India’s 112th Rank in Global Gender Gap Index

Gurbani Kaur Bhasin 

Examining India’s fall in the Global Gender Gap Index, what it means and where we stand going forward in a world with covid

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is based in Cologny-Geneva, Switzerland is the organization for Public-Private Cooperation, committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas.

According to its Gender Gap Index, countries are ranked according to the calculated gender gap between women and men in four key areas – Health, Education, Economy, and Politics. “Gender Gap” is the measure of this gender-based disparity.

It reports that for the year 2020, the Global Gender Gap score (based on the population-weighted average) stands at 68.6%. This means that, on average, the gap is narrower as compared to last year, and the remaining gap to close is now 31.4%. Iceland is ranked the most gender-neutral country, which is the country with the lowest disparity (highest equality) between men and women when measured based on the said parameters. 

“Despite the remarkable spike in the educational attainment for women and the formulation of schemes to encourage women’s education, the Economic Participation and Opportunity rank reveals that India stands at the 5th position from the bottom.”

India’s latest position at 112th has dropped 14 ranks lower than its reading in 2006 when the WEF started measuring the gender gap. India is ranked lower than many of its neighbouring countries like China, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia and Bangladesh. This widening gap raises red flags for India for many reasons. Despite the remarkable spike in the educational attainment for women and the formulation of schemes to encourage women’s education, the Economic Participation and Opportunity rank reveals that India stands at the 5th position from the bottom.

“The assumption that major gender parity problems can be solved by making education available to women is challenged due to the fact that healthcare and necessities are a luxury for many people in India. The country is 4th last in the list of 153 others in making healthcare facilities available to women.”

Similarly variables of Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment, are aligned with the numbers reflected by Educational Attainment graphs to study the reasons behind gender disparity. The findings provoke questions on lifestyles, law-making and execution, and attitudes towards women in Indian society. The assumption that major gender parity problems can be solved by making education available to women is challenged due to the fact that healthcare and basic necessities are a luxury for many people in India. The country is 4th last in the list of 153 others in making healthcare facilities available to women. A striking contrast on the other hand is seen in the relationship between education and political empowerment where the nation stands at number 18 on the same list.      

Upon analysing the reasons behind the dynamics of each of the above trends, one can broadly infer that the stem of this disparity roots down to and raises doubts about the quality of education, healthcare provided, and interest and capability in Politics (ref WEF_GGGR_2020).

“While 93% of women have access to primary education, the numbers are filtered as we move to secondary and tertiary enrolment figures and ultimately lower than 30% of women become professionals and technical workers.”

While 93% of women have access to primary education, the numbers are filtered as we move to secondary and tertiary enrollment figures and ultimately lower than 30% of women become professionals and technical workers. This in turn accounts for a similar low share in economic participation and income earned.

This filtration can further be attributed to the largely patriarchal nature of Indian society impacting households and professional environments. The vicious circle of this disparity looms large out of the fact that it is women, who preach these social norms to younger women and the following generations. Any attempt for reform is defamed as an indecent rebellion. Women who stand up against these norms are ostracised from society making large scale social reform very difficult.

Another unfortunate contributor to the bottleneck situation of women’s quality of education is the very fondly tamed culture of meticulously planning and saving for a fat, extravagant wedding and heavy dowry – a presumed responsibility of the woman’s family. Prevalent in many rich and poor, educated and uneducated households of South and East Asia, this culture shapes the savings of the family where the majority is invested to compound into huge sums to meet unnecessary wedding responsibilities, followed by only basic education and lastly, healthcare of the girl child.  This adds to the gap because of the presumption that the man is the earner of the family. As a result, most women either aim or are compelled to confine their lives as homemakers. Thus, many among the very few who manage to attain tertiary education, are not able to transform their years of investment in academics, into monetary rewards.

“Many newly married women are also not welcomed by employers for long term jobs as women are expected to start having children soon after their marriage and maternity leave is not a cost most employers are willing to incur.”

Since largely all the above, in varying magnitudes, affect the educational turnover of women, the standard of their qualifications is poorer than their male counterparts thus yielding them less lucrative employment opportunities. Moreover, the employers in India view most women as short term resources as they are expected to get married early into their careers. Many newly married women are also not welcomed by employers for long term jobs as women are expected to start having children soon after their marriage and maternity leave is not a cost most employers are willing to incur.

Contrary to popular hashtags, women are not exactly “in this together” or at par with men, they are not in the same boat even when they share the same storm. The risk of the current Covid pandemic to an average female employee is much higher compared to her male colleagues. 

“Women are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic in the job sector. Women have lost 54% of all jobs during the pandemic even though they only held 39% of all jobs before the pandemic. This is partly due to the nature of employment of women in sectors worst hit by the pandemic, like tourism, hospitality etc., and partly because of the disproportionate increase in the burden of domestic chores on the women.”

A report by McKinsey shows that women are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic in the job sector. Women have lost 54% of all jobs during the pandemic even though they only held 39% of all jobs before the pandemic. This is partly due to the nature of employment of women in sectors worst hit by the pandemic, like tourism, hospitality etc. and partly because of the disproportionate increase in the burden of domestic chores on women since they are the main caregivers in most households.

Another issue is the sex ratio which has been perpetually lopsided due to a long prevalent practice of female infanticide and foeticide, which even though has been abolished for a few decades now, has made a deep dent in the gender distribution of our population. Technologies such as IVF are being misused for sex selection leading to a rising sex ratio of males per female. Figures of infanticide and foeticide together show that nearly 200,000 Indian girls are killed before the age of six owing to gender bias. Many women also succumb to death during childbirth due to low access to healthcare facilities 

The world is a witness of how much more efficient at management, women are than men. Former Union Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj had assumed the rightful liberty to once quote that: “As a woman and an elected Member of Parliament, it has been my firm conviction that there is a shortcut to real social change — empowering the girl child.”

“Not only is this a pressing human rights issue to be inculcated and implemented through government’s policies and reforms but also an alarm call to increase efforts towards equality for all genders. At the dawn of the 2020s, building fairer and more inclusive economies must be the goal of global, national and industry leaders.”

Having studied the credible data about the gender demography of our country, the need for women’s representation in the given parameters is louder than ever. Not only is this a pressing human rights issue to be inculcated and implemented through government’s policies and reforms but also an alarm call to increase efforts towards equality for all genders. At the dawn of the 2020s, building fairer and more inclusive economies must be the goal of global, national and industry leaders. 

The points distinguished in the WEF report on Gender Gap and elaborated above highlight the growing urgency for action. Without the equal inclusion of half of the world’s talent and at the present rate of change, it will take nearly a century to achieve parity, a timeline we simply cannot accept in today’s globalized world, especially among younger generations who hold increasingly progressive views of gender equality.

Gurbani is a 23 year old student, in the final year of Chartered Accountancy and a graduate of Commerce from Hislop College, Nagpur.

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