The International Women’s Day, observed and celebrated in many parts of the world on March 8 every year, calls for gender parity in all aspects of life. It’s a day when inclusivity of gender is on agenda. As Radhika Sanghani described in her column in the Telegraph (“How the day began and why the fight for women’s rights is still necessary”; March 5, 2018; goo.gl/SAeC2T), “its roots can be traced to 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding voting rights, better pay and shorter working hours.”
It’s over 100 years that women are demanding reduction in pay gap, and equal wages and pensions. Some reports indicate that women are paid 20% less than male counterparts performing the same job, and even in pensions there are gross unequal outcomes. According to US Census Bureau, women earn 80 cents for every dollar men earn. Present-day studies by experts and organisations indicate that women receive lower benefits than men, not only in their working life, but also when they retire. Gendered labour market and life course patterns lay at the roots of women’s disadvantage in old age. The Global Gender Gap Report 2017 of the World Economic Forum—which benchmarks 144 countries regarding economic participation, educational attainment, health and survival, and also on political empowerment—indicates the widening of the gender gap which may not go away easily. A strong development momentum for women’s equality is needed to overcome the gap.
Some experts believe women won’t reach pay equity with men till mid next century; others are of the opinion that it is not far when women’s pay may equal that of men; some are optimistic that it may even surpass men’s in the next few years as millennial women forge ahead of men in education, occupational status and work-related benefits including pensions. This will bring about transformation and progress towards gender parity and age inclusivity, notwithstanding the fact that women need to enjoy good health so as not to draw on their resources for treatments and other medical costs from their retirement plans and social security benefits they enjoy in their later years. There is evidence that women are discriminated against not only in work sphere, but also in other fields. As they age, women experience poor quality of life, disproportionate levels of poverty and are at risk of violence and deprivation since they are generally excluded from sexual and reproductive health services.
Many countries are working towards fulfilling the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development Goals; goal numbers 4 and 5 are relevant in progressing towards gender parity and age inclusivity. Goal 4 striving for inclusive and quality education for all and promoting lifelong learning and goal 5 achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls are significant aims, calling for change along with the aim of ending all forms of discrimination against all women everywhere. By some estimates, women in rural areas are seen to fare worse than rural men or urban women because of deep-seated gender inequalities. The pay gap between men and women in rural areas can be as high as 40%. Also, a very small proportion of them are landholders even though they are involved with more work in tilling and sowing activities. They lack infrastructure and services, decent work and social protection, and are left more vulnerable to the effects of climate change and societal disadvantages.
It is a welcome initiative that the upcoming 62nd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women will take into account the fulfilment of rights of rural and urban women of all ages for improving their livelihoods and well being. This is pertinent since rural women make up over a quarter of the world population and a majority of the 43% of women in global agricultural labour force, as per UN reports. The time is now to achieve gender equality and focus on young and older women as all societies are ageing and women outliving men in many countries. Activists from across the world need to press for progress in gender parity and age inclusivity.
Mala Kapur Shankardass, Associate professor, Maitreyi College, University of Delhi; and Asia Representative, INPEA