While Iceland remains the world's most gender-neutral country, India has moved down the ladder from its 108th position last year on the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report to rank below countries like China (106th), Sri Lanka (102nd), Nepal (101st), Brazil (92nd), Indonesia (85th) and Bangladesh (50th).
India has slipped four places to rank 112th globally in terms of gender gap amid widening disparity in terms of women’s health and survival and economic participation — the two areas where the country is now ranked in the bottom-five, an annual survey showed on Tuesday. While Iceland remains the world’s most gender-neutral country, India has moved down the ladder from its 108th position last year on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report to rank below countries like China (106th), Sri Lanka (102nd), Nepal (101st), Brazil (92nd), Indonesia (85th) and Bangladesh (50th). Yemen is ranked the worst (153rd), while Iraq is 152nd and Pakistan 151st.
“The time it will take to close the gender gap (globally) narrowed to 99.5 years in 2019. While an improvement on 2018 -– when the gap was calculated to take 108 years to close — it still means parity between men and women across health, education, work and politics will take more than a lifetime to achieve,” the World Economic Forum (WEF) said. Geneva-based WEF, an international organisation for public-private cooperation, said this year’s improvement can largely be ascribed to a significant increase in the number of women in politics.
The political gender gap will take 95 years to close, compared to 107 years last year. Worldwide, women now hold 25.2 per cent of parliamentary lower-house seats and 21.2 per cent of ministerial positions, compared to 24.1 per cent and 19 per cent, respectively last year. However, the economic opportunity gap has worsened, widening to 257 years, compared to 202 years last year. The report said one of the greatest challenges to closing this gap is women’s under-representation in emerging roles, such as cloud computing, engineering and data and AI. The WEF had published its first gender gap report in 2006, when India was ranked relatively higher at 98th place.
Since then, India’s rank has worsened on three of four metrics used for the overall ranking. While India has improved to 18th place on political empowerment, it has slipped to 150th on health and survival, to 149th in terms of economic participation and opportunity and to 112th place for educational attainment. The WEF said economic opportunities for women are extremely limited in India (35.4 per cent), Pakistan (32.7 per cent), Yemen (27.3 per cent), Syria (24.9 per cent) and Iraq (22.7 per cent).
It also named India among countries with very low women representation on company boards (13.8 per cent), while it was even worse in China (9.7 per cent). On health and survival, four large countries — Pakistan, India, Viet Nam and China — fare badly with millions of women there not getting the same access to health as men, the WEF said. It also flagged abnormally low sex ratios at birth in India (91 girls for every 100 boys) and Pakistan (92/100).
The WEF said India has closed two-thirds of its overall gender gap, but the condition of women in large fringes of India’s society is precarious and the economic gender gap runs particularly deep. Since 2006, the gap has significantly widened and India is the only country among the 153 countries studied where the economic gender gap is larger than the political one. Only one-quarter of women, compared with 82 per cent of men, engage actively in the labour market — one of the lowest rates globally (145th).
Furthermore, the female estimated earned income is mere one-fifth of the male income, again among the world’s lowest (144th). Women account for only 14 per cent of leadership roles (136th) and 30 per cent of professional and technical workers. “Violence, forced marriage and discrimination in access to health remain pervasive. The situation and the trend are more positive in terms of gender gaps in education… But a large difference persists for literacy rate; only two-thirds of women are literate compared with 82 per cent of men,” WEF said.
India ranks high on the political empowerment sub-index, largely because the country was headed by a woman for 20 of the past 50 years. But, female political representation today is low as women make up only 14.4 per cent of Parliament (122nd rank globally) and 23 per cent of the cabinet (69th), the report said. Nordic countries continue to lead the way to gender parity and Iceland is followed by Norway, Finland and Sweden in the top-four. In the top-10, they are followed by Nicaragua, New Zealand, Ireland, Spain, Rwanda and Germany.
The WEF said one positive development is the possibility that a ‘role model effect’ may be starting to have an impact in terms of leadership and possibly also wages. “For example, in eight of the top-10 countries this year, high political empowerment corresponds with high numbers of women in senior roles. Comparing changes in political empowerment from 2006 to 2019 shows that improvements in political representation occurred simultaneously with improvements in women in senior roles in the labour market,” the report said.
WEF’s Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab said, “Supporting gender parity is critical to ensuring strong, cohesive and resilient societies around the world. For business, too, diversity will be an essential element to demonstrate that stakeholder capitalism is the guiding principle.” The issue of gender gap is likely to be among key focus areas for discussion next month at the annual meeting of the WEF in Davos, Switzerland. The WEF said it is has committed to at least double the current percentage of women participants at the Davos summit by 2030.