The World Economic Forum has recently published the Global Gender Gap Report 2021. India ranks 140 out of 156 countries in Gender Gap Index. Much has been discussed and debated about why we are where we stand and how we have slipped by 28 points since the last published ranking in 2020.
There are four sub-indices that constitute the Gap Index. These are: (1) Economic Participation and Opportunity (2) Educational Attainment (3) Health and Survival and (4) Political Empowerment. Our rank is 151 in Economic Participation and Opportunity and 114 in Educational Attainment.
What caught my attention when I took a closer look at our performance vis-à-vis the countries that we aspire to be like in stature and influence is the wide gap of -37 points between these ranks for sub-indices 2 and 1. The corresponding gap for the United States of America (USA) and China are +6 and +34 respectively. USA ranks 30 in Economic Participation and Opportunity and 36 in Educational Attainment. China ranks 69 and 103 respectively for these sub-indices.
Though the gap is computed from relative rankings of a distinct set of parameters and does not constitute an apple-to-apples comparison, the figure for India signals a definite gender bias in the economy that gets accounted for compared to USA and China. Irrespective of their educational attainment, we appear to be way behind in enabling women to participate in the formal economy and for the women who are a part of the formal economy, we falter at providing fair employment and opportunities for growth.
My cleaning lady is about 38. She grew up in rural Bangalore studying up to 9th standard in the local village school before she moved to live with her uncle’s family in Bangalore city. She confesses that she shied away from attending school and completing her secondary exam despite being admitted to the 10th standard because she missed her old school friends. She has been a domestic worker for almost fifteen years. Her monthly earnings were Rupees 18000 before the pandemic and has dropped by 40% since. When we start to put a face to statistics, what stares at us is millions of such women who add numbers to female literates of the country, work in the informal sector, earn wages that feed a family and send children to school but their jobs make no dent on the assessment of those who participate in running the wheels of the economy.
Is it possible that underlying the unwillingness to place resources to account for the hours spent by women as house maids or in their own homes caring for elders and children, sourcing food, collecting fuel and fodder, cooking, sweeping, tending to livestock and agricultural fields, stitching, mending and doing a medley of voluntary work in the community is a certain social conditioning that takes women’s work for granted?
When we as a society start to value dignity of labour, ensure better wages and benefits of better health, safe and sanitary living conditions, we will also count more participatory women in the economy.
Freshly minted with a Teacher’s Training degree, my mother moved from her home in Shimla to Delhi in 1958 and taught in a school. At the same time, her younger sister was also in Delhi studying medicine. My mother had a career break for almost fifteen years after she got married and brought me up. My aunt remained a practicing Physician all through her life. I chose to study Physics and concentrate on scientific problem solving. My aunt’s daughter studied English Literature, chose to stay at home and raise two boys after a short stint as a journalist. She is a writer poet and runs an online literary journal supporting scores of writers across the world with a platform to contribute and collaborate.
To me, the chance to serve the universe in a way that is closest to our heart has always seemed like the most compelling gift of life. I would assume that for most of us, to be able to develop and hone skills consistent with our potential, to be able to use them in our daily lives in our jobs and in the tasks we set out to accomplish would make for a joyful experience.
Gender gap will disappear when we strive to create and sustain environments within the family, community and in workplaces that support self-actualization of all individuals as a worthy mission.