Opinion

Education, Rights Vital

India ranks at an abysmal 143rd in economic participation and opportunity in 2022. The situation was not much better in 2016 either, when the rank was 136th.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022 has noted that at the current rate of progress, full gender parity will now take 132 years to achieve due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report ranked India at 135 among 146 nations in terms of gender parity. This doesn’t augur well for a country that is aspiring for a bigger role among the comity of nations.

According to the report though India improved five places since last year on better performance in areas of economic participation and opportunity, only 11 countries are ranked below India on the index of 146 nations. Clearly, this should be unacceptable. The country’s gender gap score recorded its seventh highest level in the past 16 years, but it continued to rank among the worst performers on various parameters. “With a female population of approximately 662 million, India’s level of attainment weighs heavily on regional rankings”, it said.

It is also highly distressing to note that on the health and survival sub-index, India ranked lowest at 146th place and figured among the five countries with gender gaps larger than five per cent, the other four being Qatar, Pakistan, Azerbaijan and China. Similarly, India ranks at an abysmal 143rd in economic participation and opportunity in 2022. The situation was not much better in 2016 either, when the rank was 136th, the report said. It may be mentioned here that the Periodic Labour Force Survey’s 2020-21 annual report, found labour force participation rate among Indian women is just 23.15 per cent, in contrast to 57.75 per cent in men.

Achieving gender parity is crucial as women by and large have lately been playing an important role in society, specially in the metros and cities. The change is due to women getting educated and being made aware of their rights. There are some reports which also indicate that there has been manifest a general preference for the opposite sex, specially in the private sector, in matters of employment in recent times.

One cannot deny an attitudinal change in the thinking of urban society, though a relatively recent phenomenon, and this has brought about by the waves of modernisation that remained concentrated among the educated. The picture, however, is completely different in the backward and tribal regions of the country. Thus, problems still persist as has been manifest from the recent report on gender parity.

The best way to improve India’s abysmal ranking, reflected in the condition of women, is to change the order of things. 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 indeed distressing to note that, at the current rates of progress, it will take 155 years to close the political empowerment gender gap — 11 more than predicted in 2021 — and 151 years for the economic participation and opportunity gender gap, as indicated in the report.

One may refer here to the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) in 448 of India’s 640 districts of the country which clearly reveal that proper attention is not being given to women’s health. As per the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a report suggests that 70 per cent of districts (448 out of 640 districts) reported MMR above 70 deaths – a target set under the SDGs. The MMR under SDGs for 2030 is 70 while India’s MMR is 113 at present. It is quite disgraceful for a country of India’s standing that it accounts for 15 per cent of world’s maternal deaths, second only to Nigeria (19 per cent).

There is a need to inject the concept of women’s empowerment into everybody’s minds. However, a result-oriented process of enhancing and promoting the social, political and economic status of women is imperative at this juncture. There is need to focus on five main concerns: one, give women access to education just like men, two, give women opportunities to be in power and achieve economic success, three, stop the violence and sexual assault against women, four, end child marriages and five, make aware women about women’s rights in India. By focusing on these five major points sincerely by the government as also all sections of society, the coming years may achieve some equality between men and women in the country.

It is up to the Government to move beyond tokenism and help women overcome staggering economic and social barriers. Thus, there is clearly a need for policy initiatives to empower women as gender disparities in India persist even against the backdrop of economic growth. Current literature provides pointers from policy changes that have worked so far.

However, it cannot be denied that an unique policy experiment in village-level governance that mandated one-third representation for women in positions of local leadership has shown promising results. Further, it has been found that in villages led by women, the preferences of female residents are better represented, and women are more confident in reporting crimes that earlier they may have considered too stigmatising to bring to attention.

Improvements in labour market prospects also have the potential to empower women. This also led to an increase in age at marriage and childbearing, a drop in desired number of children, and an increase in school enrolment of younger girls not exposed to the programme. Recent initiatives on training and recruiting young women from rural areas for factory-based jobs in cities provide economic independence and social autonomy that they were unaccustomed to in their parental homes.

For India to maintain its position as a global growth leader, more concerted efforts at local and national levels and by the private sector are needed to bring women to parity with men. While increasing representation of women in the public spheres is important and can potentially be attained through some form of affirmative action, an attitudinal shift is essential for women to be considered as equal within their homes and in broader society. Educating Indian children from an early age about the importance of gender equality could be a meaningful start in bringing down the wide gap in achieving some sort of gender parity.

 

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About the author

Dr. Oishee Mukherjee

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