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Uniform minimum age for marriage: A significant step towards gender equality

Monday December 27, 2021, By Janani Sampath

The Indian government’s move to fix 21 years as the uniform minimum age for men and women to get married might be the much-needed impetus to boost the opportunities for higher education and financial independence through workforce participation for women.

The reasoning is that raising the marriage age for women will offer a level-playing field for women on all fronts.

The move, as a step towards ensuring gender equality, also considers health and population indicators like Infant Mortality Rate (IMR), Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR), Total Fertility Rate (TFR), Sex Ratio at Birth (SRB), Child Sex Ratio (CSR), etc.

Why was this necessary?

The latest National Health Family Survey-5 (NFHS-5) for 2019-2021 has revealed that 23.3% of women in the age group of 20-24 years were married before 18 years of age. There is a marginal fall in the rate from 26.8% in the earlier survey for 2015-2016. The NFHS-5 has found out that in rural India, 27% of them in the same age group got married before 18 years compared to 14% in urban India.

The same survey has found that India has achieved a healthy overall sex ratio with 1020 women per 1000 men in the total population for the first time in many decades. When the gender ratio improves, there is a growing human resource.

Therefore, as a timely intervention, the bill considers the impact of early marriage and childbirth on women depriving them of economic opportunities. Union Minister Smriti Irani, who introduced the bill in Lok Sabha, said 7% of the girls aged between 15 and 18 years were found to be pregnant. “It is also important to bring down the incidence of teenage pregnancies, which are not only harmful to women’s overall health but also result in more miscarriages and stillbirths,” she was quoted as saying by news reports.

Economic advantage if implemented right

A uniform age for marriage opens doors of opportunity for women, who are underutilized as human resources. As of now, just 12 out of 100 women are working in any sector.

Avtar’s research has indicated that increasing labor force participation by women is necessary for economic growth and business. Avtar’s report on the Best Companies for Women reveals that when women are over 30% in the workforce, it results in higher productivity.

Achieving a $5 trillion economy can become a reality for India, as indicated by a McKinsey report. It says that by equalizing women in the workforce, India can add $770 billion to its GDP by 2025.

The onus is on industries to open up by breaking biases and gender stereotypes. Though sectors like manufacturing are seeing a shift in paradigm with women in unconventional roles, a focused approach for inducting more women across positions can help harness the available talent.

Everyone has a role to play

With the bill enabling more women to pursue a college education and careers, there is a lot that organizations and societies can do.

For instance, despite many taking up STEM courses, a few enter and progress due to the pay gap and lack of conducive culture.

Alongside a series of upskilling and reskilling programs offered by the government to train young women, concerted efforts are being made to get more women to work in STEM with incentives. Workspaces need to shed the ‘bro culture’ for them to thrive.

Train them young

Most importantly, it also calls for reconditioning girls at a young age to be career intentional understanding their potential and offering them the support to realize it.

Catching them young, Avtar Human Capital Trust’s Project Puthri has been working with schools to create intentionality among girl students from disadvantaged communities to pursue their goals through education through the able guidance of role models and mentors.

Families have a role to play too. A participative partner in the household stabilizes the economic safety of the family. When both spouses work, the gender chore gap in the households gets bridged by dividing the Cs of cooking, cleaning, and caregiving.

With more graduates in the making following this, organizations can spruce up efforts to improve their diversity at the entry-level.

Apart from creating more talent pools through higher education and training, it is also crucial to have a slew of policies that can support their career continuum through the stages of marriage and motherhood. These would result in a more participative women workforce who not just enter new frontiers but also progress to leadership roles for families, organizations, society, and the country to benefit.

Author Profile

Janani Sampath
Janani Sampath
With close to 15 years of experience in journalism across beats in multiple mediums, Janani Sampath is senior content writer and assistant editor, Diversity Digest.
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