India’s lethargic efforts to bridge the gender gap have been exposed again in its low ranking in the 2019 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. Of the 153 countries that were ranked, India is at 112. Worryingly, its ranking has worsened, having dropped four places from last year. Besides, with regard to women’s health and economic participation, India ranks among the bottom five. Several of India’s neighbours have performed better, especially Bangladesh, which is at 50. Nepal (101) and China (106) are ranked higher than India but they, too, have a long way to go still. At the bottom of the heap are Yemen (153), Iraq (152) and Pakistan (151). Worldwide, the gender gap is being bridged at a glacial pace. Consider this: it will take another 99.5 years for the global gender gap to be bridged, which means that that our generation is unlikely to see a gender discrimination-free world. However, the bright side is that the 2018 index had said it would take 108 years. This year’s figure indicates that it could happen a decade earlier. An increase in women’s participation in politics is speeding up the closing of the gap.
India is doing better and improving in bridging the gender gap on political empowerment, thanks to the 33% reservation of seats for women in Panchayati Raj Institutions. However, the situation for women is worsening on issues relating to health and survival, educational attainment, economic participation and opportunity. This gap is persisting and growing because women are discriminated against at home and outside and at all stages of their lives. Gender-based disparity in income is serious in India and exists across the organised and unorganised sectors. In agriculture, building construction, etc., women are paid far less than men. Their employers justify this wage gap citing differences in capability. But in IT services, too, there is a 26% gap in favour of men. Deeply entrenched anti-women attitudes underlie the perception of women as being less capable.
This, rather than the capability of women itself, must be blamed for the gap in wages. Girls are outperforming boys in examinations. They are storming male bastions. Women guard our borders with as much alacrity as their male colleagues. Yet, Indian society is unsupportive of their achievements and struggles. Studies show that reducing the gender gap in male-female participation in the economy would boost the Indian economy by around $1 trillion if the gap is reduced by 2025. Ensuring paid employment for women will increase their status within the family and improve their bargaining position. So, why are we not moving in that direction?