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Gender discrimination pervades India’s socio-economic pyramid. At its upper reaches, we encounter anecdotes of single women entrepreneurs finding it difficult to get bank loans.

According to the reportIndia has closed 62.5 per cent of its gender gap till date. The country had ranked 140th among countries in the Global Gender Gap Index 2021


Key Findings for India

There are four sub-index:-

  1. Economic Participation and Opportunity subindex
  2. Educational Attainment subindex
  3. Health and Survival subindex
  4. Political Empowerment subindex
  • Countries such as China, India, Azerbaijan and Pakistan have achieved scores that are lower than 94%, with China slightly progressing since the last edition. The main driver of cross-country variation is the skewed sex ratio at birth.
  • China and India together account for about 90%–95% of the estimated 1.2 million to 1.5 million missing female births annually worldwide due to gender-biased prenatal sex selective practices. Further, China, India and Pakistan register excess female mortality rates (below age 5) related to neglect and gender-biased postnatal sex selection practices. The estimated number of ‘missing women’ was 142.6 million in 2020, twice as much than in 1970.
  • The countries with the largest economic gender gaps are Iran (just 37.5% of the gender gap closed so far), India (32.6%) , Pakistan (31.6%), Syria (28.5%), Yemen (28.2%), Iraq (22.8%) and Afghanistan (18%).
  • In India only 22.3% of women participate in the labour market, translating to a gender gap of 72%. 
  • When it comes to wages for similar positions, gaps remain even among the best-performing countries, including Iceland.India, El Salvador, Bolivia and Lesotho only 46%–49% of this gap has been closed to date
  • Among the countries where the share of women ministers declined the most are India (from 23.1% to 9.1%)
  • The gap on Health and Survival has remained substantially stable over the past few years. Although it can be considered virtually closed in most countries, there are still countries—including Qatar (94.8%), Viet Nam (94.5%), Pakistan (94.4%), Azerbaijan (93.9%), India (93.7%) and China (93.5%)— where uneven access to health for women and pre- or post-natal sex selection persist.
  • Following the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia is the second-lowest performer on the index.India is the third-worst performer in the region, having closed 62.5% of its gap. Because of its large population, India’s performance has a substantial impact on the South Asia region’s overall performance. Home to 0.65 billion women, India has widened its gender gap from almost 66.8% closed one year ago to 62.5% this year.In addition, only Bhutan and Nepal have demonstrated small but positive progress towards gender parity this year, while all other countries in this region have registered either slightly reduced or stagnant performances.
  • Only 22.3% of women in India, 22.6% in Pakistan, and 38.4% in Bangladesh are active in the labour market.
  • In India, only 29.2% of technical roles are held by women, and in Pakistan the share is 25.3% and in Afghanistan 19.3%.
  • The presence of women in senior roles is even more rare: women make up just 4.1% in Afghanistan, 4.9% in Pakistan, 10.7% in Bangladesh and 14.6% in India. As a result, the disparity in income between men and women is large in most countries. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the income of an average woman is below 16% of that of an average man, while in India it is 20.7%. Only in Nepal and Bhutan is the gap lower than 50%, as the income earned by a woman is 74% and 58%, respectively, of that of a man
  • Female literacy rates are as low as 53.7% in Afghanistan, 65.8% in India, 59.7% in Nepal, 57% in Bhutan and 46.5% in Pakistan, with little sign of closing in the near future
  • India has fallen 28 places in the ranking. Most of the decline has occurred on the Political Empowerment subindex, where India has regressed 13.5 percentage points to reach a level of gap closed to date of just 27.6%. The main change that took place this year is the significant decline in the share of women among ministers, which halved, from 23.1% in 2019 to 9.1% in 2021.
  • In addition, the share of women in parliament remains stagnant at 14.4% and the share of the last 50 years in which a woman has been head of state is 15.5.
  • Decline also took place on the Economic Participation and Opportunity subindex, albeit to a lesser extent. India’s gender gap on this dimension widens by 3% this year, leading to a 32.6% gap closed to date. Among the drivers of this decline are a decrease in women’s labour force participation rate, which fell from 24.8% to 22.3%.
  • In addition, the share of women in professional and technical roles declined further to 29.2%. The share of women in senior and managerial positions also remains low: only 14.6% of these positions are held by women and there are only 8.9% of firms with female top managers. Further, women’s estimated earned income is only one-fifth of men’s, which puts India among the bottom 10 globally on this indicator

At the other extreme, in the poverty-ridden ‘red corridor’ that runs along a belt from Jharkhand to Andhra Pradesh, injustices of the most violative kind are observed to have driven women to join the Maoist insurgency.

These phenomena are not recent. But instead of improving, by and large, life for women is worsening in the country. The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2021, released last week, lays bare our silent crisis of gender inequality, aggravated by the covid pandemic in ways that we are yet to fully understand.

India has slipped 28 places to 140th position among 156 countries on the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Index. The country is now 37.5% short of an ideal situation of equality, by its index, a wider gap than reported last year, when we had a 33.2% deficit on the whole.

Back in 2006, when the index began, we were almost 40% short, but even the slight progress made over the past 15 years has been highly uneven; while gains were made on the education and political empowerment of women, we slid sharply on health and economic parameters. Now with covid playing the great unleveller, we have no option but to address this sad state of affairs.

To be sure, the WEF report has bad news for the entire world. The average gap has widened globally over the course of the pandemic year.

It is now 32% short of the index’s ideal score. But many of our deficiencies are pre-covid. Some of the drop in India’s international rank over the past two years, for example, has to do with regression in the field of political power.

The proportion of women ministers more than halved to 9.1% of the total, though our count of female Parliamentarians did not budge from its long stagnancy. Perhaps a greater cause for concern is our poor performance over the past decade-and-a-half on women’s economic opportunities and participation.

Not only has the Indian workforce been turning more predominantly male, senior managerial positions in the corporate sector have not seen sufficient female appointees to correct a steep tilt in favour of men. At the aggregate level, our income disparity is glaring.

Women earn only a fifth of men, which puts India among the world’s worst 10 on this indicator. We fare worse on women’s health and survival, with India beaten to the last rank only by China.

Several efforts have been made to figure out why proportionally fewer Indian women are in paid jobs, despite rising education levels. One explanation is that sociocultural attitudes militate against women going out to work, unless the family lacks sustenance, and deprivation has been in decline for decades.

Another is that families prefer educated mothers to invest time in teaching their kids. Both these motives are said to be influenced by upward income mobility and a quest for better lives.

Yet, the covid setback to both family incomes and gender progress would suggest the reasons are mostly attitudinal. If so, then tax incentives and other schemes are unlikely to get women taking up more jobs.

What we need are new forms of social persuasion, which must go with credible assurances of gender equity in every sphere. It promises to be a long haul. But so is economic success. And no country’s economy can get far without empowered women.


 

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