India's worsening gender gap worrying

India's worsening gender gap worrying

India has slipped 28 places to rank 140 among 156 countries on the Global Gender Gap Index

Credit: iStock photo

India has not been known for gender equality and gender justice, but it has been assumed that its performance on these fronts has been improving. But the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 shows those assumptions to be misplaced and wrong. India has slipped 28 places to rank 140 among 156 countries and is the third-worst performer in South Asia, ahead of only Afghanistan and Pakistan. The region is the second-lowest performer on the Global Gender Gap Index. The index is based on four parameters: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. Women in the country have suffered on all these counts, and the Covid-19 pandemic has aggravated the situation for them. Every social and economic catastrophe hits women more than men because of the institutionalised discrimination against them, the prejudices working against them and their vulnerability.

There was a steep fall in the political empowerment sub-index. The number of women ministers halved and the count of women in Parliament and in other similar positions remained stagnant. This was not just because of the pandemic, because the refusal to give political space to women has always been there. The idea is not even being talked about now. Economic participation of women has declined sharply. The gap on this count is very wide. The situation of women is the same both in skilled and unskilled jobs. During the pandemic, more women lost their jobs than did men. It has been noted that women are seven times more likely to lose their jobs than are men. Data shows that the participation of women in the labour force is just 26.4% in rural areas and 20.4% in urban areas. In education, 34.2% women are illiterate compared to 17.6% of men. The inequalities of online education hurt girl students most. India also ranks among the bottom five countries with respect to health and survival. The skewed sex ratio at birth, violence within the family and outside and the discrimination in access to food and health are some reasons.

The survey says that South Asia will take 195 years to close the gender gap at the current pace of performance. The backwardness and the lack of status of women affect the overall progress of the country. The IMF has estimated that equal participation of women in the workforce will increase India’s GDP by 27%. More effective social, economic and political initiatives are needed to improve women’s situation. This is easier said than done, because the habits, prejudices, practices and policies that work against women are well-entrenched. The indifferent implementation and poor outcomes of the central government’s much-talked-about Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao programme is one indication.