortion were banned in India under Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostics Technique Act in 1994.[37] The practice continues illegally. Other institutional efforts, such as advertisements calling female foeticides a sin by the Health Ministry of India and annual Girl Child Day[38] can be observed to raise status of girls and to combat female infanticide.


Immunization rates for 2 year olds was 41.7% for girls and 45.3% for boys according to the 2005 National Family Health Survey-3, indicating a slight disadvantage for girls.[39] Malnutrition rates in India are nearly equal in boys and girls.

The male to female suicide ratio among adults in India has been about 2:1.[40] This higher male to female ratio is similar to those observed around the world.[41] Between 1987 to 2007, the suicide rate increased from 7.9 to 10.3 per 100,000,[42] with higher suicide rates in southern and eastern states of India.[43] In 2012, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and West Bengal had the highest proportion of fenake suicides.[40] Among large population states, Tamil Nadu and Kerala had the highest female suicide rates per 100,000 people in 2012.

Some studies in south India have found that gender disadvantages, such as negative attitudes towards women’s empowerment are risk factors for suicidal behavior and common mental disorders like anxiety and depression.[44]

Gender-based violence

Average annual crime rates per 100,000 women in India by its States and Union Territories. Crime rate in this map includes all Indian Penal Code crimes such as rape, sexual assault, insult to modesty, kidnapping, abduction, cruelty by intimate partner or relatives, importation or trafficking of girls, persecution for dowry, dowry deaths, indecency, and all other crimes identified by Indian law.[45]

Domestic violence,[46][47] rape and dowry-related violence are sources of gender violence.[27][48] According to the National Crime Records Bureau 2013 annual report, 24,923 rape cases were reported across India in 2012.[49] Out of these, 24,470 were committed by relative or neighbor; in other words, the victim knew the alleged rapist in 98 per cent of the cases.[50] Compared to other developed and developing countries, incidence rates of rape per 100,000 people are quite low in India.[51][52] India records a rape rate of 2 per 100,000 people,[49][53] compared to 8.1 rapes per 100,000 people in Western Europe, 14.7 per 100,000 in Latin America, 28.6 in the United States, and 40.2 per 100,000 in Southern African region.[54]

Other sources of gender violence include those that are dowry-related and honor killings. NCRB report states 8,233 dowry deaths in the country in 2012.[55] Honor killings is violence where the woman's behavior is linked to the honour of her whole family; in extreme cases, family member(s) kill her. Honor killings are difficult to verify, and there is dispute whether social activists are inflating numbers. In most cases, honor killings are linked to the woman marrying someone that the family strongly disapproves of.[56] Some honor killings are the result of extrajudicial decisions made by traditional community elders such as “khap panchayats,” unelected village assemblies that have no legal authority. Estimates place 900 deaths per year (or about 1 per million people). Honor killings are found the Northern states of Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh.[56]

Political inequalities

This measure of gender inequality considers the gap between men and women in political decision making at the highest levels.[57]

On this measure, India has ranked in top 20 countries worldwide for many years, with 9th best in 2013 - a score reflecting less gender inequality in India's political empowerment than Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, France and United Kingdom.[58][59] From the prime minister to chief ministers of various states, Indian voters have elected women to its state legislative assemblies and national parliament in large numbers for many decades.

Women turnout during India's 2014 parliamentary general elections was 65.63%, compared to 67.09% turnout for men.[60] In 16 states of India, more women voted than men. A total of 260.6 million women exercised their right to vote in April-May 2014 elections for India's parliament.[60]

India passed 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments in 1993, which provides for 33 per cent quotas for women's representation in the local self-government institutions. These Amendments were implemented in 1993. This, suggest Ghani et al., has had strong effects for empowering women in India in many spheres.[61]

Reasons for gender inequalities

Lorber[62] states that gender inequality has been a historic worldwide phenomena, a human invention and based on gender assumptions. It is linked to kinship rules rooted in cultures and gender norms that organizes human social life, human relations, as well as promotes subordination of women in a form of social strata.[62] Amartya Sen highlighted the need to consider the socio-cultural influences that promote gender inequalities[63][64] In India, cultural influences favour the preference for sons for reasons related to kinship, lineage, inheritance, identity, status, and economic security. This preference cuts across class and caste lines, and it discriminates against girls.[65] In extreme cases, the discrimination takes the form of honour killings where families kill daughters or daughter in laws who fail to conform to gender expectations about marriage and sexuality.[66] When a woman does not conform to expected gender norms she is shamed and humiliated because it impacts both her and her family’s honor, and perhaps her ability to marry. The causes of gender inequalities are complex, but a number of cultural factors in India can explain how son preference, a key driver of daughter neglect, is so prevalent.[64][67][68]

Patriarchal society

Patriarchy is a social system of privilege in which men are the primary authority figures, occupying roles of political leadership, moral authority, control of property, and authority over women and children. Most of India, with some exceptions, has strong patriarchal and patrilineal customs, where men hold authority over female family members and inherit family property and title. Examples of patriarchy in India include prevailing customs where inheritance passes from father to son, women move in with the husband and his family upon marriage, and marriages include a bride price or dowry. This 'inter-generational contract' provides strong social and economic incentives for raising sons and disincentives for raising daughters.[69] The parents of the woman essentially lose all they have invested in their daughter to her husband's family, which is a disincentive for investing in their girls during youth. Furthermore, sons are expected to support their parents in old age and women have very limited ability to assist their own parents.[70]

Son preference

A key factor driving gender inequality is the preference for sons, as they are deemed more useful than girls. Boys are given the exclusive rights to inherit the family name and properties and they are viewed as additional status for their family. In a survey-based study of 1990s data, scholars[71] found that son are believed to have a higher economic utility as they can provide additional labour in agriculture. Another factor is that of religious practices, which can only be performed by males for their parents' afterlife. All these factors make sons more desirable. Moreover, the prospect of parents ‘losing’ daughters to the husband’s family and expensive dowry of daughters further discourages parents from having daughters.[71][72] Additionally, sons are often the only person entitled to performing funeral rights for their parents.[73] Thus, a combination of factors has shaped the imbalanced view of sexes in India. A 2005 study in Madurai, India, found that old age security, economic motivation, and to a lesser extent, religious obligations, continuation of the family name, and help in business or farm, were key reasons for son preference. In turn, emotional support and old age security were main reasons for daughter preference. The study underscored a strong belief that a daughter is a liability.[74]

Dowry death rates per 100,000 people map for Indian States and Union Territories in 2012.

Discrimination against girls

While women express a strong preference for having at least one son, the evidence of discrimination against girls after they are born is mixed. A study of 1990s survey data by scholars[71] found less evidence of systematic discrimination in feeding practices between young boys and girls, or gender based nutritional discrimination in India. In impoverished families, these scholars found that daughters face discrimination in the medical treatment of illnesses and in the administration of vaccinations against serious childhood diseases. These practices were a cause of health and survival inequality for girls. While gender discrimination is a universal phonomena in poor nations, a 2005 UN study found that social norms-based gender discrimination leads to gender inequality in India.[22]


In India, dowry is the payment in cash or some kind of gifts given to bridegroom's family along with the bride. The practice is widespread across geographic region, class and religions.[75] The dowry system in India contributes to gender inequalities by influencing the perception that girls are a burden on families. Such beliefs limit the resources invested by parents in their girls and limits her bargaining power within the family.

The payment of a dowry has been prohibited under The 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act in Indian civil law and subsequently by Sections 304B and 498a of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).[76] Several studies show that while attitudes of people are changing about dowry, the institution has changed very little, and even continues to prevail.[64][77]

Marriage laws

Men and women have equal rights within marriage under Indian law, with the exception of Muslim men who are allowed to unilaterally divorce their wife.[22] The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for women and 21 for men, except for those Indians whose religion is Islam for whom child marriage remains legal under India's Mohammedan personal laws. Child marriage is one of the detriments to empowerment of women.[22]

Discrimination against men

Some men's advocacy groups have complained that the government discriminates against men through the use of overly aggressive laws designed to protect women.[78] Some parents state, "discrimination against girls is no longer rampant and education of their child is really important for them be it a girl or a boy."[79] The Men's rights movement in India call for gender neutral laws, especially in regards to child custody, divorce, sexual harassment, and adultery laws. Men's rights activists state that husbands don't report being attacked by their wives with household utensils because of their ego.[80] These activist petition that there is no evidence to prove that the domestic violence faced by men is less than that faced by women.[81]

Political and legal reforms

Since its independence, India has made significant strides in addressing gender inequalities, especially in the areas of political participation, education, and legal rights.[8][82] Policies and legal reforms to address gender inequalities have been pursued by the government of India. For instance, the Constitution of India contains a clause guaranteeing the right of equality and freedom from sexual discrimination.[83] India is also signatory to the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW.[84] However, the government maintains some reservations about interfering in the personal affairs of any community without the community’s initiative and consent.[22] A listing of specific reforms is presented below.

State initiatives to reduce gender inequality

Different states and union territories of India, in cooperation with the central government, have initiated a number of region-specific programs targeted at women to help reduce gender inequality over the 1989-2013 period. Some of these programs include[22] Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana, Sampoorna Gramin Rozgar Yojana, Awareness Generation Projects for Rural and Poor women, Condensed Course of Education for Adult Women, Kishori Shakti Yojana, Swayamsidha Mahila Mandal Programme,[86] Rashtriya Mahila Kosh, Support to Training and Employment Programme for Women, Swawalamban Programme, Swashakti Project, Swayamsidha Scheme, Mahila Samakhya Programme,[87] Integrated Child Development Services, Balika Samriddhi Yojana, National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (to encourage rural girls to attend primary school daily), National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level, Sarva Shiksha Abyhiyan, Ladli Laxmi Yojana, Delhi Ladli Scheme and others.[22][88]


See also


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