Discrimination against women and girls has always been a ubiquitous phenomenon of Indian society. India’s progress towards gender parity measured by the World Economic Forum in 2021 is greatly discouraging. India ranks 140 of 156 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report 2021 by the World Economic Forum. It has slipped 28 spots compared to the previous year’s report, indicating a growing gender inequality in India in political and economic empowerment, education, health and survival. With rising rates of violence against women, low participation in the labour force and political leadership, and pervasive discriminatory institutional practices, current state of gender parity in the country is a matter of grave concern.
Sadly, the global average gender gap has also widened by 0.6 percentage from the previous year’s report – which undeniably questions the progress of gender equality and SDG 5, not only in India but in many other countries. The Global average was influenced by a heavy decline in the women’s political participation subindex. Across the 156 countries covered by the index, women represent only 26.1% of some 35,500 parliament seats and just 22.6% of over 3,400 ministers worldwide. At the current rate of progress, the World Economic Forum estimates that it will take 145.5 years to attain gender parity in politics.
Even in India, most of the decline has occurred on the Political Empowerment subindex, where India has to date closed just 27.6% of the gap, and slipped 13.5 percentage points from the previous year. The percentage of women ministers in India decreased from 23.1% to 9.1% in a year. Such a huge backslide of a larger country like India has undoubtedly influenced the global average of the political empowerment subindex.
The other area where India has seen growing gender inequality is the Economic Participation subindex. In the 2020 report, India already had one of the lowest positions globally in terms of women’s labour force participation rate. This deteriorated further from 24.8% to 22.3%, translating to a gender gap of 72%. Among the South Asian countries, India and Pakistan have only closed 31.6% and 32.6% of its Economic Participation and Opportunity gap while Bangladesh has closed 41.8%. Read this post to know different reasons why women in India stay away from the workforce.
In addition, India is among the bottom 10 countries globally on women’s estimated earned income indicator. Discrimination against women is also reflected in Health and Survival subindex where India ranks among the bottom five countries with China and Pakistan. Abnormal sex ratios at birth in India is the result of son preference and prenatal sex-selective abortions in these countries. According to UNICEF, India is the only large country where more girls die at birth than boys.
India is the third-worst performer in South Asia, having closed 62.5% of its gap so far. Only 14.6% of the managerial and senior leadership positions in India are held by women, and only 8.9% of farms have female top managers. In addition, more than one in four women in India has faced intimate violence in their lifetime.
Understanding the Roots of Growing Gender Inequality in India
In India, social expectations and norms of men and women vary widely. According to UNICEF, “While boys tend to experience greater freedom, girls tend to face extensive limitations on their ability to move freely and to make decisions affecting their work, education, marriage and social relationships.”
Social institutions in India, which is based on patrilineality (inheritance through male descendants) and patrilocality (married couples living with or near the husband’s parents), play a primary role in perpetuating gender inequality and gender-based discrimination.
Indian society is deeply biased about women’s role as submissive, financially dependent homemakers and caregivers. This contributes to this growing gender inequality in India where women’s participation in the labour force, politics, and leadership positions are far below the global average. Different forms of gender-based violence, rape, acid throwing, dowry murders, female infanticide and sex-selective abortions are still alarmingly prevalent here. Girls and women in India do not fully enjoy many of their rights due to rigid patriarchal views, norms, traditions and values.
India will not fully develop unless both girls and boys are equally supported to reach their full potential.- UNICEF
Such a regressive state and the enormous dip of gender parity is a matter of grave concern in a country already affected by severe discriminatory institutions, practice and customs. Women’s safety and health have always been a matter of huge concern in India. By analysing the Global Gender Gap reports of the last three years, one could easily understand that areas that need immediate attention are, women’s safety, and participation in the workforce and politics. It’s very unclear how invested the present Federal Government in India is in women’s development and progress. If not addressed timely, the regression in gender equality will impact the overall development of the country, as women encompass around 50% of the population. For India to maintain its position as a global growth leader, more concrete efforts at local and national levels are needed. It will be interesting to see how India plans to revamp its growing gender inequality in the near future.
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