“Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance” – Kofi Annan
For the progression of any society one understands and believes the need to break shackles of distribution of wealth from the few to the many. However, sometimes the few comprise mostly men and women constitute the many. In such a situation, there often exists a condition what is known as ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ and ‘sticky floors’ which are categorized by lesser women in the top levels of managerial positions and large numbers of women at the entry level and/or laboring categories with a huge wage gap between their male counterparts. To put this into context, India ranked 108th by the World Economic Forum 2017 in the gender wage gap rate while Iceland ranked 1st. Iceland came up with a breakthrough legislation in 2017 making it illegal for women in the country to be paid lesser than their male counterparts for the same job and also making parental leave mandatory for both sexes without being passed over. It was considered one of most gender progressive laws in our times that even Bernie Sanders went on record stating “We must follow the example of our brothers and sisters in Iceland and demand equal pay for equal work now, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality”.
Even if Iceland’s new law succeeds at closing or significantly narrowing the gender wage gap, critics have pointed out that other factors are still holding women back. Although both men and women in Iceland are granted three months of non-transferable child-care leave, few men opt to take it. And women are still far more likely to interrupt their careers to dedicate more time to their families than men. “(The) certification requirement might help root out the ‘unexplained gender pay gap,’ but is unlikely to reduce the larger ‘explainable pay gap’ (for example due to differing working hours in paid work),” concluded Stefán Ólafsson, a researcher with the University of Iceland, in a summer 2017 report for the European Commission. In total, women still earn 22 percent less in Iceland than men, even though those numbers also include women working part-time or not at all.
If Iceland being the most gender just country tried to address this issue and has not been successful at tackling it, how does India ranking 108th deal with this problem? Inclusively, India has a myriad of issues such as the overarching influence of the agricultural sector wherein women partake in it performing some of the most arduous tasks and yet the menfolk (landlord, farmer husband and the middle man earn the profit), lack of economic opportunities in a over-populous country and by virtue of her sex, a woman has tougher battles to fight, political empowerment which has been dismal with a skewed gender representation in its state legislatures whereby out of 4,128 legislative constituencies, only 364 are represented by women legislators which was revealed by an empirical study of the members of legislative assemblies, the laborious work that women engage in construction sites intrinsic of a developing country, and the corporate sector whereby one can very easily locate examples of ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ and ‘sticky floors’.
At this juncture, there is no escaping addressing the ‘why’; hence elucidating on the informal and formal sectors is imperative because traditionally speaking, women are not considered an asset in the informal sector and they don’t have it easy in the formal sector either. This conundrum finds it source at patriarchal attitudes, traditional sexual division of labor, fall of female participation over the years, a scenario where upper class upper caste women do not go out of their homes to earn money, men are considered leaders and more suited for jobs and building a career, but what cannot also be ignored that women do not negotiate their salaries because their socialization doesn’t teach them to question, lack of maternity support after childbirth, lack of freedom to make life choices and restricted mobility that exacerbate men applying for jobs in higher numbers than women, and last but not the least the gender prejudice that women are eventually expected to quit their jobs and stay home to manage households better and perform their traditional roles of a wife, mother and a morally chaste woman.
At this point, going by the liberal feminist statement that rationality and economic independence makes for women to be at power with men but to understand the issue of gender wage gap even in 2018 especially that of a developing country like India, is to deepen our understanding of the larger structures of discrimination related to those of imperialism, capitalism and interlinked with that of patriarchy. Therefore, as an extension of ‘housework’ women in India and South Asian countries which are thriving hubs for multinationals such as the garment industries from the West hire women as meager workers but the reigns are held by men who are supposedly ‘rational and born leaders’. On the other hand, if we take the instance of corporate offices, it is often seen that women are recruited in larger numbers at the entry level but the numbers dwindle as one climbs up the ladder. Therefore, it is safe to concur that women in the developing countries suffer from all these aforesaid structures of discrimination as well as bearing the yolk of a developing economy, almost inseparable in post colonial society attached to that of powerlessness.
Building on this thread it is only understood that as exercising their free will to be economically independent, women in post colonial societies work harder than their male counterparts – partly because of the gendered socialization and partly because of the quest for money and a better life. While women expend their energy and resources and are regarded as “efficient”, their effort mounts to accumulation of neoliberal wealth. Therefore, instead of removing these unequal power structures from functioning, these industries are dependent on this culture. Therefore, there emerges a ‘hyper-industrious’ girl in the South Asian world, who is supposedly empowered but in the larger picture, the assessment of her power to negotiate intangibles such as her position, wage, mobility, or even her sexuality appears bleak. However, as a norm for all rules, it is of significance to make an allusion that exceptions always exist and that while some women do climb the ladder to topmost positions, some become partners, some negotiate for salaries, some maintain a personal and professional balance because women are not a ‘homogeneous’ group owing to differing realities, identities, stories but bound by the exigencies of the larger structures of inequalities varying in length and degree.
As a means for redressal there is a requirement for new labor laws, mandatory paternal leaves other than maternal, finding alternatives for working women who have young children to attend to, and in the larger frame, women are expected to work as advocates for change and men to work as allies. Citing the example of Iceland once again, perhaps if change is brought at the societal level which is further amplified by a supporting law; then that could possibly have an indelible mark. Therefore, before one take a liberal feminist stance on the issue, there is no shying away from applying universally the implication that there is a necessity to bring about a restructuring of unequal gender relations and the power dichotomy that exists between the sexes especially so in a developing countries’ context.