Gender Equality | 5 Min Read


Pay Parity – A Step Towards Gender Equality

Vanya Umranikar

Senior Consultant, Parity Consulting

Pay Parity

During any discussion regarding pay parity or equal pay, the terms “gender pay gap” and “equal pay for equal work” are often used. Though both speak of differences in pay at the workplace, they are not the same.

As per the International Labour Organisation (ILO), “gender pay gap” refers to the difference in average wages between all women and all men who are engaged in paid employment. It is often used as an indicator of gender inequality in the world of work and is also used to monitor progress towards gender equality by nations and internationally.

“Equal pay for equal work”, on the other hand, refers to the payment of equal wages to persons in the same workplace engaged in same or similar work. It seeks to remove differences in pay among workers and promote equitable payments at the workplace. The term “equal pay for equal work”, though commonly used in the context of gender based discrimination in pay, is applicable to all employees, irrespective of their gender. E.g. Demand for equal pay among workers of private schools and government schools.

Put simply, gender pay gap refers to pay inequality between men and women in paid employment, while equal pay for equal work relates to pay inequality among individuals in the same workplace engaged in similar work, irrespective of their gender.  


Gender Pay Gap – Globally

Globally, achieving gender pay parity is an important step towards gender equality and empowerment of women and girls.  To mark its efforts in this direction, the United Nations declared 18th September as International Equal Pay Day, which was celebrated for the first time this year.

The Global Gender Gap Report, 2020 by the World Economic Forum reveals that, women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men for equal work. This gap is wider for women with children. At this rate, it will take about 257 years to close the gender pay gap.


Gender Pay Gap In India

In India the gender pay gap is pegged at 19%. India ranked 112th in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2019-2020, four places below its 2018 ranking. This Index measures the extent of gender based gaps in (a) economic participation and opportunity, (b) educational attainment, (c) health and survival, and, (d) political empowerment. And India has fared miserably on all four measures.

To understand the reasons why India continues to fare poorly on gender parity indices, it is important to understand that there are some overlapping and intertwined issues relating to gender parity which need to be tackled simultaneously to create equitable workplaces. Let’s consider some of them.


#1 Inadequate representation of women in the workforce:

In addition to inequality in pay at workplaces, inadequate representation of women in the workforce remains a hindrance to achieving gender parity. While women form 48% of the general population, participation of women in the workforce is only at 23%. The lower participation of women in the workforce, especially the formal sector, in turn increases the disparity in the pay. Socio-cultural barriers continue to prevent women from entering and continuing as part of the formal workforce. Due to deep rooted patriarchy in families, most girls are unable to complete their education and are therefore prevented from entering the formal workforce. Safety concerns and prevalent culture of violence against women depletes the numbers further. Out of those who do enter the workforce, many are unable to continue as they cannot cope with professional and personal obligations.


#2 More women in informal and unorganised sector:

There is a higher concentration of women in personal and care giving work, and in unorganised or informal work. These are low paying and low value jobs traditionally reserved for women. Thereby keeping women workers in roles where they earn less than men and thus increasing the pay gap further.


#3 Unpaid work:

Women spend a large part of their time in doing unpaid work. To support this, let’s consider the recently published Time Use survey conducted by the National Statistical Office (NSO), a wing of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, for the period of January to December 2019.  The survey found that an average Indian woman spends 19.5% of her time in unpaid work, while men spend about 2.5% of their time in unpaid work. Here unpaid work includes work done at home and at the workplace. The disproportionate amount of time spent by women on unpaid work hinders their ability to take up tasks for which they could be better compensated, thereby widening the pay gap.


Laws prohibiting disparity in pay in India

This unfortunate state of affairs is in clear violation of the rights guaranteed to women under Art. 14, 16, 19 and 21 of the Constitution. Art 15(3) allows the State to make special provisions for women and children. Accordingly, there are legislative enactments which set out mandates for all employers to ensure parity in pay and opportunities for women along with measures for safety of women in the workforce. Further Art. 39 (d) of the Constitution states that the State shall direct its policies to ensure that there is equal pay for equal work for both men and women.

India has ratified the Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 of the ILO and is also a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN. Both of which, like Art 39 (d) of the Indian Constitution, recognise the right to equal remuneration of women. But they are mere social directives and not enforceable in a court of law.

Keeping with its obligation under the Equal Remuneration Convention, India enacted the Equal Remuneration Act of 1976 [now repealed by the Code of Wages, 2019] which prohibits difference in pay between men and women for the same work or work of similar nature.

The Code of Wages, like the Equal Remuneration Act, prohibits discrimination among employees on the ground of gender in matters relating to payment of wages. The Code also prohibits discrimination on grounds of their sex while recruiting an employee and in the conditions of work, except where employment of women is restricted or prohibited by any Law.


What the legislations missed?

  • Both the Code and Equal Remuneration Act are applicable only to workers employed in the formal sector and not those in the unorganised sector.
  • Further those employed in managerial or administrative capacity, or those in supervisory roles earning more than fifteen thousand rupees a month, are not covered under the Code; their terms of payment continue to be determined by their respective employment contracts. That keeps a large number of women/ workers out of the ambit of the Code and at the mercy of the employers’ discretion. Traditionally, most women are not comfortable negotiating or asking for benefits for themselves, the scales are skewed heavily against them.


Positive step forward

Even though the Code of Wages does not make any new provisions to address inequalities of pay for women, it is a step forward as it has moved from the traditional binary of men and women and has extended the prohibition of discrimination against all persons on the grounds of their sex, hence bringing the LGBTQI within its fold.


Though the Government has taken several steps to close the pay gap, a lot more needs to be done. Concerted efforts need to be made at the policy level along with their strict implementation at the ground level. Towards this end, greater engagement of stakeholders in implementation as well as generating social intent to eliminate gender disparity is much needed.


Recommendations to bridge the gender pay gap:

  1. The principle of equitable pay needs to be put into practice by the government itself, by firstly, increasing the number of women in its cadres and secondly, by ensuring they are paid the same as their male colleagues;
  2. Making safety of women a priority in the country – the constant fear for violence and harassment faced by women is a major hurdle in the progress of women, in particular, and the nation in general;
  3. Bringing the workers in the informal and unorganised sector within the purview of the labour laws and creating awareness among them about their rights;
  4. Stricter implementation of the anti-discriminatory laws in the country;
  5. Greater investment in the technical and higher education, especially for women;
  6. Awareness building at societal and community level for removing the socio-cultural biases against education and employment of girls and women;
  7. Providing incentives to employers to hire and retain women in the workforce;
  8. Issuing guidelines for inclusive organisational policies for recruitment and retention of women in the workforce.


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