Is The Progress in Bridging Gender Gap Promising?

Published: 23rd March 2016 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th March 2016 08:39 AM   |  A+A-

For the past few years, nations have been looking at women in order to build a sustainable economy, as women constitute half the world’s population. The Global Gender Gap Report that is being published year on year by the World Economic Forum (WEF) from the year 2006 gives hope and anguish simultaneously. Hope because a few countries are moving towards plugging the gender gaps that exist in many relevant areas that matter and anguish because, the gap is still wide in many countries, including India, and the process of bridging the same is sluggish.

India ranks 108 in the 2015 report of the WEF, which surveyed 145 countries. Gender gaps exist in India on all the four indexes that were measured. Health and survival is the index where the gender gap in this country is minimum (less than 10%) followed by education attainment (close to 10%).

The highest gap is seen in economic participation and opportunities (more than 60%) followed by political empowerment (close to 55%). The global review says that around 10 countries have successfully closed the gender gap that existed in the indexes, health and survival as well as education attainment. However, the gaps in the indexes of economic participation and opportunity for political empowerment have not been closed in any of the countries. NORDIC countries are exceptional performers and are among the top-ranking countries, Denmark being an exception.

What is compelling about the achievement of these countries are their impressive scores on the indexes, economic participation  and  political empowerment. India’s score review from the year 2011 reveals that there is no continuous scaling on the overall ‘country ranking.’ The 2015 rank is lower than the 2014 and 2011 ranks but is higher than 2013 and 2012 ranks.

Also the overall gender gap index is moving at a frustratingly slow pace. Though there was a slight soaring of rate from 2011 to 2012, the momentum failed to show in the years that followed. And for the year 2014, the gender gap was wider than 2013.

In the case of sub-indexes, across these five years, the gender gap is pretty low in health and  survival index. But the score remained stable all through the years except in 2014 and 2015 when it showed a small upward swing. Education is another sub-index where the gender gap is relatively low and there is a microscopic bridging of gap year on year mostly. The areas where we see wider gender gaps are political empowerment and economic participation. In the case of political empowerment, there is a reasonably good closing movement upward. However, for economic participation and opportunity, there is no noticeable bridging of the gap. It is interesting for us to see that the gender gap in health and education is reasonably low in India.

However, when economic participation is low, it is clear that the human capital that constitutes close to 50% of the overall population is still hugely underutilised! If the gender gap of this index continues to endure, India would go on to have a disadvantage in global competitiveness in the years to come. For India, this would take a heavy toll, on account of lost opportunities to perform globally in many important verticals such as Information Technology and outsourcing that grow at 30% year on year.

The overall and sub-indexes’ score comparison between 2006 (the year when this reporting began) and 2015 gives the country some food for thought. While the overall score shows a marginal increase, the scores in sub-indexes are not essentially encouraging. Economic participation and health and survival show a lower score in 2015 and that would mean the gaps in these areas have widened over the last 10 years!

Though the gender gap in the area, political empowerment, is still very high, there is a considerable bridging of the same since 2006. Substantiation to this would be the marginal increase in the percentage of women MPs over the last 6-7 years. More encouragingly, there is an increase of about 20% (from around 7% to 27%) when it comes to the number of cabinet ministers.

There are interesting reasons why we need to look at how NORDIC countries are faring. Take the example of Iceland. All through these years there is a substantial bridging of the gap on all indexes and for education, the gap is already closed. The gaps in critical indexes such as economic participation and opportunities and political empowerment have substantially reduced. The change in the index, political empowerment, is enviable with respect to closing of the gender gap. Pretty similar is the case with countries like Norway. Gender gaps in all the four indexes except health is very low and impressive and for education, the gap is already closed! These countries top in the economic opportunities and participation index among the participating countries. High level participation of women in labour force, lowering pay gaps and increasing opportunities for women to move into leadership roles are cited as reasons for this impressive graph. Gender equality is a national agenda in these countries and policy augmentations are continuous to help women access opportunities as much as men.

While these statistics are critical indicators that define progress on gender equality and it is important for us to address these undeniable findings, it is also important to understand the exhaustive reality around this. Global Gender Gap study does not measure women’s empowerment. It doesn’t also measure the actual available opportunities but measures women’s access to it.

In a way, it says how countries are helping remove the obstacles that hold women back. While we look at the scores of countries like Iceland with bewilderment with respect to the scores in gender gaps, the point to remember is that it doesn’t guarantee gender equality or women’s empowerment in its true sense.

In India, as cited earlier, gender gap in education is low in general between men and women. However, we have not converted this into our advantage by giving women opportunities to participate in economic activities. The male and female ratio of participation in Indian labour market is low irrespective of the nature of the job. Similarly, the pay gap between men and women is very high for the same job both these genders perform. 

Over and above is the labyrinth of domestic responsibilities. In India, as per a survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), women spend 15 times more time on household work than men. This takes away a considerable share of women’s possible working hours and this also contributes significantly to widen the gaps in labour participation. We are modestly progressing to bridge the gender gap in political empowerment and this is a good reason to be optimistic generally. However, the real momentum in overall progress would happen when this is made a national priority.

The author is founder and chief consulting officer: decision theory and a post-doctoral fellow at ICSSR. Email: consult.bsnair@gmail.com

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