Bridging the gap: On India’s gender inequality

India needs to help women get greater access to jobs and resources

July 15, 2022 12:10 am | Updated 08:35 am IST

The struggle to achieve gender equality and bridge the gap between men and women is a long and difficult one. India has got another opportunity to do much better for half of its population with the Global Gender Gap Index for 2022, released by the World Economic Forum on Wednesday, placing it at 135 out of 146 countries. But the new data — India’s ranking in 2021 was 140 out of 156 countries — hardly brings cheer as India has fared the worst in at least one of the parameters — ‘health and survival’ — in which it took the last spot. The Global Gender Gap Index benchmarks the current state and evolution of gender parity across four dimensions: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival, and political empowerment. India ranks poorly among its neighbours and is behind Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Bhutan. Only Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan perform worse than India in the region. In 2022, coming on the back of a pandemic, war and economic crises, the global gender gap has been closed by 68.1%, which means at the current rate of progress it will take 132 years to reach full parity. 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”.

There have been enough numbers from the ground to indicate that India, with a female population of approximately 66 crore, has faltered on the road to gender parity. In the pandemic years, as incomes shrank, women faced hurdles on every front, from food, health, and education for the girl child to jobs. 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. Women having a bank account or savings account that they themselves use have increased to 78.6%, with schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana helping, but women participation in the labour force has shrunk. According to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) data, in 2016-17 about 15% women were employed or looking for jobs; this metric dipped to 9.2% in 2021-22. The best way to improve India’s abysmal ranking is to do it right by women. For that, it is imperative to increase 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 tokenisms and help women overcome staggering economic and social barriers.

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