Article: Bridging India's gender gap: Childcare, Safety, and Pay


Bridging India's gender gap: Childcare, Safety, and Pay

The persistent challenges of safety concerns, wage disparities, and childcare burdens underscore the ongoing fight for true gender equality in India.
Bridging India's gender gap: Childcare, Safety, and Pay

Despite decades of legal reforms to advance gender equality, women worldwide remain systematically shut out of economic opportunities. A chasm exists between the rights enshrined in laws and the reality faced by women seeking to participate fully in employment and entrepreneurship.

The World Bank's Women, Business and the Law 2024 report uncovers this "implementation gap" - revealing that while regulations imply women enjoy 64% of the legal rights afforded men, only 40% of the policies and systems necessary to substantiate those rights are actually in place.

"The laws look good on paper, but in practice, we have gaping holes undermining their intent and impact," says report manager Tea Trumbic. "The gravest deficits relate to ensuring women's physical safety and access to affordable childcare - two fundamental prerequisites for economic empowerment."

The India story

Women’s economic participation in India is significantly lower than men’s.  According to the latest ILO data for 2023, the labour force participation rate of women in India was 32.7% compared to 76.8% of men.   The country has enacted laws prohibiting discrimination, sexual harassment, and child marriage while granting wives inheritance rights. Yet women's labour force participation remains dismally low.

"On paper, India does better than the South Asian average in terms of legal protections for women's economic inclusion," notes Trumbic. "But glaring gaps remain, especially around pay equity, dismissal protections for pregnant workers, paternity leave, and affordable childcare options."

While 98 countries mandate equal pay for equal work, India does not - leaving women vulnerable to wage discrimination. Nor does India have transparency measures or enforcement mechanisms to close gender pay gaps where they exist.

Safety - A foundational issue: Worldwide, the report's findings on women's safety are particularly alarming, with an average implementation score of just 36 out of 100. "If women don't feel safe at home, at work, or in public spaces, it's nearly impossible for them to fully participate in the workforce," says Trumbic.

In India, while sexual harassment is prohibited at work, there are no such protections in public spaces like transportation. This lack of personal security deters many women from even attempting to join the job market.

Childcare - the make-or-break factor: Another major obstacle is the lack of affordable, high-quality childcare options. Unpaid caregiving responsibilities keep many women trapped in low-paying informal work or out of the labour force altogether.  

"When childcare is easier for families to access, we see women's employment rates go up dramatically," explains Trumbic. "But too few countries have developed comprehensive childcare systems addressing availability, cost, and quality standards."

India lacks a regulatory framework governing childcare providers, or any public subsidies to make services more affordable for working parents. This policy gap imposes a tremendous burden that crowds women out of the workforce.

Reasons for optimism

While the report highlights formidable challenges, there are also bright spots. Sierra Leone, Togo, Jordan, Uzbekistan and Malaysia were the top reformers in 2023, enacting new laws around pay, parental leave, and workplace protections for women.  

"Governments are realising that investing in women is a win for economies and societies," says Trumbic. "With sustained momentum to match words with action, we can absolutely close these implementation gaps."

The stakes for women's economic empowerment extend far beyond questions of fairness and equity. Increasing women's workforce participation could boost global GDP by over 20% - essentially doubling the current rate of economic growth.

As the world emerges from the pandemic into an era of persistently sluggish growth, there has never been a more compelling case to tear down obstacles impeding women's full participation. With both moral and economic imperatives aligned, the time is now to translate gender equality principles into reality.

Check out the detailed interview for deeper insights into the global state of women's equality

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Topics: Diversity, #LeadingEdge

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