Addressing gender inequalities: India needs bold steps - Hindustan Times
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Addressing gender inequalities: India needs bold steps

ByHindustan Times
Feb 14, 2023 05:13 PM IST

The article has been authored by Aakanksha Shrawan, Vrinda Gupta, research associates and Janak Raj, senior fellow, Centre for Social and Economic Progress, New Delhi.

India, which assumed presidency of G20 this year, has stated that it will prioritise inclusive growth and development, with women empowerment and representation at the forefront of its G20 discussions. This indeed is a desirable objective, given the large gender inequalities that exist in several G20 member countries, especially in India, which also gets reflected in its overall human development profile. In the 2021 Human Development Index (HDI) rankings, released by the UNDP, India is placed at 132nd position among 191 countries – one rank lower than in 2020 HDI. While there has been an across-the-board reversal in the HDI values amidst the raging pandemic, a longer period data suggests that the decline in India’s HDI performance began even before the breakout of the Covid-19 pandemic. India’ poor performance during the pre-Covid period can be explained by two factors: Lower women participation in the labour force, but still worse, lower remuneration of women vis-à-vis men for the same work.

Addressing gender inequalities: India needs bold steps(HT Photo) PREMIUM
Addressing gender inequalities: India needs bold steps(HT Photo)

India’s female HDI (0.57) significantly lags the male HDI (0.67). While the gap in male HDI between India and the world reduced by 41% over the last three decades, the gap in female HDI reduced by 30%. It is, therefore, not surprising that India’s rank in female HDI (131) compares unfavourably with the male HDI (119) and that gender inequality is one of the prime reasons for India’s poor performance in HDI.

Of the three components of HDI (health, education and income), gender inequality is observed in the components of income and education (Table 1). A ratio of more than 1 for a particular indicator implies adverse outcomes for women vis-à-vis men and vice versa. While females perform better than males in life expectancy (health) and expected years of schooling (EYS)-future expectations of the education levels of the population- they lag in mean year of schooling (current educational achievements of the society), income accrued to them and labour force participation rate vis-à-vis their male counterparts. While gender inequalities in education (MYS), income and labour force participation also exist in many of India’s peers, the situation, however, is far worse in India. As against 4.6 earned by a man in India, a woman earns only Re 1 and as against employment of 35 men, only 10 women get employment in India. Such large gender inequalities in wages and employment do not exist in any of India’s peers.

Table 1: Male to female ratio for various indicators for human development (2019)

Country   Life Expectancy (LE)Expected years of schooling (EYS)Mean years of schooling (MYS)Estimated gross national income (GNI) per capita (2017 PPP USD)Labour force participation rate (LFPR in %)
Malaysia0.9380.9381.0141.6111.504
Indonesia0.9430.9881.0951.9341.529
Thailand0.8940.9581.0311.2261.279
Brazil0.9200.9450.9471.6471.352
Mexico0.9140.9541.0331.9821.725
Bangladesh0.9410.9291.1942.8392.203
India0.9600.9691.1564.6163.458

Source: Human development report 2021/ 2022

There has been some decline in gender inequality in education component over the years. Male-female ratio for EYS declined from 1.43 in 1990 to 0.989 in 2021 and for mean years of schooling (MYS), it declined from 1.26 to 1.06. Unfortunately, gender inequalities in income (as measured by the ratio of GNI accruing to men vis-a-vis accruing to women) have widened consistently since the early 2000 and participation in the labour force (Chart 1). This suggests that increased access to education is not translating into increased employment for women. Not only are fewer women joining the workforce, but they are also receiving lower remuneration, which, in turn, discourages women from entering the workforce.

Source: Human development report 2021/ 2022
Source: Human development report 2021/ 2022

Overall, not only has India continued to lag behind in providing education to women, but it has also not been able to convert their education into productive employment. Focused efforts are needed to promote women’s labour force participation on a larger scale and ensure that they get the same earnings as men for the same work. Social expenditure needs to be targeted in such a way that it eliminates the existing inequities and assists in improving the status of women in society. Bangladesh deserves a special mention in this regard as it has promoted the all-round development of females beginning from primary education. Bangladesh promotes female school enrolment (primary, secondary and higher secondary) by providing stipends to their parents to minimise female dropouts and has also established several polytechnic institutes that provide vocational education to only females.

As part of its G20 agenda, India has formed a new engagement group for the start-ups (Start-up 20) which would bring together existing start-ups to share their ideas and best practices with young entrepreneurs. Given that India's gender balance in entrepreneurship remains among the lowest in the world, a special focus on women entrepreneurs under the umbrella of Start-up20, where they receive mentorship, feedback, and handholding from established women entrepreneurs from the G20, will significantly help to nurture women entrepreneurship at the grassroot level. However, addressing systemic issues such as fewer women in top managerial positions (glass ceiling), gender biases in recruitment and job evaluation, and overrepresentation of women in low-paying jobs requires more audacious efforts. The last factor creates a problem due to the concept of a “sticky floor” according to which, gender wage gaps are greater among lower-earning workers and they steadily decline towards the higher end of the distribution. Some studies in the Indian context suggest that the gender wage gap among low-earning workers stands as high as 105%. This is at the root of gender inequalities and substantial efforts to be taken towards reducing the enormous gender gap in wages, especially at the lower end of the job spectrum. Proper enforcement of minimum wages, speedy enactment of the labour codes, and formalisation of jobs could significantly reduce the gender wage gap and ensure a quantum jump in India’s HDI ranking.

The article has been authored by Aakanksha Shrawan, Vrinda Gupta, research associates and Janak Raj, senior fellow, Centre for Social and Economic Progress, New Delhi.

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