Thursday, January 21, 2021

Gender gap

A country’s commitment to the advancement of its citizens can be scientifically evaluated only when access to equal opportunity and resources for women can be ensured on the pattern that men would have. This is a major question all over the world whenever there has been discussion on ensuring equal access to women to all resources so that they can be equal partners in the advancement of the country. This question has been raised time and again in India, where access to all sorts of resources for women has been limited or has been denied to them by the successive governments. The slogans of equal rights to women have been found to be hollow in India because of the wrong and faulty policies of the powers that be for ensuring such opportunities for women. The gender gap on these issues has been huge in a country like India, where girls and women have been worshipped but denied equitable access to resources and opportunities. It is important to note that in the context of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2020 released last December, questions can easily be raised about whether the central government is doing the right thing for the country’s women. But despite high sloganeering, India has unfortunately dropped four points from 2018, to take the 112th rank on the Index. The Index measures the extent of gender-based gaps on four key parameters – economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. Notably, it measures gender-based gaps in access to resources and opportunities in countries, rather than the actual levels of the available resources and opportunities. Despite a small score improvement, India has lost four positions as some countries ranked lower than India have shown improvement on their previous track record. The country has reportedly closed two thirds of its overall gender gap, with a score of 66.8 percent, but the report notes with concern that the condition of women in large fringes of Indian society is ‘precarious’. Of significant concern is the economic gender gap, with a score of 35.4 percent, at the 149th place, among 153 countries, and down seven places since the previous edition, indicating only a third of the gap has been bridged. The participation of women in the labour force is also among the lowest in the world, and the women’s estimated earned income is only one-fifth of male income. An alarming statistic is India’s position (150th rank) on the very bottom of the Health and Survival sub-index, determined largely by the skewed sex ratio at birth, violence, forced marriage and discrimination in access to health facilities. It is on the educational attainment (112th rank) and political empowerment (18th rank) fronts that the relative good news is buried. Apart from this, Gender Gap Index presents India with an opportunity to make the necessary amends forthwith for ensuring better opportunities for the women. Doing what the government is currently doing is clearly not going to be sufficient; it needs to engage intimately with all aspects indicated by the Index to improve the score, and set targets to reduce the gender gap in the near future. It will have to drastically scale up efforts it has introduced to encourage women’s participation, and increase opportunities for them. To do so it also needs to make sure there is actual implementation at the ground level, which should be visible in the next few years. While a good score on any global index is a target worth pursuing, what is being questioned here is basic – is the state going away and ignoring its commitment to half its population? A commitment to ameliorate the conditions for women is a non-negotiable duty of any state. The slogan of ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padao’ is not sufficient to women empowerment because concrete steps should be taken to implement the projects in this direction on the ground.