Gender Parity: Delayed by a Generation

Dr. Santosh Kumar Mohapatra*

Around the world, groups persist in striving to address a lack of equality for women in the workplace as well as in different spheres. The gender parity, a noteworthy element of women’s equality overall, has a fundamental bearing on whether or not economies and societies thrive. But due to the cataclysmic impact of Corona pandemic, gender gap is moving backwards.

The Global Gender Gap Index was first introduced by the Geneva-based organisation World Economic Forum in 2006 to benchmark progress towards gender parity and compare countries’ gender gaps across four dimensions: economic opportunities, education, health and political leadership. The report measures women’s disadvantage compared to men, and is not a measure of equality of the gender gap.

By providing country rankings, the report incentivizes comparisons across regions and countries and stimulates learning on the drivers of gender gaps and policies to close them and ensure gender-inclusive recovery. The Global Gender Gap Index measures scores on a 0 to 100 scale and scores can be interpreted as the distance to parity (i.e., the percentage of the gender gap that has been closed).

The highest possible score is 1.0 (equality or better for women, except for lifespan (106 per cent or better for women) and gender parity at birth (94.4 per cent or better for women) and the lowest possible score is 0.

The 14th edition of the report, the Global Gender Gap Report 2020, was launched in December 2019, using the latest available data at the time. The 15th edition, the Global Gender Gap Report 2021, released on 31March 2021, comes out a little over one year after COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic.

The COVID-19 has made it impossible to deny the ways broken systems hurt women. The Covid-19 pandemic has raised new barriers to building inclusive and prosperous economics and societies.

Preliminary evidence suggests that the health emergency and the related economic downturn have impacted women more severely than men, partially re-opening gaps that had already been closed.

Pre-existing gender gaps have amplified the crisis asymmetrically between men and women, even as women have been at the frontlines of managing the crisis as essential workers.

According to latest report, Pandemic has rolled back years of progress towards equality between men and women, showing the crisis had added decades to the trajectory towards closing the gender gap. It has delayed gender parity by a generation.

According to its previous report, published in December 2019 right before the pandemic hit, it was predicted that gender parity across a range of areas would be reached within 99.5 years. But this year’s report shows the world is not on track to close the gender gap for another 135.6 years. In other words, the global gender gap will take an extra 36 years to close after the covid-19 pandemic. It means another generation of women will have to wait for gender parity. Globally, the average distance completed to parity is at 68 per cent, a step back compared to 2020 (-0.6 percentage points). However, on the plus side, women appear to be gradually closing the gender gap in areas such as health and education.

At the current relative pace, gender gaps can potentially be closed in 52.1 years in Western Europe, 61.5 years in North America, and 68.9 years in Latin America and the Caribbean. In all other regions it will take over 100 years to close the gender gap: 121.7 years in Sub-Saharan Africa, 134.7 years in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 165.1 years in East Asia and the Pacific, 142.4 years in Middle East and North Africa, and 195.4 years in South Asia.

There are several sobering statistics relating to higher economic hurdles, declining political participation, and workplace challenges, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The gender gap in Political Empowerment remains the largest of the four gaps tracked, with only 22 per cent closed to date, having further widened since the 2020 edition of the report by 2.4 percentage points. Overall, progress has stagnated, with widening gender gaps in political empowerment globally.

Across the 156 countries covered by the index, women represent only 26.1 per cent of some 35,500 parliament seats and just 22.6 per cent of over 3,400 ministers worldwide. In 81 countries, there has never been a woman head of state, as of 15th January 2021. The World Economic Forum estimates that it will take 145.5 years to attain gender parity in politics if it remains on its current trajectory.

That marks a 50-percent hike from the estimated 95 years in the 2020 report A downward trend indeed caused by pandemic.

The gender gap in Economic Participation and Opportunity remains the second-largest of the four key gaps tracked by the index. According to this year’s index results 58 per cent of this gap has been closed so far. The gap has seen marginal improvement since the 2020 edition of the report and as a result, it is estimated that it will take another 267.6 years to close. But in its previous edition it was predicted to take 257 years. Additionally, the data available for the 2021 edition of the report does not yet fully reflect the impact of the pandemic. Projections for a select number of countries show that gender gaps in labour force participation are wider since the outbreak of the pandemic. Globally, the economic gender gap may thus be between 1 per cent and 4 per cent wider than reported.

Gender gaps in Educational Attainment and Health and Survival are nearly closed. In Educational Attainment, 95 per cent of this gender gap has been closed globally, with 37 countries already at parity. However, the ‘last mile’ of progress is proceeding slowly. The index estimates that on its current trajectory, it will take another 14.2 years to completely close this gap. But in its previous edition it was assumed to take 12 years. Still there is downward trend.

In Health and Survival, 96 per cent of this gender gap has been closed, registering a marginal decline since last year (not due to COVID-19), and the time to close this gap remains undefined. For both education and health, while progress is higher than for economy and politics in the global data, there are important future implications of disruptions due to the pandemic, as well as continued variations in quality across income, geography, race and ethnicity.

According to,” WEF managing director Saadia Zahidi “the pandemic has fundamentally impacted gender equality in both the workplace and the home, rolling back years of progress. The slow progress seen in closing the Economic Participation and Opportunity gap is the result of two opposing trends. On one hand, the proportion of women among skilled professionals continues to increase, as does progress towards wage equality, albeit at a slower pace. On the other hand, overall income disparities are still only part-way towards being bridged and there is a persistent lack of women in leadership positions, with women representing just 27 per cent of all manager positions.

A range of studies has shown that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women, who have lost jobs at a higher rate than men, and had to take on much more of the extra childcare burden when schools closed. The effects will be felt in the long-term, which in its annual Global Gender Gap Report found that the goalposts for gender parity appeared to be moving further away.

The WEF pointed to a study by the UN’s International Labour Organization showing that women were more likely to lose their jobs in the crisis, in part because they are disproportionately represented in sectors directly disrupted by lockdowns. Early projections from ILO suggest 5 per cent of all employed women lost their jobs, compared with 3.9 per cent of employed men. LinkedIn data further shows a marked decline of women’s hiring into leadership roles, creating a reversal of 1 to 2 years of progress across multiple industries.

While industries such as Software and IT Services, Financial Services, Health and Healthcare, and Manufacturing are countering this trend, there is a more severe destruction of overall roles in industries with higher participation of women, such as the Consumer sector, Non-profits, and Media and Communication.

Additionally, Ipsos data from January 2021 shows that a longer “double-shift” of paid and unpaid work in a context of school closures and limited availability of care services have contributed to an overall increase of stress, anxiety around job insecurity, lower productivity and difficulty in maintaining work-life balance among women with children. Women were also being hired back at a slower rate than men as workplaces opened up again, according to LinkedIn data referenced in the report

Overall, the Nordic countries once again dominated the top of the table as the gap between men and women was narrowed. Iceland is the world’s best country for gender equality. Nordic countries led the way again as Iceland for the 12th year running topped the list followed by Finland, Norway, New Zealand, Sweden, Namibia, Rwanda, Lithuania, Ireland and Switzerland. While Afghanistahan was at the last position of 156. However, still Iceland has 10.8 per cent of its gender gap yet to be closed.

The U.S. rose up the rankings 23 places this year to 30th place, largely due to an increase in women’s political empowerment, marked by an increase in women in Congress and a significant increase of women in ministerial positions as of January 2021, with the latter jumping from 21 per cent to 46 per cent. While Western Europe was the best performing region, the Middle East and North Africa region continues to have the largest gender gap, due in large part to the wide economic gender gap with just 31per cent of women taking part in the labor force.

Other countries should emulate Nordic countries for their improvement in gender parity . Zahidi says the Nordic countries are a model in how to create longer term resilience by ensuring there is care infrastructure to support working families, as well as support for workers who have been laid off and for businesses to help stay afloat. All of that pays off in terms of gender equality. Further, 39.7 per cent of parliamentarians and 40 per cent of ministers in Iceland are women. Women are also highly visible in senior or managerial positions, representing 41.9 per cent of senior roles and 45.9 per cent of the board members.

Finland – in second position – has leapfrogged Norway and has closed 86.1 per cent of the overall gender gap, up from 83.2 per cent in the previous edition. It has many women in ministerial positions and the Prime Minister in charge since 2019 is a woman. The country has also shown an increased presence of women in senior and managerial roles, where women currently represent 36.9 per cent of the total, an increase of about five percentage points. Hence, economic, political empowerment, ending gender discrimination, violence arel in need of hour to achieve gender parity

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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