Gender gap persists

By Dr. Santosh Kumar Mohapatra*
As the world marks this year’s International Women’s Day 2024 on March 8, it is clear that there is still a huge global gender gap as reflected in different World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Reports. The Global Gender Gap Persists. Moreover, the gender gap is wider than laws on the books might suggest. It is pervasive in India.
The Global Gender Gap Report 2023, now in its 17th edition, benchmarks the evolution of gender-based gaps in four areas: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment.  It is the longest-standing index which tracks progress on closing these gaps since its inception in 2006. It also explores the impact of recent global shocks on the gender gap crisis in the labour market.
India has ranked at 127 out of 146 countries in terms of gender parity — an improvement of eight places from last year’s Gender Gap Report, 2023 down from 114 out of 142 nations in 2014 gender gap index. The World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked India at 135 out of 146 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index in the report’s 2022 edition. What is disconcerting is that India ranked 87th position worldwide just six years ago, in 2016. From 2016 to 2024, India’s position has declined by 40 slots.
According to the Global Gender Gap Index 2023, to bridge the gender gap at the present rate of progress, the World has to wait 131 years. This estimation means that gender equality may not be fully realized until the year 2154. While no country has yet achieved full gender parity, the top nine countries have closed at least 80 per cent of their gap.
For the 146 countries covered in the 2023 index, the Health and Survival gender gap has closed by 96 per cent, the Educational Attainment gap by 95.2 per cent, Economic Participation and Opportunity gap by 60.1 per cent, and Political Empowerment gap by 22.1 per cent.Parity has advanced by only 4.1 percentage points since the first edition of the report in 2006, with the overall rate of change slowing significantly.
Closing the overall gender gap will require 131 years. At the current rate of progress, it will take 169 years for economic parity and 162 years for political parity, the report stated.  In the case of India, it will be more as it has only bridged the 64.3 per cent gender gap as against 68.4 per cent in the world. Except Pakistan at 142 India’s neighbours, Bangladesh at 59, China at 107, Nepal at 116, Sri Lanka at 115, and Bhutan at 103.
In Political Empowerment, India ranks at 48, while in Economic Participation and Opportunity, India ranks abysmally at 143 .In educational attainment India ranks 107 while in case of Health and Survival component, India is ranked last among all the countries on the index. However, it underlined that India has reached only 36.7 per cent parity on economic participation and opportunity. On political empowerment, India has registered 25.3 per cent parity, with women representing 15.1 percent of parliamentarians.
Out of the 117 countries with available data since 2017, 18 countries — including Bolivia (50.4 per cent), India (44.4 per cent) and France (42.3 per cent) — have achieved women’s representation of over 40 per cent in local governance. Gender Inequality Index (GII) is a composite metric of gender inequality using three dimensions: reproductive health, empowerment and the labour market. A low GII value indicates low inequality between women and men, and vice-versa. The GII component, which was part of UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI) 2021, ranked India the 122nd out of 190 countries.
Both UNDP and WEF noted a low share in women’s labour force participation rate. The Periodic Labour Force Survey’s 2020-21 annual report says that the labour force participation rate among Indian women is just 23.15 per cent, in contrast to 57.75 per cent in men. For the first time, Women, Business and the Law compared progress in legal reforms with actual outcomes for women in 190 economies, finding a surprising delay in implementation.
According to the 10th edition of The World Bank’s latest “Women, Business and the Law” report released on March 4, 2024, no country – not even the wealthiest ones – grants women the same legal rights as men. Although laws on the books imply that women enjoy roughly two-thirds the rights of men, countries on average have established less than 40 percent of the systems needed for full implementation. When legal differences regarding protections against violence and access to childcare are considered, women enjoy just two-thirds of the legal rights that men do – not 77 percent as was previously believed.
The greatest deficiency involves safety: women enjoy barely one-third of the necessary legal protections against domestic violence, sexual harassment, and femicide. India’s ranked at 113 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Women, Business and Law index-2024 Index indicates the gap between legal rights enjoyed by men and women. Indian women enjoyed 60 percent of the legal rights given to men as per the new report, lower than the global average of 64.2 percent, as per the 2024 index report.
Inadequate access to childcare services is another hindrance. Only 62 economies – fewer than one-third of the world’s countries – have established quality standards governing childcare services. As a result, women across 128 economies may have to think twice about going to work while they have children in their care. Gender pay gap is a great threat to gender equality. Around 98 economies have enacted legislation mandating equal pay for women for work of equal value; but only 35 economies – fewer than one out of every five – have adopted pay-transparency measures or enforcement mechanisms to address the pay gap.
That represents a colossal waste of human capital, and at precisely the moment when the world needs to marshal all its resources to escape the rising risk of economic stagnation. Today, fewer than one out of every two women participate in the labour force. By contrast, roughly three out of every four men do.
According to Indermit Gill , Chief Economist of the World Bank Group, (March 05, 2024) Women have the power to turbocharge the sputtering global economy. Yet, all over the world, discriminatory laws and practices prevent women from working or starting businesses on an equal footing with men.
According to Indermit Gill And Tea Trumbic, closing that gap could help double global economic growth in the coming decade. The evidence is clear: economies with higher Women, Business and the Law scores tend to have larger female labour-force participation rates, stronger female entrepreneurship, and more active female participation in political institutions. Tea Trumbic is Women, Business and the Law project Program Manager of World Bank.
Gender equality, in short, is both a fundamental human right and a powerful engine of economic development. Again, it is not enough merely to pursue equality in the laws on the books. What we need are comprehensive sets of policies and institutions – as well as a transformation of cultural and social norms in many countries – to empower women to become successful workers, entrepreneurs, and leaders. That means stronger enforcement mechanisms to tackle workplace violence, practical provisions for childcare services, and easier access to health-care services for women who survive violence.
Such policies enable women to remain employed without suffering career setbacks, help close the gender wage gap, and reconfigure gender roles and attitudes related to workplace and household duties. And as more women rise to leadership positions, they inspire new generations of girls to achieve their full potential.
Positive outcomes take time to realize, but they do happen. As Claudia Goldin, the winner of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Economics, has observed, the 1960s surge in US women rising to high-level jobs did not happen by accident. It was the product of a slow but steady accretion of legal rights.
“Even if the laws didn’t change women’s earnings, it made their lives better and expanded their options,” Goldin noted. “Workplaces became safer for them. They were no longer barred or excused from juries because of their presumed household responsibilities. They could not be fired when pregnant and could not be refused a job because they had children. They received better education and more resources, even as girls. Levelling the playing field presents crucial economic opportunities, and not just for women. When half of humanity wins, the whole world wins. Again, it is not enough merely to pursue equality in the laws on the books. What we need are comprehensive sets of policies and institutions.



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.

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