Intro: Kicking off the global #16DaysofActivism campaign, Khabar Lahariya brings you our special report on the kind of income inequality that still exists in rural India in 2020, investigating the deep-seated biases that earn women 20% less for doing the same work as the average man.
Manuraj Gyanchandani, a shopkeeper from Chitrakoot starts us off by addressing the influx of women in the workplace: “For starters, there’s a financial requirement in every home right now — during the pandemic. On a personal level, I believe girls are better than boys in every field, whether it is at work, or helping out in their homes in every way possible.” While we are inclined to agree, we wanted to probe further. Why are women compensated unfairly and paid a lower wage than their male counterparts?
Aditya Kumar, another shopkeeper in Chitrakoot who insists on paying all his employees equally, states, “According to me, women come late to work and leave early. Male workers will come early and help close up the shop at the end of the day. Women can’t stay late for safety reasons. For instance, female workers in my shop come at 10 am and leave at 7 pm, whereas men can stay late and help close the shop, they can leave by 9 or 9: 30 pm or 10 pm if necessary…Every individual does the best that they can. A woman tries to do her best and a man tries to do his best. Men and women have their separate duties and all of them do it according to how they see fit.
When it comes to working, both of them are equally good… I was giving a possible reason for why that happens, because I personally think they should be paid equally…There are no time limits in the case of men. You can make them stay back and help out whereas employers have to make sure their female workers reach home safely and are working in a comfortable environment.” Kumar raises a crucial issue here: women in rural India are paying the price twice for their marginalization. They cannot enjoy the benefits of being free citizens and occupying public space at any time they desire because of issues of safety and are being punished for their limitations by getting underpaid — which furthers their marginalization and limits their mobility and the opportunities they can access.
Sushmita, a young salesperson from Chitrakoot shrugs when asked if men and women are paid equally: “Women are responsible and men…Men are probably paid more because they can work outside too, while women can only work inside…This is the rule everywhere, so I don’t have a strong reason to question it.”
Preeti from Chitrakoot is more assertive when she states, “Men were paid Rs. 4000 and women, Rs. 3000 [at her old job]…I don’t know [why], you’d have to ask them. They are the ones making the rules…They were the ones who didn’t give me full hours. I was always open to more work. That is why I left that job because I was getting paid less…I get paid equally here [at her new job].I never questioned them. If I did, maybe they could have understood my perspective too. But they probably would have said, ‘salaries for men and women are different.’ I think if we want to achieve equal respect then competing with them on an equal level is important and I’m not afraid of that. Simply put, I think women should be paid equally. But that’s up to the employer.”
Brijlal Prasad, a labourer concurs: Whenever the question arises of why women aren’t paid equally even though they are doing the same work, they say, ‘women work less.’ They work the same, but there’s a rule. What can you do!”
The case of manual labour is no different. Women are habitually paid at least Rs.50 less than men, in spite of doing the same work for the same period of time. However, they are compelled to continue working in a thankless economy where any wage is considered a blessing. There is an overall paucity of jobs in the market amidst the global pandemic, and many men, too, are facing unemployment and an uncertain future. But even at the best of times, women are likely to do three times the amount of domestic work than men. And statistics show that this trend affects women more severely than men, and rural India more than urban India.
Anita, a labourer in Chitrakoot who has been working for almost 9 years says, “It’s hard to find work so we accept the job even if we’re only getting Rs. 300. Daily income isn’t guaranteed, after all!”
Rajrani, another labourer states, “We get paid for a day’s work and payment is done after 15 days. [Rs. 250 is her daily wage] they are yet to pay that…Earlier I was paid Rs.200. Now because of the distance, the payment has been increased to Rs. 250.”
We asked a few men to weigh in on why they thought they were paid more than their comrades. Chunnu Lal says, “I don’t know why…All of us come to work together…Probably because our work is more physically demanding. We operate the machine. Women can’t do that…They can try, but they aren’t successful. Not everybody can do that…although, they can’t carry cement either.”
Mohammad Jaheed agrees, “The pay difference isn’t that big. Women are physically weaker than men when it comes to work. Women aren’t able to do as much work compared to men, so there’s a slight difference in pay…Things like lifting heavy weights. When we want loose rocks to be lifted, we give that job to men because women get tired quickly. Lifting mud is less demanding, so women take care of that.” Although Mohammad Jaheed agrees that women and men are equal, he adds a caveat, “But when it comes to physically demanding jobs, women were always weaker than men and they still are.”
Unfortunately, this is a misconception that still prevails in spite of a sizeable percentage of India’s manual labour force and agricultural force comprising women who often undertake back-breaking work in order to provide for their families and run their household. Further, discriminating between employees for wage purposes is blatantly illegal; according to the Remuneration Act of 1961, men and women are to be paid equally. But barring government jobs, the wage gap exists in all fields. For example, men are paid 26% more than women in IT jobs, and 24% more than women in the business sector. According to a 2017 report by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), in rural areas, men are paid 56% more than women for labour work. Whereas, on average, an Indian woman earns 27% less than a man according to a survey by the Online Career and Recruitment Solution Provider Master India.