By Ankita Gupta
On November 2, the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report determined that India has stumbled down 21 places on the index, far below the global average and behind its neighbours China and Bangladesh. Out of the 144 countries across the world which are benchmarked by the report, India now ranks 108. As per the observations, India lost out primarily due to lower participation of women in the economy and meagre wages.
The decline is staggering. In 2006, when the WEF first began measuring the gender gap around the world, India ranked 10 notches higher than where it stands now. A decade of steady progress to place women on an equal footing with men has unfortunately taken a hiatus this year.
Reasons behind the fallback
The widening of the gender divide in the spheres of political empowerment, plummeting healthy life expectancy, and low basic literacy are the primary malefactors underlying the nation’s decline. More than half a century has passed since India’s only woman prime minister was sworn into office; there is a dearth of female representatives in legislatures, senior offices, and managerial roles. It has been found that while women’s numbers have increased in most industries, this is not the case in terms of leadership roles. The WEF report reveals that on an average, 66 percent of women’s work in India is unpaid compared to only 12 percent of men’s.
On a positive note, India has succeeded in straddling the enrollment gender gap in primary and secondary education and has come very close to bridging its tertiary education gap. The future, however, does not look sanguine as India continues to rank the fourth-lowest on health and survival, showing the least amount of improvement of any country measured over the past decade.
Revisiting the glass ceiling
India has regressed on three out of the four indicators identified by the WEF: Health, Economy, and Education. We rank 139 in economic opportunity and participation. There are just four countries—Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, and Syria—which fare worse. Workspace sexism is a major impediment to closing the gender gap and is reinforced by the low participation of women. Despite non-discriminatory laws in offices, patriarchal ideas continue to rear their ugly head. If the present rate of progress continues, it will take 217 long years to bridge this cleft.
Gender parity in third world nations needs to be looked upon in a more holistic way to ensure the complete development of half the world’s talent pool. Key areas like educational gap, the wage gap, maternal and child care (which are pigeonholed as women’s problems), need to be addressed and resolved.
“Competitiveness on a national and on a business level will be decided more than ever before by the innovative capacity of a country or a company. Those will succeed best who understand to integrate women as an important force into their talent pool,” said Klaus Schwab, founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum.