Nature has created males and females as complementary to each other, but the unjust system of society is providing comparatively fewer payments to female workers for the same work than their male counterparts. The NSSO-PLFS survey (2020-21) reveals that there were 48 % gender-based wage differentials in 1993-94 which declined to 28 % in 2018-19 but has again raised to 35 % in 2020-21.

Despite many constitutional provisions like – Article-14 (declares equality for all citizens before the law); Article-15 (vows to stop any discrimination against individuals based on gender, language, caste, religion, race, or region); Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 (advocates equal pay for equal work) the harsh ground realities are that female laborers are getting lower payment than the male laborers in India. This phenomenon prevails both in the organized and unorganized sectors of the economy for example – in October 2022, the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) announced that they would provide equal match fees to the centrally contracted women players like the male cricketers. It means it took 75 years after independence to remove the gender-based wage differentials in the organized sector then just think, ‘How many more years it will take to remove pay inequality in the unorganized sector?’; ‘How many years it will take to remove wage differentials for the provincially contracted players?’; and ‘How many years will it take to establish wage equality in other sports or other professions?’ Even this step of BCCI is copied from the announcement of the New Zealand Cricket Board which declared equal match fees in July 2022 (interestingly New Zealand was the first country to provide voting rights to women in 1893).

There are several reasons behind the gender-wise wage differentials in India. The social stigma of a patriarchal society is the prime reason that compels females to housekeep and results in less participation in the workforce as the labor force participation rate in males and females was 57.5 % and 25.1 % in 2020-21 respectively. Second, Employers erroneously perceive that female workers’ efficiency and productivity are lower compared to their male counterpart Based on these kinds of false narratives females have been exploited for many years not only in the unorganized sector but sometimes also in the organized sector. The ‘National Commission on Labour’ highlighted that women are working in unskilled or traditionally skilled jobs due to the absence of vocational guidance and training, which is the prime reason behind the lower workforce participation rate for women in the economy.

Throughout history, women have endured systemic oppression and suppression, transcending socio-economic, demographic, and religious differences. Assigned an inferior status, women’s roles have often been confined to the biological activities of childbearing and rearing, reinforcing societal stereotypes. Cultural traditions validate and perpetuate these stereotypes, fostering women’s dependency, discrimination, and degradation. Despite constituting half of the global population, women face gender-based disadvantages, subjecting them to violence, exploitation, and discrimination. Historically treated as properties of men, the modern age has witnessed a transformative shift in women’s status worldwide, marked by increased consciousness and organizational efforts.

Now, if we have a look at the state-wise scenario the observation of the annual report for the Periodic Labour Force Survey (July 2022 – June 2023) reveals that there is huge discrimination in the average wage/salary as per the current weekly status (CWS) of the regular employees across the different states in India. This exploitation can be seen in all four quarters of the year in all three wage categories i.e., rural, urban, and combined. There are few states where the female counterparts are getting more payment than the male counterparts. This report of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI), Government of India shows that in the first quarter of July 2022 to September 2022 Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, and Lakshadweep were providing comparatively more payments to the female workers in rural areas while Delhi, Goa, and Uttarakhand were providing comparatively more payment to the female workers in urban areas and in combined category the Rajasthan and Uttarakhand were providing the comparatively more payment to the female worker. Similarly in the second quarter of October 2022 to December 2022, Sikkim, West Bengal, and Ladakh were winning this phenomenon in rural areas while Delhi, Goa, Nagaland, Jammu & Kashmir, and Lakshadweep were ahead in urban areas and only Delhi were in the combined category list.

Again, in the third quarter of January 2023 to March 2023 Jharkhand, Kerala, Mizoram, Andaman & Nicobar Island, Ladakh, and Lakshadweep were providing better to the female workers while Goa, Uttarakhand, and Lakshadweep were doing better in the urban category and only Lakshadweep was there in the combined category list. Lastly, in the fourth quarter of April 2023 to June 2023 Bihar, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Lakshadweep were the favorable states for the rural female workers while Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Jharkhand were favorable states in the case for the urban female workers in terms of wage or salary payment.

Economic participation is crucial for women’s empowerment, offering purchasing power and addressing basic needs. Work participation rates reveal the extent of women’s involvement in economic activities. According to the latest Annual PLFS Reports published in October 2023, the Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) for Indian women aged 15 and above increased from 30.0% in 2019-20 to 32.8% in 2021-22 and 37.0% in 2022-23 while for male it was 76.8% in 2019-20 which rose to 77% in 2020-2021 and become 77.2 % in 2021-22 and at the end of 2022-23, it was 78.5%. Therefore, the LFPR for males increased from 75.8% in 2017-18 to 78.5% in 2022-23, and for females, it rose from 23.3% to 37.0%. Despite progress, achieving higher female labor force participation remains a challenge compared to males. Efforts are needed to address barriers hindering women’s active involvement in the workforce, promoting gender equality and economic inclusivity. In developing countries, women often bear a double burden—balancing domestic responsibilities with economic aspirations. The evolving status of women reflects a global shift towards gender equality and economic participation.

According to a McKinsey Global Institute report from 2015, gender-based discrimination hinders economic development. Advancing women’s equality could contribute $12 trillion (11%) to global wealth and $0.7 trillion (16%) to India’s wealth by 2025. It means we are losing potential wealth due to gender-based discrimination in society. Educational backwardness is the prime reason behind the inequitable transfer of income and resources (land and asset ownership) to females. This bad nexus of social and economic discrimination can be removed through the expansion of skills and education in females. Government schemes like ‘Skill India, ‘Stand Up India’, and ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter) are empowering women and can eradicate the problem of gender-based exploitation in society but for this, the rule of law and women’s safety is the prior condition for any country.

However, equal pay encourages greater participation of women in the labor force, addressing talent shortages and augmenting India’s global competitiveness. Additionally, as women gain financial independence, their increased purchasing power stimulates consumer spending, fostering economic vitality. Embracing pay equity is imperative for India to harness the full potential of its female workforce, promoting inclusivity and driving a more robust and prosperous economic future. Prime Minister Modi’s vision of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” (Collective Effort, Inclusive Development) is integral to the “Viksit India @ 2047” (Developed India Initiative). So, it can only be achieved by ensuring equal opportunity to females by providing them equal remuneration for equal work. This inclusive approach emphasizes the collective participation of all citizens irrespective of gender, caste, region, or religion in the development process, ensuring that benefits reach every section of society. By fostering unity and collaboration, the vision promotes holistic development, encompassing economic, social, and cultural aspects. In the context of “Viksit India Yojna,” the emphasis on inclusive growth aligns with Modi’s vision, aiming for a developed nation where all people share progress, leaving no one behind. This vision fosters a sense of national unity and collective responsibility for the nation’s advancement.

Ensuring equal pay for women is not only a matter of fundamental fairness but also a powerful driver of economic development. Closing the gender pay gap contributes to increased household income, reducing poverty rates, and fostering economic stability and a more equitable distribution of resources. When women receive fair compensation, they are more likely to invest in education and contribute to a skilled workforce, enhancing productivity and innovation. Equal pay promotes greater labor force participation among women, addressing talent shortages and positively impacting global competitiveness. Additionally, it amplifies women’s purchasing power, leading to increased consumer spending that benefits local businesses and the broader economy. Embracing pay equity is not just a social imperative; it is an economic strategy that unleashes the full potential of half the population, fostering a more inclusive, dynamic, and prosperous society.

Padmini Ravindra Nath, BHU Varanasi
Anant Srivastav, IIM Jammu
Mukesh Kumar, BHU Varanasi