India’s precipitous fall in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Gender Gap Index—from 112 last year to 140 this year—should serve as an urgent wake up call for policymakers. While South Asia is only better than the Middle East and North Africa region, India is one of the worst performers in South Asia, with a worse ranking than all of its neighbours, other than Pakistan and Afghanistan. Though the country is better placed than most others on political empowerment of women, this has declined over the last year significantly.
The real shockers, however, are ‘health and survival’, which includes sex ratio, and ‘economic participation of women’. In health and survival, though India does marginally better than China, that is small consolation—the two countries together account for nearly 90-95% of the world’s missing women, with a pronounced son preference. While, over the past few years, there have been some gains in reversing the decline in the worst-affected states in the country, these have neither been large nor sustained enough.
In terms of economic participation of women, India, along with Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan, records one of the worst performances. As per the WEF report, the gender gap in economic participation widened in India last year, with country registering serious declines in the share of women in professional and technical roles, in senior and managerial positions, etc.
These are merely indicative of the overall fall in the country’s female labour force participation rate, which suggests a large number of working-age women are, per force or per choice, in unpaid work. Indeed, the estimated earned income of women in India is only a fifth of its men.
Unless the hurdles to women’s participation paid work is addressed, the gains made in terms of their participation in higher education will get squandered.