The Influence of Objectification and Discrimination – A Perspective

Abstract Gender inequality inthe Indian subcontinent has been prevalent for decades due to a deep-rooted sociocultural system that promotes cultural subordination, thereby disregarding the importance of socioeconomic development of women. Women are often looked at as inferior and in a society where men dominate all aspects of life, women are discriminated against in recruitment, employment, […]


Gender inequality inthe Indian subcontinent has been prevalent for decades due to a deep-rooted sociocultural system that promotes cultural subordination, thereby disregarding the importance of socioeconomic development of women. Women are often looked at as inferior and in a society where men dominate all aspects of life, women are discriminated against in recruitment, employment, promotion, and retention. This situation has further been exploited by sexual objectification of women on the internet, mass media, advertising hoardings, and so on. With objectification on one side and a lack of access to quality education and healthcare on another, making the case for the importance of gender equality has become a challenging task, let alone achieving the same. 

In traditional India, male children were preferred when compared to female children, but decades have been spent to eliminate the practice of female infanticide in the country through strict laws and policies. A report published by the Asian Centre for Human Rights (2016) has revealed that India has one of the highest female feticide incidents in the world. Though the laws and policies have been adherent to the alarming situation, these numbers are a result of weak enforcement on the ground zero level. In addition to this, the evolution of technology in the form of In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF), Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD), Pre-Implantation Genetic Screening (PGS), and sperm-sorting involve sex selection in their process, thus adding to the challenges faced in curbing female infanticide [1]. 

The onset of technological advancements through globalization and its subsequent influences on the cultural aspects of the land has paved way for a paradigm shift. Besides bringing in a plethora of opportunities, exposure to modern cultural notions coupled with existing socio-cultural misconceptions has resulted in an identity crisis for both the country and its people, a conventional yet evolving society on one hand and an open-minded yet exploitative one on the other. [2]

A Patriarchal Society 

The sociocultural environment in the sub-continent partakes in gender stereotypic notions irrespective of the gender. In several parts of the country, communities celebrate the birth of a son as a moment of family pride. This is because a son is upheld as a potential breadwinner, while a daughter is often seen as a ‘cost’ that families have to pay as marriage dowry for the daughter. [3]

Data from the Indian Annual Economic Survey (2018) has revealed that 63 million women are statistically missing. While analyzing the birth rates and gender of the last-born, it was found  that more than 21 million girls are not wanted by their families [4]. Furthermore, Indian girls receive less education, have poorer nutrition, and get less medical attention when compared to boys. 

To put this information into context, the Lancet Global Health Study (2018) has shown that more than 220,000 girls under the age of five die every year due to varied forms of gender discrimination [5]. The numbers are particularly high in traditional hinterlands and in the northern states of the country – namely, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar – whereas many of the best indicators of women’s development were in the north-eastern part of the country. 

Furthermore, the presence of wealth did not stop the preference for male children among families. The study has shown that educated and wealthy women also face intense pressure from their in-laws to have ‘sons. This societal preference for boys has resulted in a skewed ratio of men to women, with statistics indicating that India has 63 million fewer women than what is expected [4]. While laws and policies are in place to stop female feticides, laws have failed to address the neglect towards the death of those already born.

States/Union Territories

Excess Female Mortality Rates

Uttar Pradesh 








Madhya Pradesh 






Tamil Nadu 




Himachal Pradesh








Table 1.1 The above table looks at the excess female mortality rates in different parts of the country.[6]

These numbers are intrinsically linked to the dowry system, (made illegal since the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961) which is still largely prevalent across the country. Dowry generally refers to the payment made by the bride’s family to the in-laws in cash, jewels or goods of monetary value. In states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where one can witness a large population combined with poor access to education and healthcare, families tend to think of the girl child as a burden – they are expected to give away their life’s savings and assets in the form of dowry. 

Dowry prices increase with formal education, and as a result, dowries keep young girls from proper secondary and/or tertiary education, and at times also become responsible for child marriages [7]. Moreover, the dowry system has further increased violence and discrimination against women, with one report from the Guardian stating that around 20 women die every day as a result of harassment over dowry; they are either murdered or forced to take their own lives [8]. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) states that in 2015, as many as 7,634 women died in the country due to the dowry system. However, the rate of conviction has been less than 35% in general [9]. 

Women are often abused, harassed, tortured emotionally, and are made financially dependent on their husbands. Women are often objectified and treated as property from a young age, hardwired to adopt a ‘fear-first’ attitude based on what they cannot do (for example, statements like “No you can’t do that because you’re a girl!”) [10]. With time, conditioning of this sort becomes continually internalized by women, and surveys conducted over the last decade have shown that millions of women have been sexually objectified and inappropriately touched. Yet, it is no longer a valid cause of concern because such horrid behaviour from men has been normalized. [11] [12] [13].

Sexual objectification is a ubiquitous action that can be found both online and offline. Women are subject to catcalls, wolf-whistles, gawking, sexual harassment, lewd comments, rape and sexual violence. On the other hand, traditional misogyny under the influence of modern forces such as visual media play a large role in the commoditization of female bodies and sexuality. While there are arguments considering sexualization as a way of empowerment, it is often far too stretched when considering the content being produced on a regular basis. 

Visual Media Content

In the past few decades, movies, soap operas, song sequences, advertisements, and other means of visual entertainment have produced misogynistic content that greatly objectifies and commodifies women. From female starlets performing a risqué song to dance sequences (commonly referred to as item numbers) to antagonist driven rape scenes, the visual objectification of women is higher than the behavioral objectification of women [14]. 

The influences of the aforementioned type of visual media on traditionally cultural aspects of the country have an inundating effect on people. For instance, the notion of arranged marriages are largely based on the aspect of first meet-and-greet of the respective families, where an informal assessment session of whether the girl is ‘marriage-able’ as per societal standards decides the next course of action; visual media for its part delivers content that completely dramatizes the entire process, often blurring the lines differentiating objectification and empowerment. 

In addition to salacious content in the form of storyline, dialogues, and lyrics of songs, the technical aspects of entertainment production such as camera placement and cinematography also tend to be indecent. Movies repeatedly show content that encourages stalking and lascivious gestures as a man’s way of portraying his love and affection for a woman. Even established actors whistle, hoot, and leer at their actresses in certain movie scenes [14]. The female gender is personified not as a single entity but the eye of the camera is focused on parts of her body, sometimes eliminating the face altogether. Similarly, men are also objectified through their face or muscles.

This pattern can also be found in content produced by the advertising industry, where individuals market and sell products that are appealing to the other genders. For instance, dhotis, which are a type of men’s garment, are extensively advertised by women through content that is sexually overt, promoting gender stereotypes in the process [15]. 

Content producers are passively normalizing acts of eve-teasing, stalking, and the attitudes of ‘no means yes’ and ‘no means try harder’[16]. Modern liberal attitudes to gender equality demand maturity and exposure, and a whole generation of youth who lack the same grow up idolizing movie characters and believe that life is like what is shown through inane misogynistic content. While there is a sincere effort from certain sections of the content industry towards a progressive attitude to gender equality (for example, movies such as Kahaani, and Queen) there needs to be a radical shift in the workings of these industries so that subjects that embrace womanhood and femininity without projecting women as an object of sexual gratification but as an individual with autonomy and unique identity become the new standard. [17]

While the degree of the role played by these entertainment forms in shaping the outlook of women in society is still being debated, the effects are already visible, especially with evidence of gender stereotypes at the workplace, both in the formal and the informal sectors. 

Threat to Freedom of Expression at the Workplace

A 2017 survey by the Indian National Bar Association involving 6000 employees across the country found that sexual harassment was pervasive, ranging from lewd comments to outright demand for sexual favors [18]. The workplace was considered to be the most sexually aggressive place in their lives, with about 37.8% of participants saying that they were harassed. The study shows that around 69% of women chose not to report incidents of discrimination and harassment. This is because of stigma, fear of retribution (disparity in the percentage of men and women in managerial positions), lack of awareness on reporting policies, or lack of confidence in the process itself. About 50% of victims left the concerned workplace after the cases were closed. It is also apparent that women do not talk about their experiences to their families, fearing that they might persuade them into quitting a career altogether. [19]

Evidently, surveys have shown that most organizations’ internal committees are inexperienced and sometimes did not understand the process adequately. 62.5% of women said that their company did not follow the process laid out by the law, and about 46.7% of surveyors mentioned that members of the internal committee were not aware of the sections and the legal provisions available under existing laws [20]. Workplaces have to be mindful of the deep-rooted objectification that is persistent in the minds of employees while drafting internal policies,, so as to create a level playing field that would actively ensure gender equality. There is an ongoing data issue (7 years since the 2013 Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (Prevention, prohibition and Redressal) was introduced), and the government has not published any concrete data on the functioning of internal committees responsible for dealing with sexual harassment complaints, especially in the informal sector [21]. 

In 2018, through a series of Right to Information requests to 655 districts across the country, the Martha Farrell Foundation and the Society of Participatory Research in Asia compiled a study that found that many districts had failed to establish a working internal committee [21]. In the capital city of Delhi, only 8 districts out of 11 had constituted local committees. The study also found that there was a lack of awareness on roles and responsibilities of members who constitute such committees. In some cases, though the committees existed, there was little to no information on how and where to access these committees or their members. There is no awareness on the rights provided to workers (especially domestic workers) under the PoSH Act, because there is no budget or policy initiative for state governments to spread awareness or provide the necessary training to handle such complaints [22] [23]. Moreover, there is no money earmarked specifically for the implementation and compliance of the PoSH Act in the annual budget. [24]

Industries that employ domestic workers (part of the informal sector) is one of the biggest unorganized sectors in India in terms of employment and is dominated by women workers. In the informal sector, domestic workers have to go to police stations in person to raise a complaint as the aforementioned 2013 PoSH Act states that local committees have to refer cases to the police with no civil remedy [19]. Police stations are often time-consuming, with cases dragging on in courts for years, fear of threats and loss of work have become commonplace. For instance, men accused of workplace sexual harassment have brought civil defamation cases against complainants as a means of intimidation. Although there are existing policies to provide social security to unorganized workers in the form of Unorganized Sector Social Security Act of 2008, India is yet to ratify the International Labor Organization’s Domestic Workers Convention which requires ratifying states to take protective measures against any kind of violence against workers. Policies and initiatives are already in place to address gender injustice and discrimination but the country needs a robust enforcement policy, a push to organizations and individuals both in the formal and informal sector that would address core issues such as equal pay, protection against violence and discrimination, awareness of one’s rights, and equal access to justice.

However, the onset of the pandemic has seriously hindered the progress made so far in addressing gender-based violence, as can be clearly seen in the horrific rise in online abuse and harassment against women. 60% of women across the world are subject to some kind of threat on social media [25], and with India taking the second spot in the list of countries with the greatest number of internet users, [26] it is no wonder the number of online harassment cases have risen phenomenally in the last year alone.  

Online Harassment and Abuse

The National Crime Records Bureau in 2017 released a report that showed about 6.2% of cybercrime cases reported that year involved matters regarding cyber pornography, hosting, and publishing obscene sexual material [27]. In the year of the pandemic, the number of cases involving online harassment spiked by up to about 5 times [28]. The National Commission for Women usually records around 300 complaints of online harassment on an average basis, but during the pandemic that number shot up to 1500 [29]. During the lockdown months of March to June, cybercrime alone stood at 165, and for the whole year of 2020 it reached 700 [30]. These numbers take into account only the reported cases of crime committed and despite a large number of women facing a similar situation, only a few opt to take it up with cybercrime. This is attributed to a host of factors, including but not limited to lack of faith in police, limited knowledge of cyber laws, the process involved in making a complaint, and the fear of public humiliation [31]. 

During the pandemic, people were using social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to seek help in finding hospital beds, medicines and other essentials. When phone numbers that were posted for the same ended in the wrong place, women were subject to online stalking, repeated random video calls from different numbers, and inappropriate messages [31]. Although technological companies have adopted several innovative measures to safeguard the privacy of their users – from displaying only the initials of one’s name to automatically scanning for abusive words and images – work from home culture induced by lockdown measures has significantly questioned the absence of online working etiquettes.

Regardless, steps need to be adopted to address this growing trend of online harassment. The PoSH Act must be rigorously enforced by both organizations and the government. This includes monitoring the effectiveness of committees, carrying out inspections and investigations to ensure credibility and fairness, adapting easy and straightforward complaints mechanisms, only sanction members who fail to comply, and finally, ensuring speedy justice and compensation for victims. The data gap that was mentioned earlier needs to be addressed in order to understand the effectiveness of existing mechanisms and the overall effectiveness of the PoSH Act. 

Data on the number of committees, average number of cases, time taken to address cases, training adapted by committee members, their qualifications and expertise in a given medium, the kinds of cases being dealt with, means of resolution need to be recorded and published on a regular basis for the sake of future improvement. Policies similar to that of the PoSH Act need to be implemented that would give informal workers the same protection that is being provided to formal registered workers. It is extremely important to address sectors that are vulnerable to high-risk violence and discrimination such as agriculture and domestic work. Adapting such methodologies would provide victims a fair, transparent, and stealthy investigation so that they would not be subject to any further inconvenience. 

It is also extremely important to educate and spread awareness on the different policies and laws that protect women from abuse and harassment. The Global Gender Gap Index Report has revealed that gender gaps do persist in terms of literacy as statistics show that one third of women in the country are illiterate (34.2% for women whereas 17.6% for men) [32] [33]. Women constitute almost half of India’s population (48%) whereas their economic contribution to the GDP stands at only around 17% [34]. 




The Global Gender Gap Index Ranking




Economic Participation and Opportunity Ranking




Educational Attainment Ranking




Health and Survival Ranking




Political Empowerment Ranking




Women’s Labour Force Participation Rate

28.7% (Overall Rank: 142)

24.8% (Overall Rank: 149)

22.3% (Overall Rank: 148)

Women’s Estimated Earned Income (PPP, US$)

2,602 (Overall Rank: 138)

2,300 (Overall Rank: 144)

2200 (Overall Rank: 148)

Women in professional and technical roles 

25.3% (Overall Rank: 133)

30.3% (Overall Rank: 132)

29.2% (Overall Rank: 136)

Women in senior and managerial positions

12.9% (Overall Rank: 130)

13.7% (Overall Rank:136)

14.6% (Overall Rank: 140)

Women Literacy Rate

59.3% (Overall Rank: 121)

65.8% (Overall Rank: 127)

65.8% (Overall Rank: 129)

Health Life Expectancy

59.9 years (Overall Rank: 130)

59.9 years (Overall Rank: 134)

60.4 years (Overall Rank: 145)

Women in Parliament

11.8% (Overall Rank: 123)

14.4% (Overall Rank: 122)

14.4% (Overall Rank: 128)

Women in ministerial positions

18.5% (Overall Rank: 77)

23.1% (Overall Rank: 69)

9.1% (Overall Rank:132)

Table 1.2. Relevant data from the Global Gender Gap Index Report for the years 2018, 2020, and 2021. Ranking is out of 149 for 2018, out of 153 for 2020, and out of 156 for 2021.Overall Rank is when the numbers for both male and female performance are taken into account.[35] [36] [37]

Since the Global Gender Gap Index Report was published in 2006, India’s performance has been inadequate when compared to its peers both regionally and globally. Looking at the numbers from Table 1.2. it is evident that most of the decline took place on the political empowerment subindex, with a significant decline in the number of women ministers, 23.1% in 2019 to 9.1% in 2021. There is also a significant decrease in a number of areas, women’s labour force participation rate, women in professional and technical roles, and women in senior and managerial positions. The report states that the estimated earned income of women in India is only one-fifth of that of men’s, putting the country among the bottom 10 globally. 

Also, numbers reflecting discrimination against women in terms of health and survival puts the country in the bottom five countries in that particular subindex. Moreover, the report added that more than one in four women has faced intimate violence in her lifetime. The pandemic has certainly increased the Global Gender Gap, and the report states that this has increased by a generation, from 99.5 years to 135.6 years. The impact can be seen in the country as well, with India, home to 0.65 billion women, has had its gender gap widened from almost 66.8% a year ago to 62.5% this year [38].

While enactment of policies and a rigid compliance system will function towards reducing the gender gap in India, major economic upliftment and cultural inspection attitudes are needed to put the attention back on the importance of gender equality, which would strongly challenge conventional mindsets.  



The impact of repeated discrimination, harassment, and objectification through different means has had a diverse and prolonged effect across the spectrum. Shame and trepidation are some of the known effects experienced by women, but on a subconscious level, these acts have become hardwired into the society that comments without much thought or care, resulting in self-objectification. Individuals find themselves trapped in a cycle of self-pity and misery, leading to low self-confidence levels and frequently experiencing bouts of depression (and other psychological disorders.) The sexualized portrayal of women has had a lasting effect on the minds of young girls who have begun to be more body focused [39]. 

While visual media and other influencers play a role, it would be naïve to overlook the role played by the general public who have readily accepted, appreciated, and paid for those content forms. The society sub-consciously follows the content delivered by these entertainment providers, and so it is extremely important that the society becomes more action oriented by collectively voicing our opinions and preferring content that respects the upliftment and empowerment of women. 

Regardless of the laws and policies available, the penultimate responsibility lies with the general population, and what we tend to convey needs to be focused through our actions, either by appreciating content or boycotting them altogether.

Prepared by Ram

Research And Analysis 

              Hibiscus Foundation


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