Even though we are well into the 22nd year of the 21st century, a majority of Indians completely or mostly agree with the notion that “a wife must always obey her husband” and support traditional gender roles but at the same time favour women having the same rights as men, according to a recent study by an American think tank.
The new report by the Pew Research Center, released on Wednesday, looks into how Indians view gender roles at home and in society more generally. The report is based on a face-to-face survey of 29,999 Indian adults between late 2019 and early 2020, before the Covid-19 pandemic.
The survey, which was also the basis for a 2021 report on religion in India, was conducted by local interviewers in 17 languages and covered nearly all of India’s states and union territories.
“Indian adults nearly universally say it is important for women to have the same rights as men, including eight-in-ten who say this is very important. At the same time, however, there are circumstances when Indians feel men should receive preferential treatment,” the report said.
Eighty per cent agree with the idea that when there are few jobs, men should have more rights to a job than women.
Nearly nine-in-ten Indians (87%) completely or mostly agree with the notion that a wife must always obey her husband. This includes a majority of Indians (64%) who completely agree with this sentiment.
“Women are only modestly less likely than men to say that wives should obey their husbands in all situations, and most Indian women express total agreement with this sentiment (61% vs. 67% among men),” it said.
However, referring to key female political figures in Indian politics, including former prime minister Indira Gandhi, former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalitha, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, the report said that Indians broadly accept women as political leaders.
The survey results reflect this comfort with women in politics. Most adults say that women and men make equally good political leaders (55%) or that women generally make better leaders than men (14%). Only a quarter of Indian adults take the position that men tend to make better political leaders than women, the study noted.
The report also highlighted that even though most Indians say that men and women should share some family responsibilities, many still support traditional gender roles.
When it comes to children, Indians are united in the view that it is very important for a family to have at least one son (94%) and, separately, a daughter (90%).
Most Indians (63%) say sons should be primarily responsible for parents’ last rites or burial rituals, although attitudes differ significantly across religious groups.
Most Muslims (74%), Jains (67%) and Hindus (63%) say sons should be primarily responsible for funeral rituals, but far fewer Sikhs (29%), Christians (44%) and Buddhists (46%) expect this from sons and are more likely to say that both sons and daughters should be responsible for their parents’ last rites.
Muslims are more likely than other Indians to support traditional gender roles in families, while Sikhs are often the least likely community to hold such views.