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Gender justice is key  to  accomplish a country’s goals

PM Modi, in his 15 August speech, said a panel will look into the question of raising the minimum legal age of marriage for women. There has also been a demand for women to be given leave during their menstrual cycle. Mint explores these issues

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his 15 August speech, said a panel will look into the question of raising the minimum legal age of marriage for women. There has also been a demand for women to be given leave during their menstrual cycle. Mint explores these issues.

What is the debate on legal age for marriage?

The government has mandated 18 years as the minimum legal age for women to marry and the same is 21 years for men. The reason for setting a legal minimum were aplenty. The major reasons were to prevent child marriage, abuse of women and early pregnancy—a severe health hazard for both the mother and the child. In 2019, the Delhi high court had also sought the government’s response to a plea that proposed a uniform age for marriage for both men and women. However, it is noteworthy that personal laws have different provisions, with the attainment of puberty being the qualifying criteria for marriage.

How will raising legal age empower women?

There are some well-known proven health implications of early marriage and motherhood. But the bigger concern is how to enforce these rules as child marriage continues to be rampant across the country. In this scenario, raising the minimum age for women will have a positive impact as parents would then be more likely to allow their daughters in villages to pursue college and other higher education degrees. The move would also encourage women to play a larger role outside their homes and will improve female labour force participation as they proactively look for employment opportunities.

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What  will be the benefits of higher  female  participation?

Having more women will boost workforce strength, which in turn will increase the gross domestic product. Studies also reveal how greater women’s participation results in an increase in productivity. It happens due to gender diversity, as women bring new skills to the table. There is evidence that women are better at multi-tasking, which makes them efficient across jobs.

Will increasing the min legal age be enough?

Merely increasing the legal minimum age for women to get married may not be sufficient in encouraging greater participation. Nevertheless, what the move will do is have a positive impact on health outcomes and encourage more women to get educated. Outside of that, there is a real need to make the workplace more gender-sensitive. Some companies have already taken a lead in terms of instilling a gender-sensitive work-culture. Zomato, for instance, recently introduced 10 days of “period leave" for its female staff.

What about gender gap prevalent in India?

India has its work cut out. As per the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2020 rankings, India ranks 112 among 153 countries. China was ranked 106 while Iceland topped the table. Policies such as period leaves are instrumental in assisting women. And they make workplaces more gender-neutral. The focus on empowering women, along with greater sensitivity in private sector, could be instrumental in improving women’s participation.

Karan Bhasin is a Delhi-based policy researcher.

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