Status of Women in India

Mains Marks Booster     3rd August 2023        
  • Global Gender Gap Report 2023: India ranked at 127.
  • In the last 75 years of Independence, we are still lagging the global average political participation of women that stands at 14% in the current Lok Sabha.
    • Nagaland elected her first women legislator (Hekani Jakhalu) in the recent election, showing the low participation rate of women in politics in states as well.
  • Low female Literacy Rate, child marriage prevalence, son-meta preference, female infanticide etc. are still prevalent in India showing dismal condition of women in India.

Key Facts about Women

  • Gender disparity: According to Census 2011, the child sex ratio dropped from 927 in 2011 to 914 per 1,000 males.
  • United Nations Population Fund’s State of the World Population Report, 2022: Eight women die from causes related to unsafe abortions each day in India, making unsafe abortions the third leading cause of maternal mortality in the country.
  • India also accounts for 4.6 crore of the world’s 14.26 crore “missing females” — yet another aspect of gender inequality.


  • Literacy Rate: At46 per cent, the female literacy rate is 20 per cent less than the global average rate of 87 per cent.
  • According to the Unified District Information System for Education Plus, 14.2 per cent of girls dropped out at the secondary level in 2020-21, while 15.1 per cent dropped out in 2019-20.


  • India performed the worst in the “health and survival” sub-index of the Global Gender Gap Index 2022, ranking last among 146 countries.
  • Nearly 60 per cent of women between the 15-49 age group are anaemic, compared to 20 per cent of men.
  • The number of anaemic women increased from 53 per cent in 2015-16 to 57 per cent in 2019-21.

Women in the workforce

  • Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE): About 9 per cent of women were employed or looking for jobs in 2021-22 — a decline from 15 per cent in 2016-17.
  • In the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report 2022, India ranked 135 out of 146 countries.
  • Among working girls and women, 83 per cent earn cash, while 22 per cent do not receive any compensation
  • The husband is the sole decision-makerregarding the use of a woman’s earnings for 14 per cent of females.
  • 79 percent of women have a bank or savings accountthat they themselves use. Just a little more than 50 per cent of women in the age group have a mobile phone that they themselves use.
  • 42 per cent of women own a housealone or jointly with someone.
  • The percentage of employed women who earn about the same or more than their husband has decreased from 42 per cent (NFHS-4) to 40 per cent.
  • 10 per cent of women make decisionsabout their health care alone, compared with one-third of men.

Crimes against women

  • Government data on crimes against women revealed that India reported a rape every 15 minutes on average in 2018.
  • The NFHS data (2019-21) found that in India, around one-third of women have experienced physical or sexual violence. Thirty per cent of women between the age of 18 and 49 have experienced physical violence since they were 15 years old and 6 per cent have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • Domestic violence against women marginally declined from 31.2 per cent to 29.3 per cent, but 32 per cent of married women experienced physical, sexual, or emotional spousal violence.

Political Participation of Women in India

  • The stature of women in Indian politics can be ascertained from the fact that only 14 per cent of MPs in the current Lok Sabha are women.The global average is 25. 
  • The situation is no different in the Indian judiciary— earlier this year, the Chief Justice of India raised concerns about the low representation of women in the legal field.
  • The CJI noted that women constitute around 30 per cent of the judges in the lower judiciary, 11.5 per cent in the high courts and only four sitting judges out of 33 in the Supreme Court are women.
  • “The situation of women lawyers in the country is not any better. Out of 1.7 million advocates registered, only 15 per cent are women,”.
  • Since its inception in 1950, the SC has seen only 11 women judges.

Current Context regarding Women Empowerment

  • India, under its G20 Presidency, took forward its women-led development agenda through the G20 EMPOWER 2023.
  • The theme for the second EMPOWER meeting held in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, was “Women’s Empowerment: A Win-Win for Equity and Economy.”
  • This inclusive, ambitious, and action-orientedG20 Presidency is perfectly timed to accelerate the global focus on empowering women.

“Empowerment of women leads to development of a good family, good society and, ultimately, a good nation. When the woman is happy, the home is happy. When the home is happy, the society is happy and when the society is happy the state is happy and when the state is happy there will be peace in the country and it will develop at greater pace.” APJ Abdul Kalam

Profile of Women in India

Social Structure and Women in India 

  • Caste Structure: Women's subordination played a crucial role in the development of caste hierarchy, with higher castes imposing greater constraints on women.
    • Control over female sexuality was integral to the formation of the social structure, driven by the need to maintain caste purity and economic power.
  • Institution of Family: Patrilineal descent and patrilocality are predominant, resulting in property inheritance through male offspring and the transfer of women's residence after marriage.
    • Sons are preferred, leading to son preference and daughter neglect in terms of resources and opportunities (missing daughter).
  • Socialisation within the Family: Socialisation perpetuates gendered roles and relationships and encourages girls to have low self-esteem.
    • Media, school books, and societal norms reinforce gender stereotypes and restrict opportunities for girls.
  • Class Structure and Women's Work: Upper-caste women are often secluded and engaged in domestic activities, while middle-caste women may work in their own fields.
    • In urban areas, upper-caste women from the middle class have emerged from seclusion to pursue education and employment.
  • Access to Education: Access to quality education for women remains a challenge, particularly in rural and marginalised communities.
    • Gender disparities persist in terms of enrolment rates, retention, and educational attainment levels.
  • Economic Empowerment: They often face limited access to economic opportunities, including formal employment, equal pay, and entrepreneurship.
    • Lack of property rights and financial inclusion further hinder their economic empowerment.
  • Reproductive Health and Rights: Limited access to healthcare services, high maternal mortality rates, and inadequate family planning measures affect women's overall well-being and decision-making autonomy.
  • Political Representation: Women's representation in political leadership and decision-making roles remains low.
    • Although reservation policies have increased women's participation in local governance (Panchayati Raj Institutions), their representation at higher levels of government is still limited.
  • Gender-based Violence: Women in India often face various forms of gender-based violence, including domestic violence, sexual harassment, dowry-related violence, and female infanticide.
  • Domestic Violence and Dowry Deaths: Violence against women within the family was traditionally considered a family matter rather than a crime against women, but awareness has been growing.
  • Female Feticide and Infanticide: According to a survey by the British medical journal Lancet, India has witnessed nearly 10 million female abortions in the past two decades.
  • Rape, Sexual Harassment, and Abuse: These acts hinder women's freedom and reinforce the perception of women as the weaker sex.
    • The Delhi gang rape case in December 2016 triggered widespread protests, led to the establishment of the Justice Verma panel, and facilitated fast-track judgments.
  • Gender Pay Gap: Women often face disparities in wages and salaries compared to their male counterparts, resulting in a gender pay gap.

Women’s Organizations in Pre independence era

Women's Organizations in Post-Independence era

Important Women’s Movements in India

Constitutional Provisions regarding Women in India

Legal Protection for Women in India

Right to safe and legal abortion

News -

  • The Supreme Court has held that all women, irrespective of their marital status, are entitled to safe and legal abortion till 24 weeks of pregnancy under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act.

About MTP Act –

  • The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971 came into force on 1st of April 1972 based on the report of the Shantilal Shah Committee in India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Under the act, terminating a pregnancy between 12 to 20 weeks will require the medical advice of two doctors on the pretext of risk of life to the women, or risk of grave injury (Physical or mental), or a risk of child born being physically or mentally abnormal posing as a seriously handicapped.

Amendment in 2021:

  • New amendment allows for abortions based on the advice of one doctor for pregnancies up to 20 weeks and needs the opinion of two doctors for pregnancies between 20 and 24 weeks under seven categories to be eligible for seeking termination under section 3B of rules prescribed under the MTP Act,
  • Survivors of sexual assault or rape or incest
  • Minors
  • Change of marital status during the ongoing pregnancy (widowhood and divorce)
  • Women with physical disabilities (major disability as per criteria laid down under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016)
  • Mentally ill women including mental retardation
  • The foetal malformation that has a substantial risk of being incompatible with life or if the child is born it may suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities to be seriously handicapped
  • Women with pregnancy in humanitarian settings or disasters or emergencies may be declared by the Government.


News -

  • A petition was filed before Delhi High Court, challenging the exclusion of a single man and a woman having a child from surrogacy and demanded the decriminalization of commercial surrogacy.
    • The petitioners have challenged their exclusion from availing surrogacy under the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Act, 2021 and Surrogacy (Regulation) Act, 2021.

      Surrogacy Regulation Act, 2021 -

  • It provided a gestation period of ten months from the date of coming into force to existing surrogate mother’s to protect their well-being.
  • Only a married couple who has a medical condition necessitating gestational surrogacy can avail it.
  • They must first obtain a certificate of recommendation from a District Medical Board.
  • It also bans commercial surrogacy, which is punishable with a jail term of 10 years and a fine of up to Rs 10 lakhs.

Special Marriage Act

News - Several interfaith couples have chosen to marry under a secular personal law through the Special Marriage Act, 1954.

The Act-

  • It was passed by Parliament on October 9, 1954.
  • It governs a civil marriage where the state sanctions the marriage rather than the religion.

Eligibility criteria -

  • The Act extends to the people of all faiths, including Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists, across India.
  • The minimum age to get married under the SMA is 21 years for males and 18 years for females.

Solutions to the challenges faced by women

  • Education and Awareness: Promote gender equality education and awareness programs. -> Support girls' education and lifelong learning opportunities.
  • Legal Reforms and Enforcement: Strengthen laws and ensure strict enforcement for women's rights. -> Establish specialized courts and fast-track procedures for gender-based crimes.
  • Economic Empowerment: Address gender pay gap and support women entrepreneurs. -> Enhance financial inclusion and access to resources for women.
  • Health and Well-being: Improve healthcare access, including reproductive and preventive care. -> Provide counselling and support for victims of violence.
  • Political Participation: Increase women's representation through quotas and affirmative action. -> Support women candidates and equal political opportunities.
    • Women's Reservation Bill: It can help in promoting women's political participation and addressing the gender disparity in decision-making roles.
  • Social and Cultural Change: Challenge gender norms through awareness campaigns and media. -> Promote positive role models and narratives for gender equality.
  • Support Systems and Services: Establish shelters, helplines, and counselling for women in need. -> Train professionals to respond sensitively to women's issues.
  • Technology and Digital Inclusion: Bridge the digital gender divide and provide digital literacy programs. -> Promote women's participation in the digital economy.

 Government of India's Women Empowerment Programs/Schemes

  • Gender Budgeting: Introduced in Australia in the 1980s, India adopted it in 2005-06 to ensure a gender perspective in policy formulation and budgetary commitments.
  • Nirbhaya Fund: Established in 2013 with a corpus of Rs. 1,000 crores to promote women's safety and empowerment.
  • Maternity Benefit Act: The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, amended in 2017, provides paid maternity leave and crèche facility. Maternity leave increased from 12 to 26 weeks, with the option for work from home based on mutual agreement.
  • Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao: Campaign promoting awareness and enhancing welfare services for girls in India.
  • Working Women Hostel: Aims to provide safe accommodation with daycare facilities for working women in urban, semi-urban, and rural areas.
  • Support to Training cum Employment for Women (STEP): Launched in 1986, it offers training and employment opportunities for women below the poverty line in sectors like agriculture and animal husbandry.
  • Swayamsidha: An integrated program promoting women's empowerment through awareness, economic independence, and convergence of services like literacy and health.
  • Swa Shakti: Aims to establish self-reliant women Self-Help Groups (SHGs) to enhance women's access to resources and address their needs.
  • Rashtriya Mahila Kosh: A national mechanism providing micro-credit to poor and asset-less women in the informal sector to meet their financial needs.
  • Swadhar: Provides support and necessities to marginalised women and girls facing difficult circumstances, including survivors of violence and natural disasters.

The 'Purple Mela' organized by the Puducherry Corporation in March 2023 for the Development of Women and Differently-Abled Persons showcased empowerment initiatives for women and the differently-abled community.

The theme for International Women's Day 2023 was 'DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality.' It recognizes the transformative power of digital technology in the post-pandemic world.


Government response and Measures

  • Institutional Measures: Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, National Commission for Women
  • Schemes and Initiatives: Promotion of Women SHGs through National Rural Livelihood Mission, Swa Shakti
  • Access to Credit: NABARD-SHG Bank Linkage program, Rashtriya Mahila Kosh

Conclusion: Women's issues in India continue to pose significant challenges despite efforts towards empowerment and gender equality. The prevalence of violence, discrimination, and limited economic opportunities hinder women's progress. However, through comprehensive legal reforms, awareness campaigns, and targeted programs, positive steps have been taken. Continued collective action is necessary to address deep-rooted social norms, ensure safety and equal opportunities, and create an inclusive society where women can thrive and achieve their full potential.