Securing a job is a special feeling. And this special feeling only grows every day one goes to work until the day of pay. And even though money can’t buy happiness, the salary becomes a part of everything that can make one happy. But what distressed Fareeda so much when she began to work? Was she not happy with her job? Why was her salary no joy? Brick by brick, with every piece that she picked, she grew more worried for her 10-year-old daughter whom she had left alone at home. The single mother in poverty worked hard through the nights, until one day, Nabila was hit by the cold winds. But Fareeda was not allowed to return to care for her ailing child.
The lack of food and care sickened Nabila more. Fareeda’s little earnings couldn’t deliver the nutrition and remedies to sustain them adequately. And what was more shocking? The other workers denied Fareeda any help. The insults they tossed at her left her hopeless. She couldn’t continue her work, and had to be with her child. What else could the pitiful woman do? She had no child-care backup nor did she get any support. Was Fareeda herself to be blamed or was it the pay gap and discrimination that pulled her down?
Perhaps Fareeda could not meet the multiple obligations of work and her family. Nor could she adhere to the norms of the society. What was it about her that denied her equal opportunities and a decent livelihood? Article 14 of the Constitution of India addresses the issues of gender equality. Be it gender, religion, race, caste or class, Article 14 prohibits discrimination on any grounds. The fundamental rights of every individual were always given momentum. As the law states too, these could be violated under no condition. Though this law was formed way back in 1949, in the recent years, even after the advent of modernity, there seems to be meagre understanding of it. The evident gender pay gap says it all. Should one still be satisfied that India has not just one but many laws that grant fundamental rights to all its citizens?
Going further, the Article 14 ensures equality to status and of opportunity. However, equal protection of laws somehow gets denied when it comes to women, especially the low-income women. Instances of honour killings and female foeticide have become a country-wide phenomenon. In some corners of India, these may be prevalent even today. Practices like these not only target women but also damage equal protection of laws for other women in the field. Female foeticide, particularly, shows that certain segments of the Indian society are not going forward. That is why they also drive hostility against women and girls, creating more problems for them.
The problems of low-income women gain little public attention. And yet, they must meet the rigid work requirements. Lack of education and training does them no favour. For low-income women, salary is surely a problem but more than that their jobs are troubled by other employment barriers too. Keeping a job with decent wages is a problem in recent times, considering the increasing expenditures. Despite the pay gap and low-income, women save whatever they can from their petty earnings. Ultimately, they use these savings for their family, not for themselves. From the women’s side, childcare and family responsibilities, if not done properly, may harm their married lives as well. Though these are personal barriers, they become more challenging for women living in the economic margins of the Indian society.
In such a scenario, losing the job will be very devastating for them. That is why some women don’t take up jobs because of childcare and some leave children as young as 8-year-olds alone at home. They have no choice. The situation becomes all the more distressing when the job providers too are unwilling to accommodate family needs of women workers, such as, medical insurance and in Fareeda’s case, time to care for her sick child. They discriminate women workers when they look for jobs and during the employment term. Even when they are successful at work, attempts are made to pull them down.
Is India being selectively secular then? The restrictions are placed on the personal freedom of women as well. They can’t do what they want to and when they want to and women do accept these. But will it be right to blame women for submitting to these oppressions? They didn’t fight back earlier but now they do. As per the Monster Salary Index of 2016, Indian women earn 25% less than Indian men. That means, for every Rs. 100 that a man earns, a woman earns Rs. 75. But India hopes to see victories slowly. As per the LinkedIn report of 2017, Moving the Needle for Women Leaders, hiring women in leadership positions increased by 25% in India. Globally, this has been the highest rate of increase. In 2018, the gap has narrowed down by 5%. Another good news is that women are earning more in the education industry. It may seem unbelievable but it is true. In India, the gap seems to shrink every year but it cannot be said with certainty for the uneducated poor women in construction and agriculture. The gender pay gap is more in the construction industries.
However, one shouldn’t get carried away by the thought that pay corrections are happening across the educated segments. One may not rightly know whether educated women’s lives are better than those of the uneducated. But, sticking to the ground realities, surely the latter deserves better pay for economic security and stability. Low-income women have to meet many obligations to keep their jobs. At Ekta Shakti Foundation, we understand their struggle. To make their struggle meaningful, we go a step further in empowering them with vocational skills. We prepare them with the skills that will secure them with respected lives and earnings enough to sustain them.
Like Fareeda, there are endless women who lose their jobs even when they don’t want to. We feel sad to see this sect of our community struggling for the basic rights to life. To create an inclusive world for every destitute woman, we give them confidence enough to back economic security. We encourage them through every phase of life to make them self-reliant in their own right.