Originally Published 2014-11-04 00:00:00 Published on Nov 04, 2014
India ranks 114 out of 142 countries in the Global Gender Gap index this year. Except Pakistan, most of the South Asian countries rank higher than India. What the index shows is a reflection of reality that no matter how rapidly India grows, women's status in society needs faster improvement.
The shocking gender gap in India

The World Economic Forum is famous for organizing Davos conferences in the middle of winter in Swiss Alps. The Davos conference offers a platform for CEOs and business magnates of the world to assess the world economic outlook across the globe. They have been surprisingly computing Global Gender Gap Index since 2006 which has much to do with poverty and deprivation of women, especially in the developing world. Unsurprisingly, India ranks 114 this year out of 142 countries and is one of the worst performing countries according to the Global Gender Gap index. Most of the South Asian countries rank higher than India except Pakistan.

Many of the problems in gender development and empowerment in India are well known and these have been reflected clearly in the index. What is worrisome is that India has slipped a few notches down rather than climbing up which goes to show that much of the accolades claimed by the UPA government on the gender development front are not real. The index, which takes into account women's participation in the economy, education and health of women, has revealed the dismal truth about Indian women's status when judged according to these parameters.

India is among the 20 worst performing countries on labour force participation front and ranks low in terms of earned incomes by women. Also in literacy rate and sex ratio at birth, India scores low.

India's labour participation rate fell to 29 per cent in 2010 from 37 per cent in 2005. Many explanations have been offered that give a rosy picture than the likely reality. Women according to some economists are staying back home because they are studying in secondary schools and colleges or are feeling wealthy enough not to join the labour force. They are probably working from home which is going under reported. Thus it seems women are more self-employed than before.

Other more likely reasons however are women's lack of safety at work place, commuting problems, discrimination against women at work place, disparity in wages for doing the same sort of work as men. Other reasons could be lack of cr�che facilities and child minders, inability to compete with men because lack of experience and special skills. Women also feel or are made to feel despondent after being rejected in job interviews and prefer not to apply for more jobs. Many fear sexual harassment in the work place.

In women's education, there are hindrances from primary school stage, the dropout rates of girls is higher because of lack of separate toilets for girls in most villages. Girls' safety concerns in travelling long distances from home to schools are also a consideration in withdrawing girls from schools at puberty. Girls are taught to look after siblings, cooking and to help around the house because of the age old marriage and child bearing role assigned to them. Patriarchy seems to be strongly entrenched in all parts of India but of course there are exceptions and women are increasingly doing well in many areas and are overcoming the various prejudices and barriers,outshining men in their professional activities. But such women are still few and far between.

Women's participation in politics in India seems to be better than in many countries and India ranks 15th. May be this is because at the village level there is a mandatory 50 percent reservation for women in panchayats. Women are entering politics more than others due to various factors but mainly due to family reasons and a wife, daughter, daughter-in law or sister of politicians are more easily drawn into politics but often with the men behind them wielding power. But quite often high participation of women in politics has brought about significant improvements in governance.

Women's health is a known weak area in India. India ranks 141, the second lowest. With high maternal mortality rate at 190 for 100,000 live births, India stands below Bangladesh even though some progress has been made. According to the latest Human Development Report, Maternal mortality rate of India has improved. Many incentives are being offered by state governments in persuading women to have hospital deliveries to prevent complications that lead to maternal mortality. Around 56 per cent of Indian women suffer from anaemia and succumb to excessive haemorrhage during childbirth. Progress has been made in states like Tamil Nadu in reducing maternal mortality and child mortality rates.

Also, women are expected to have high tolerance for pain and discomfort. So they see a doctor at an advanced stage of their ailments. Women's access to health services is naturally much less and their morbidity rate ( if correctly reported) is higher.Female children are also taken to doctors less frequently than male children and female mortality among children is higher than males. In India's child population sex ratios shows it at 944 girls to 1000 boys.

Regarding pre natal sex determination, there has been a law forbidding such tests but this has not stopped women undergoing tests clandestinely and getting abortions of female foetuses. This practice varies between states with certain states having more skewed sex ratios than others. Preference for boys is universal in India and has resulted in a population of more males than females: 940 females to 1000 males.

The report reveals that there is a big difference between male and female percentage in total R&D personnel and there is very low female participation in ownership of firms also. It is not just R&D personnel but in most technical areas of the economy, there are fewer female employees than men, mainly because of lack of qualifications, long hours of intensive work and training that is required.

Most businesses are male owned and there are only a handful of women at the helm of family businesses. Perhaps it is a cultural issue also. Women relegate ownership to sons or brothers or husbands than take the reins of family business. It is supposed to be the most acceptable mode of conduct.

On the whole, India cannot hope to shine if half the population is deprived, insecure, and anaemic and has many barriers to entry in paid jobs as compared to men. What the Gender Gap Index shows is a reflection of reality that no matter how rapidly India grows, women's status in society needs faster improvement.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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David Rusnok

David Rusnok

David Rusnok Researcher Strengthening National Climate Policy Implementation (SNAPFI) project DIW Germany

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