India’s gender troubles, in five charts

Indians accept women as political leaders, but many favour traditional gender roles in family life, said the Pew survey report (Photo: Mint)
Indians accept women as political leaders, but many favour traditional gender roles in family life, said the Pew survey report (Photo: Mint)


Women and men are strongly united in their belief that wives should obey their husbands and that men command a greater right in the job market. However, Indians do show hints of welcome attitudes on gender in some other ways, says a report released by Pew Research Center ahead of International Women’s Day

Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke," American feminist icon Gloria Steinem once said. Even as the world celebrates Women’s Day on 8 March each year, that status quo seems to be thriving, particularly in India, show the findings of a 2019-20 survey of 29,999 Indians by US-based think tank Pew Research Center. “Indians accept women as political leaders, but many favour traditional gender roles in family life," said the survey report released on Wednesday. Mint elaborates:

1. Disturbing Consensus

In traditional home settings, about nine in ten Indians believe a woman must obey her husband, the Pew survey found. If 89% of the men held these views, so did 86% of the women surveyed across regions.

“Any oppressive system in the world, and India is not special in that case, basically rests on being able to persuade a large section of people who are oppressed that this is how the world functions," Kavita Krishnan, secretary of All India Progressive Women’s Association, said on the large share of women agreeing with the notion.

Southern states fared relatively better, with 75% respondents in agreement, as against 94% in Hindi belt states.

Women and men, however, differed in their perceptions of traditional divisions of household labour. Only 24% female respondents said women should be the primary caregivers to children, against 35% men.

2. Whose Job Is It?

When it comes to the economic sphere, 79% Indians (82% of men surveyed and 77% of women surveyed) “completely" or “mostly" agree that men should get precedence over women when jobs are scarce. Higher education seems to temper such views among college graduates, but not enough, with 74% still favouring the precedence of men in the job market.

The data paints a gloomy picture for India compared with other countries. Indians are thrice more likely than the median global level (17%) to “completely agree" that men have a greater right over jobs in times of high unemployment. Of the 61 countries surveyed by Pew, only Tunisia has a higher share (64%).

This is not simply the case of women being unaware of their rights; it also reeks of poor policy support, such as child care and gender-sensitive work environment that could have incentivized women to participate in the labour market, experts said.

3. Long Way Ahead

Even as attitudes in India around women’s safety seem to have changed over the years, about one in four, irrespective of their education levels and age difference, still hold the view that women should behave “appropriately" to protect themselves, putting the onus of crime on women, the survey found. However, 75% of Indians believe violence against women is a big problem and the silver lining is that about half of Indians think boys should be taught to respect women. The trend varies across states. In Rajasthan, 63% of the respondents said it was more important to teach boys to respect all women, compared with 40% in West Bengal. In the southern states, Karnataka residents were the most likely (36%) to see a solution in women behaving appropriately and Andhra Pradesh least (21%), the report said. In Chhattisgarh, just 7% respondents put the onus on women.

4. Facing Prejudice

Fewer than a quarter of Indian adults (23%) said there was “a lot of discrimination" against women. This perception did not differ significantly with age group, education level, caste, and religion of respondents. However, the survey found varying responses in different parts of India. Southern states, which are generally viewed as more socially developed in terms of gender relations, were more likely to report “a lot of" gender-based discrimination against women, with 44% respondents saying so in Telangana and 39% in Tamil Nadu. The share was the least in Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh (6% each).

However, women themselves may not always admit to facing prejudice. Just 16% women overall said they had personally felt discriminated against based on gender in the year preceding the survey. This was more likely among women from Jammu and Kashmir (35%) and Assam (32%). Women who had faced recent financial hardship were a lot more likely to say so (22%).

5. Women At Top

Gender equality remains a pipe dream in Indian politics. Women are almost half of India’s voter base, yet they made up just 14% of all people elected to the Lok Sabha in 2019. Political parties field women on only a handful of seats in any election. There are various reasons for their poor engagement, including stereotyped obligations such as managing household chores, which are traditionally assigned to women, and a disproportionate burden of family care.

However, Indians in the Pew survey showed a strong tendency to accept women as political leaders, with a majority (55%) either saying that women and men make equally good political leaders or that women can make better leaders than men (14%). Tara Krishnaswamy, founder of activist group Political Shakti, said voters were far ahead on gender-related views on political leadership than political parties themselves, and “political parties are not meeting voters’ expectations".

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