How close is the gender gap in India (WEF 2021) ?

Sharatchandra Haobijam *

On March 31, the World Economic Forum (WEF) released its annual Gender Gap Report 2021. The Global Gender Gap report is an annual report released by the WEF. The gender gap is the difference between women and men as reflected in social, political, intellectual, cultural, or economic attainments or attitudes. The gap between men and women across health, education, politics, and economics widened for the first time since records began in 2006.

The Global gender gap index aims to measure this gap in four key areas : health, education, economics, and politics. It surveys economies to measure gender disparity by collating and analyzing data that fall under four indices : economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.

The 2021 Global Gender Gap Index benchmarks 156 countries on their progress towards gender parity. The index aims to serve as a compass to track progress on relative gaps between women and men in health, education, economy, and politics.

Although no country has achieved full gender parity, the top two countries (Iceland and Finland) have closed at least 85% of their gap, and the remaining seven countries (Lithuania, Namibia, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Rwanda, and Ireland) have closed at least 80% of their gap. Geographically, the global top 10 continues to be dominated by Nordic countries, with —Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden—in the top five.

The top 10 is completed by one country from Asia Pacific (New Zealand 4th), two Sub-Saharan countries (Namibia, 6th and Rwanda, 7th, one country from Eastern Europe (the new entrant to the top 10, Lithuania, 8th), and another two Western European countries (Ireland, 9th, and Switzerland, 10th, another country in the top-10 for the first time).There is a relatively equitable distribution of available income, resources, and opportunities for men and women in these countries. The tremendous gender gaps are identified primarily in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia.

Here, we can discuss the overall global gender gap scores across the index's four main components : Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment.

The indicators of the four main components are

(1) Economic Participation and Opportunity:
o Labour force participation rate,
o wage equality for similar work,
o estimated earned income,
o Legislators, senior officials, and managers,
o Professional and technical workers.

(2) Educational Attainment:
o Literacy rate (%)
o Enrolment in primary education (%)
o Enrolment in secondary education (%)
o Enrolment in tertiary education (%).

(3) Health and Survival:
o Sex ratio at birth (%)
o Healthy life expectancy (years).

(4) Political Empowerment:
o Women in Parliament (%)
o Women in Ministerial positions (%)
o Years with a female head of State (last 50 years)
o The share of tenure years.

The objective is to shed light on which factors are driving the overall average decline in the global gender gap score. The analysis results show that this year's decline is mainly caused by a reversal in performance on the Political Empowerment gap.

Global Trends and Outcomes:

- Globally, this year, i.e., 2021, the average distance completed to gender parity gap is 68% (This means that the remaining gender gap to close stands at 32%) a step back compared to 2020 (-0.6 percentage points). These figures are mainly driven by a decline in the performance of large countries. On its current trajectory, it will now take 135.6 years to close the gender gap worldwide.

- The gender gap in Political Empowerment remains the largest of the four gaps tracked, with only 22% closed to date, having further widened since the 2020 edition of the report by 2.4 percentage points. Across the 156 countries covered by the index, women represent only 26.1% of some 35,500 Parliament seats and 22.6% of over 3,400 Ministers worldwide. In 81 countries, there has never been a woman head of State as of January 15, 2021. At the current rate of progress, the World Economic Forum estimates that it will take 145.5 years to attain gender parity in politics.

- The gender gap in Economic Participation and Opportunity remains the second-largest of the four key gaps tracked by the index. According to this year's index results, 58% of this gap has been closed so far. The gap has seen marginal improvement since the 2020 edition of the report, and as a result, we estimate that it will take another 267.6 years to close.

- Gender gaps in Educational Attainment and Health and Survival are nearly closed. In Educational Attainment, 95% of this gender gap has been closed globally, with 37 countries already attaining gender parity. However, the 'last mile' of progress is proceeding slowly. The index estimates that it will take another 14.2 years to close this gap on its current trajectory completely.

In Health and Survival, 96% of this gender gap has been closed, registering a marginal decline since last year (not due to COVID-19), and the time to close this gap remains undefined. For both education and health, while progress is higher than economy and politics in the global data, there are important future implications of disruptions due to the pandemic and continued variations in quality across income, geography, race, and ethnicity.

India-Specific Findings:

India had slipped 28 spots to rank 140 out of the 156 countries covered. The pandemic causing a disproportionate impact on women jeopardizes rolling back the little progress made in the last decades-forcing more women to drop off the workforce and leaving them vulnerable to domestic violence. India's poor performance on the Global Gender Gap report card hints at a serious wake-up call and learning lessons from the Nordic region for the Government and policy makers.

Within the 156 countries covered, women hold only 26 percent of Parliamentary seats and 22 percent of Ministerial positions. India, in some ways, reflects this widening gap, where the number of Ministers declined from 23.1 percent in 2019 to 9.1 percent in 2021. The number of women in Parliament stands low at 14.4 percent. In India, the gender gap has widened to 62.5 %, down from 66.8% the previous year.

It is mainly due to women's inadequate representation in politics, technical and leadership roles, a decrease in women's labor force participation rate, poor healthcare, lagging female to male literacy ratio, and income inequality.The gap is the widest on the political empowerment dimension, with economic participation and opportunity being next in line. However, the gap on educational attainment and health and survival has been practically bridged.

India is the third-worst performer among South Asian countries, with Pakistan and Afghanistan trailing and Bangladesh being at the top. The report states that the country fared the worst in political empowerment, regressing from 23.9% to 9.1%. Its ranking on the health and survival dimension is among the five worst performers. The economic participation and opportunity gap saw a decline of 3% compared to 2020, while India's educational attainment front is in the 114th position.

India has deteriorated to 51st place from 18th place in 2020 on political empowerment. Still, it has slipped to 155th position from 150th position in 2020 on health and survival, 151st place in economic participation and opportunity from 149th place, and 114th place for educational attainment from 112th.

In 2020 reports, among the 153 countries studied, India is the only country where the economic gender gap of 64.6% is larger than the political gender gap of 58.9%. In 2021 report, among the 156 countries, the economic gender gap of India is 67.4%, 3.8% gender gap in education, 6.3% gap in health and survival, and 72.4% gender gap in political empowerment. In health and survival, the gender gap of the sex ratio at birth is above 9.1%, and healthy life expectancy is almost the same.

Discrimination against women has also been reflected in Health and Survival subindex statistics. With 93.7% of this gap closed to date, India ranks among the bottom five countries in this subindex. The wide sex ratio at birth gaps is due to the high incidence of gender-based sex-selective practices. Besides, more than one in four women has faced intimate violence in her lifetime.The gender gap in the literacy rate is above 20.1%.

Yet, gender gaps persist in literacy : one-third of women are illiterate (34.2%) than 17.6% of men. In political empowerment, globally, women in Parliament is at 128th position and gender gap of 83.2%, and 90% gap in a Ministerial position. The gap in wages equality for similar work is above 51.8%. On health and survival, four large countries Pakistan, India, Vietnam, and China, fare poorly, with millions of women there not getting the same access to health as men.

The pandemic has only slowed down in its tracks the progress India was making towards achieving gender parity. The country urgently needs to focus on "health and survival," which points towards a skewed sex ratio because of the high incidence of gender-based sex-selective practices and women's economic participation. Women's labour force participation rate and the share of women in technical roles declined in 2020, reducing the estimated earned income of women, one-fifth of men.

Learning from the Nordic region, noteworthy participation of women in politics, institutions, and public life is the catalyst for transformational change. Women need to be equal participants in the labour force to pioneer the societal changes the world needs in this integral period of transition.

Every effort must be directed towards achieving gender parallelism by facilitating women in leadership and decision-making positions. Social protection programmes should be gender-responsive and account for the differential needs of women and girls. Research and scientific literature also provide unequivocal evidence that countries led by women are dealing with the pandemic more effectively than many others.

Gendered inequality, thereby, is a global concern. India should focus on targeted policies and earmarked public and private investments in care and equalized access. Women are not ready to wait for another century for equality. It's time India accelerates its efforts and fight for an inclusive, equal, global recovery.

India will not fully develop unless both women and men are equally supported to reach their full potential. There are risks, violations, and vulnerabilities women face just because they are women. Most of these risks are directly linked to women's economic, political, social, and cultural disadvantages in their daily lives. It becomes acute during crises and disasters.

With the prevalence of gender discrimination, and social norms and practices, women become exposed to the possibility of child marriage, teenage pregnancy, child domestic work, poor education and health, sexual abuse, exploitation, and violence. Many of these manifestations will not change unless women are valued more.

* Sharatchandra Haobijam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a research scholar at MU and can be reached at haobijamsharatchandra(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on May 02 2021.

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