In the patriarchal social structure of India, women are often subjected to discrimination on the basis of gender. Discrimination over women is multidimensional. It happens in the form of physical, sexual, verbal, emotional abuse; trafficking; denial to access education, employment, equal wage, health services; prevention from social, economic and political participation, etc. Gender-Based discrimination is not a recently invented social evil. The toxicity of gender-based discrimination has been experienced throughout the pages of history and at present is also no different from history. The oppression over women has been pushing them back from growing to their full potential and achieving goals. Therefore, the need for their empowerment has arrived. The fight and struggle for gender equality and empowerment are not new to us. From the abolition of ‘Sati Pratha’ to the ‘#metoo’ movement, our country has been struggling to establish equality. I have been hearing the slogans against discrimination since my childhood. The question which often comes to my mind is, “why can't we achieve gender equality after struggles for ages?” There are equal constitutional rights as well as special acts and schemes for the upliftment of women. There are huge numbers of NGOs, INGOs, government organizations, etc, who are working to bring women empowerment. But the gender-based discrimination over women is still very much prevalent in almost all regions of the country.

Economic participation of Indian women is not very encouraging. In 2015-16, only 24% of adult women actively participate in paid economic activities. After 1991, India has been experiencing rapid urbanization and economic growth but it is failing to escalate the rate of women’s active economic participation. On the other hand in rural areas due to degradation of small-scale industries, slow growth of the service sector, cultural barriers, illiteracy, etc, the economic participation for women limits around the agricultural sector and other unorganized sectors. Since the wage rate regulation is very minimum in the unorganized sector, hence there is a huge gap in wage rate between male and female. Occupation segregation is one of the major factors for wage discrimination. Most of the women occupied lower positions in the occupational hierarchy. Moreover, for the same hierarchical position or for the same kind of work, women are being paid less than their male coworker in many cases. Their work is being undervalued.

A woman working as an agricultural labourer who earns INR 60 per day.

The Milaap fellowship programme gives me the opportunity to interact with the tribal women in Madhya Pradesh.

Bhagwati is from an extremely poor financial background. She works as a daily wage labourer. After working for more than 8 hours a day, she earns INR 60-70 and for the same kind of work her husband does. He earns more than INR 200 a day. It is not unknown to her that she is being exploited. But she does not have any other options except working at very low wage rates. She is aware of the higher wages in urban and semi-urban areas but due to excessive household activities, it is not possible for her to access the urban areas. She mentioned that almost all the women of her village work at INR 60-70 per day. Only a few women go to the nearest city, Jabalpur, where they earn INR 150-250. She said the women in the region do not get educational opportunities to dream of high paying service sector jobs. Therefore, they have to work as labourers with minimum wage rate. She feels oppressed and exploited. “The wage rate is so low because the work opportunities are less and the number of labourers is very large”, Bhagwati said.

The demand and supply disequilibrium of labour are affecting income and standard of living of labourers like Bhagwati. Her income is not even enough for the food cost of her family. She has to solely depend on her husband for her family’s day to day expenses. Since she earns less, her decision-making capacity in the family is less too. Every household decision is made by her husband. All of her hard work at home or in the workplace goes unnoticed just because her wage is less. She told me that from household purchases to reproduction, every decision has been taken by her husband. She is considered inferior. She said that her social and political participation is also prevented. She is not allowed to participate in community meetings and political campaigns. She believes that the equal wage rate for both male and female will bring empowerment. She's right.

The story of Geeta reiterates the story of many borrowers of Milaap. She works as an agricultural labourer in a remote village called Makhrar for almost 20 years. The maximum amount of wage she receives is INR 70 per day. The wage rate was so low that she could not even provide formal education opportunities for her children. She told me with her eyes full of tears that once she suffered from a severe stomach ache, but she did not have money to go for treatment. The remembrance of pain that she had helplessly endured still brings bitter indignation to her. More than the physical pain that she had gone through, her feeling of helplessness due to lack of money during her illness agitates her.

Since she earned a minimum income, therefore, her husband’s income drained out from the day to day expenses. Her family’s standard of living was so low that fulfilling basic needs was a struggle for her. “It is not only me who has suffered because of the discriminatory wage rate, but most of the women of my village are also still working at INR 60-70 daily wage” she said. She does not want her family members to suffer what she has gone through. She has received a loan from Milaap and started a grocery store. The income from the grocery store allows her to save for the future of her family. Milaap helps her to be an entrepreneur from a daily wage labour.

Geeta raises her concerns by saying that there are a lot of women who are still working at a very low wage rate. She feels that entrepreneurship is the best way to escape from economic discrimination. At the same time, she also feels that escaping from the issue is not the solution; the solution is about receiving what they deserve.

Geeta in her new shop

There are several laws protecting the right of the same wage for the same work, but the law can not protect Tulsi’s right for equal pay. She is agricultural labour who works at INR 80 a day. Her husband is also agricultural labour but he earns INR 250 a day which is more than 3 times higher than Tulsi’s wage.

Once she demanded a higher wage rate from an employer and after that, the employer has never hired her for any work. “Not all employers are men, there are also women employers who pay the women employees relatively less amount of wage than men. Wage discrimination is socially accepted. The women of our village do not have the confidence to raise their voice. Bharniya who is another victim of wage discrimination said, “rather than individual demands, we should raise a collective voice to claim our rights”.

Indian constitution tries to abolish wage rate discrimination for the same work through directive principles of state policy (DPSP). Article 39(d) mentions that “there is equal pay for equal work for both men and women”. It is not a fundamental right but a constitutional goal, which, our country is yet to achieve. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in 2017, the wage disparity in India between men and women is as staggering as 30%.

Economic exploitation not only makes women poor but also makes women more dependent on their husband and other family members. It leads to an increase in the social stigma that women are inferior to men. As a result, they become more vulnerable towards other exploitations, such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, trafficking, prevention from social and political participation, etc. Wage rate is all about what they deserve for their work, and if they do not get what they deserve then it should be considered as exploitation.
INR 60 for a whole day work is exploitation!