Faltering on the road to closing the gender gap

By Dr. Santosh Kumar Mohapatra*

Equality between men and women was a core tenet enshrined in the UN Charter in 1945. But the fight to achieve gender parity and bridge the gap between men and women is a long and arduous one. India has missed another opportunity to do much better for half of its population. There have been enough numbers from the ground to indicate that India, with a female population of approximately 66 crores, has faltered on the road to gender parity and in closing the gender gap. This is clearly reflected in Global Gender Gap Index for 2022 released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) on 13th July 2022.

Gender equality/ parity is the concept that everyone should be treated equally regardless of their genetic or chosen gender is an issue of both human dignity and respect. Many experts believe that gender equality across categories including education, employment, health, politics, and economic participation is not only a cultural responsibility but a necessary and crucial part of the healthiest, most optimized economies.


A gender gap or gender inequality or gender discrimination or sexism are more or less similar which reflects unequal treatment based on gender. Gender inequality is a social phenomenon in which men and women are not treated equally. The treatment may arise from distinctions regarding biology, psychology, or cultural norms prevalent in society. Some of these distinctions are empirically grounded, while others appear to be social constructs. Equal rights and opportunities for girls and boys help all children fulfil their potential.

Gender discrimination is the unequal or disadvantageous treatment of an individual or group of individuals based on gender. Gender discrimination can be treating an individual differently based upon his/her gender in academia or extracurricular activities, academic programs, discipline, class assignments given in a classroom, class enrollment, physical education, grading, and/or athletics. Sexual harassment is a form of illegal gender discrimination.

Sexism is prejudice or discrimination based on one’s sex or gender. Sexism can affect anyone, but it primarily affects women and girls. It has been linked to stereotypes and gender roles and may include the belief that one sex or gender is intrinsically superior to another.

A gender gap, a relative disparity between people of different genders, is reflected in a variety of sectors in many societies. There exist differences between men and women as reflected in social, political, intellectual, cultural, scientific, or economic attainments or attitudes.


The Global Gender Gap Report 2022 is the 16th edition of the annual publication by WEF. The Global Gender Gap Index was first introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006 to compare countries’ gender gaps across four dimensions: economic opportunities, education, health and political leadership. It measures scores on a 0 to 100 scale, which can be interpreted as the distance covered towards parity or the percentage of the gender gap that has been closed.

The Global Gender Gap Index for 2022 ranks India at 135 out of 146 countries. In 2021, India was ranked 140 out of 156 countries. The report notes that India’s score of 0.629 was its seventh-highest score in the last 16 years which oscillated between 0.593 to 0682. India’s gender gap has been widening greatly since 2020, the analysis of the reports showed. India’s overall score improved slightly from 2021.

Although an improvement over its 140th position out of 156 in 2021, it is a sharp deterioration from the 105th rank out of 135 countries in 2012. In 2006, when the gender gap report was first released, India had ranked 98th among 115 countries and 87th position worldwide just six years ago, in 2016.

What is a matter of concern is that only 11 countries are ranked below India on the index of 146 nations – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Congo, Iran and Chad. India also ranks poorly among its neighbours and is behind Bangladesh (71), Nepal (96), Sri Lanka (110), Maldives (117) and Bhutan (126). Only Iran (143), Pakistan (145) and Afghanistan (146) perform worse than India in south Asia.

What is alarming is that in terms of Health and Survival and economic participation and opportunity India scored very low. It ranks 146 in health and survival, 143 in economic participation and opportunity, 107 in educational attainment, and 48th in political empowerment.

In educational attainment, there is a marginal improvement as India is now 107th in the world, while in 2016 it used to be 113th. The female enrolment in primary education increased from 92 % in 2012 to 93.57% in 2022, according to WEF data. Their participation in tertiary education, although lower than male participation went up from 15% in 2012 to 27.8% in 2022. Half of the women were literate in 2012; now, that ratio is inching towards two-thirds.

By contrast, on the health and survival subindex, India ranked the lowest at 146th place and figured among the five countries the other four being Qatar, Pakistan, Azerbaijan and China. Explaining India’s low rank, the report says the sex ratio at birth remains relatively low in large, populated countries such as India and Pakistan, whereas Bangladesh, Bhutan, Iran and Sri Lanka have reached parity.

India which had scored strongly in political empowerment in 2016, bagging the ninth position has slipped to the 48th position on this score in 2022. India recorded a declining score on political empowerment due to the diminishing share of years women have served as head of state for the past 50 years. Political representation has also improved, but biases still exist. There were 11 % of women, in parliament in 2012 and in 2022, women filled 14.9% of the positions. However, the proportion of women in ministerial positions declined from 10% in 2012 to 9% in 2022. In 2017, nearly a fifth of women were ministerial positions.

The report notes that India has registered the most significant and positive change to its performance on the ‘economic participation and opportunity’ dimension. However, in terms of economic participation and opportunity, in 2016 India ranked 136th. In 2022. It slipped to the 143rd position.

But the performance has been worse when it comes to employment status. According to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) data, in 2016-17 about 15% of women were employed or looking for jobs; this metric dipped to 9.2% in 2021-22.

The labour-force participation shrunk for both men (by – 9.5 percentage points) and women (- 3 percentage points). This is substantiated by the Periodic Labour Force Survey’s 2020-21 annual report which reveals that the labour force participation rate among Indian women is just 23.15%, in contrast to 57.75% in men.

However, between 2012-2022, female labour force participation in the country declined by 45% whereas male participation decreased by 17.5 % during this period. The WEF report said that the cost-of-living crisis is expected to hit women hardest globally with a widening gender gap in the labour force.

A Business Standard analysis found that though the proportion of women as professionals, technical workers, senior officials and managers increased during this period, the estimated income did not increase commensurately. The estimated earned income for women in 2012 was a sixth of men’s estimated earned income at $1,530.

Despite the lower base, the estimated earned income of women increased only 40 per cent between 2012 and 2022 whereas male income jumped 75. 7 per cent during this period. This increase is nominal but not in real terms. The fact that the proportion of women in professional technical and managerial work is rising and incomes have declined implies that income inequality has increased

The latest NFHS data (2019-2021) show that 57% of women (15-49 age bracket) are anaemic, up from 53% in 2015-16; though 88.7% of married women participate in key household decisions, only 25.4% of women, aged 15-49 years, who worked in the last 12 months (2019-2021), were paid in cash.



At a global level, only 68.1% of the gender gap has been closed, meaning it will take another 132 years to reach gender parity. This is a slight improvement from last year, but three decades longer than the situation in 2020, before the impacts of COVID-19 on gender equality. Among all the regions, it will take the longest for South Asia to reach the target — 197 years — “due to a broad stagnation in gender parity scores … in the region”. It means India will take nearly 200 years to bridge the gender gap

WEF said that of the 146 economies surveyed, just one in five has managed to close the gender gap by at least 1% in the past year. The report further said that COVID-19 has set gender parity back by a generation and a weak recovery was making it worse globally.

At the current rates of progress, it will take 155 years to close the political empowerment gender gap – 11 more than predicted in 2021 – and 151 years for the economic participation and opportunity gender gap. In other words, this is a slight improvement from last year, but three decades longer than the situation in 2020, before the impacts of COVID-19 on gender equality.

Iceland retained its place as the world’s most gender-equal country, followed by Finland, Norway, New Zealand and Sweden. Iceland has once again been named the most gender-equal country, topping the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022. Although no country achieved full gender parity, the top 10 economies closed at least 80% of their gender gaps, with Iceland (90.8%) leading the global ranking. Iceland was the only economy to have closed more than 90% of its gender gap.

Other Scandinavian countries such as Finland (86%, 2nd), Norway (84.5%, 3rd), and Sweden (82.2%, 5th) are in the top five, with other European countries such as Ireland (80.4%) and Germany (80.1%) in ninth and tenth positions, respectively. Sub-Saharan African countries Rwanda (81.1%, 6th) and Namibia (80.7%, 8th), along with one Latin American country, Nicaragua (81%, 7th), and one country from east Asia and the Pacific, New Zealand (84.1%, 4th), also take positions in the top 10.

The top five are unchanged from last year, but Lithuania and Switzerland have dropped out of the top 10, with Nicaragua and Germany taking their places. The last two on the list are Pakistan and Afghanistan, bagging the 145th and 146th positions respectively


Legal, social and cultural situations in which sex and/or gender determine different rights and dignity for women and men, which are reflected in their unequal access to or enjoyment of rights, as well as the assumption of stereotyped social and cultural roles. These affect their status in all areas of life in society, whether public or private, in the family or the labour market, in economic or political life, in power and decision-making, as well as in social gender relations. In virtually all societies, women are in an inferior position to men.

The World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law report 2019 measured gender discrimination in 187 countries. It found that only 6 countries give women equal legal work rights as men. Only Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden scored full marks on eight indicators – from receiving a pension to freedom of movement – influencing economic decisions women make during their careers. A typical economy only gives women three-quarters the rights of men in the measured areas.

The main factors responsible for gender inequality in India are or have been a) women and men have to be on equal footing as to education, health, and nutrition domains, but not given ( b) a penchant to prefer sons with family members rivetted in economic, religious, social and emotional desires, dreams and norms, c) absence of gender equity in economic well-being, d) lack of opportunities to strengthen women’s voices, e) Women getting little participation in the decision-making process, f) unequal investments and allocation of resources, energies and time, and g) impact on male supremacy and the overriding ideology of patriarchy.


In the pandemic years, as incomes shrank, women faced hurdles on every front, from food, health, and education for the girl child to jobs. Women are not only the hardest hit by this pandemic, they are also the backbone of recovery in communities. Putting women and girls at the centre of economies will fundamentally drive better and more sustainable development outcomes for all, support more rapid recovery, and place the world back on a footing to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Sustainable development goals and other economic targets are often unachievable if half of a country’s population is hampered by restricted opportunities. In order to improve gender equality, and reduce the gender gap, many governments are implementing policies that provide talent development, diversify the leadership pool, and provide support to families and caregivers of every gender increasing representation of women in leadership positions.

The best way to improve India’s abysmal ranking is to do it right by women. For that, it is imperative to increase the representation of women in leadership positions at all levels so that women get greater access to jobs and resources. It is up to the Government to move beyond tokenism and help women overcome staggering economic and social barriers.

Affordable childcare 

Studies have shown the ‘motherhood penalty’ makes up 80% of the gender pay gap. childcare and paternity leave can reduce the gender pay gap. Women do almost three times the care work of men, they do 60% more of the unpaid labour and that’s obviously devastating for their careers. Significant gaps in global care policies have left hundreds of millions of people without sufficient support. Closing gaps in all care services could create almost 300 million jobs worldwide, ILO research estimates. Hence, it is crucial to have affordable childcare to reduce the motherhood penalty?

Imperative of maternity protection

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) , around 64.9 crore women have inadequate maternity protection. One in three women of reproductive age worldwide do not receive benefits in line with the key requirements of the ILO’s Maternity Protection Convention. The Convention mandates 14 weeks of minimum maternity leave, with recipients on at least two-thirds of previous earnings, yet 82 of the 185 countries surveyed did not meet at least one ILO standard. Almost three in 10 potential mothers live in the 64 countries where maternity leave lasts less than 14 weeks.

More paternity leave needed

Last year, 115 of the 185 countries the ILO report covers offered a right to paternity leave. But almost two-thirds of potential fathers – that’s 126 crore men – still live in countries with no such entitlement. Paternity leave contributes to gender equality as it helps fathers “become active co-parents throughout the life of the child, rather than perceiving themselves as helpers to their female partners”, the report says.

The workplace should an entry point for promoting health and safety

All workers should have the right to a safe and healthy working environment, including pregnant women or those who are breastfeeding. However, there are only 40 countries where employers are obliged to protect these women against dangerous or unhealthy work, as prescribed by ILO standards on maternity protection. This means just one in 10 potential mothers receive such statutory protections globally.

All women should have the right to paid working time for breastfeeding, as called for by ILO Convention 183. Last year, 138 countries provided a right to time and income security for breastfeeding. These provisions apply to eight in 10 potential mothers across the world.

There is a need for serious introspection about the gender gap as the development will only be sustainable if its benefits accrue equally to both women and men.



The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]



DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.


Also Read

Comments are closed.