The 2023 Gender Social Norms Index (GSNI) report, released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on June 12, highlights that nine out of ten men and women worldwide hold biases against women.
The report reveals a shocking stagnation in the GSNI score over the past decade, despite numerous movements advocating for gender empowerment and representation. This lack of progress in addressing ingrained biases raises concerns about what it means for India—a developing country burdened by caste, entrenched biases against women, and deeply-rooted stereotypical cultural beliefs that often go unchallenged.
But what exactly does this stagnation imply, and how does it affect India?
The GSNI aims to capture beliefs on gender equality regarding rights and capabilities. Drawing data from the World Values Survey, the GSNI report covers four key dimensions: political, economic, educational, and physical integrity. It seeks to comprehend the systematic disadvantages and discrimination faced by girls and women worldwide.
India ranks 122nd out of 191 countries in the Gender Inequality Index, which reflects the inequality between men and women in terms of reproductive health, empowerment, and the labour market. With a score of 0.490, the country has a long way to go to achieve gender equality.
The Great Indian bias
According to the latest UNDP report, over 99.22 per cent of people in India hold at least one bias against women, while over 86.26 per cent hold at least two biases. The report reveals that 92.36 per cent of men and 92.43 per cent of women share a bias against a woman’s physical integrity, as indicated by factors such as intimate partner violence and reproductive rights.
In essence, around 92.39 per cent of people in India justify intimate partner violence (physical or emotional abuse) in some way or believe that women should not have reproductive rights. The report argues that these biases are reflected in society.
The Crime in India-2021 report indicates that the majority of cases registered under crimes against women were categorised as “Cruelty by Husband or His Relatives” (31.8 per cent), followed by “Assault on Women with Intent to Outrage Her Modesty” (20.8 per cent). This is followed by “Kidnapping & Abduction of Women” (17.6 per cent) and “Rape” (7.4 per cent).
According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s “Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India 2021” report, the proportion of female victims who died by suicide was highest in cases related to “Marriage Related Issues” (specifically, “Dowry Related Issues”), followed by “Impotence/Infertility.”
Labour, income and discrimination
Considering labour, income, and bias, it is concerning to note that even countries with very high human development scores, such as Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, and Sweden, experience a disparity of at least 10 per cent in the labour force participation rate between men and women. For India, a country classified under the medium human development category with a rank of 132 out of 191 countries, the picture is even more daunting.
The report states that around 75.09 per cent of the population in India holds an economic bias against women’s right to work and their rank in the workplace. This means that over 80.38 per cent of men and 67.87 per cent of women in India believe that men make better executives than women and that men have more rights to jobs.
According to the report, the estimated gross national income per capita (2017 PPP $) for men is $10,633, nearly 4.6 times higher than women’s estimated gross national income of only $2,277. Income gaps directly correlate with the opportunities utilised by both genders. However, the prevalence of opportunities and the right to work is often hindered by matrimony or maternity.
As of 2021, the female labour force participation rate is only 19.2 per cent, nearly 3.6 times lower than that of males. The average income gaps between women and men persist, despite a declining disparity in education between the genders.
According to the GSNI report, only 38.50 per cent of the population believes that university education is more important for men than for women. However, education alone has proven insufficient in addressing the gender gaps in the labour force.
The Oxfam India Discrimination Report 2023 reveals that women spend up to six times more time on domestic chores and care work in countries highly biased in gender social norms. This highlights a strong correlation between income disparity and existing gender roles and biases.
India’s rank in the World Economic Forum’s gender parity ranking has declined to 135, 48 positions lower than its 2016 rank. This places India well below its South Asian neighbours such as Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan, China, and Sri Lanka.
Moving forward, the report emphasises that gender biases are deeply ingrained in society and hinder gender equality. These biases reflect widely shared social norms and pose challenges to achieving a gender-equal society. The report concludes that challenging biased gender social norms must be a choice that individuals willingly make.
With inputs from Sambavi Parthasarathy.