Article: Gender Gap in Economic Participation won't close for another 217 years


Gender Gap in Economic Participation won't close for another 217 years

The Global Gender Gap Report highlights the pervasive gender gap which ceases to recede. The situation in India is equally dire, with economic participation of women at an extreme low.
Gender Gap in Economic Participation won't close for another 217 years

100 years, or more, is what it is going to take to bridge the gender gap. This magic number of a 100 is reserved for the 106 countries that have been studied since World Economic Forum’s first Global Gender Gap Report came in 2006. This is given that the discrimination steadily decreases. Unfortunately, it has increased from last year’s estimated 83 years to close the gap – which is a major step back. The WEF calculates gender gap based on four indices – educational attainment, health outcomes, economic participation, and political empowerment. Each of these indices has its own sub-indices to holistically cover these parameters. And while there has been a slow yet steady progress across educational attainment and political empowerment; however, there has been little or no change in the economic participation gap and a widening of the gap in health outcomes in the last 10 years (when the second report came out) (i).  

Global gender gap indices in 2017 as compared to 2007

The world GDP has grown from US$57.793 trillion in 2007 to US$75.544 trillion in 2017 (ii), recovering from a global recession, uncertainties in Europe’s socio-political environment, and doing steadily. Astoundingly, in the same period, the increment in economic participation of women against men has increased by a measly 1.2%, leaving the current gap standing at 41.50%. The gap is no better than what it was in the year 2008 and at this rate, the World Economic Forum opines that the global economic participation won’t be closed for another 217 years. This is a wasted opportunity for the global economy as the world could increase the global GDP by “US$5.3 trillion by 2025 by closing the gender gap in economic participation by 25% over the same period.” 

India and its widening gender gap

India holds the 108th position in 2017’s global gender gap index, with a score of 0.669 (the global average is 0.680). This implies that a gap of 33.1% between women and men remains to be closed in India. India has done fairly well in educational attainment and political empowerment of women, closing the gap by 13.3% and 18% respectively compared to 2006. But the ranking has gone down because other countries have accelerated faster in closing down the gender gap than India. The worrying sign, however, is the decline in the economic participation and health and survival indices. From 0.397 and 0.962 in 2006 to 0.376 and 0.942 in 2017 reflects how the gap is widening.

We will focus on the economic participation category because of its relevance to the publication’s readership. 139 – India’s rank in economic participation of women as compared to men – is important; simply because of the fact that India is sixth from the bottom of all the countries studied by the World Economic Forum. The five countries below India include Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Syria. 

Economic participation is judged across these indices:

  • Labour force participation
  • Wage equality for similar work
  • Estimated earned income
  • Legislators, senior officials and managers
  • Professional and technical workers 

India has done poorly in all these fronts, and consistently poorly for a few years now. India scores 0.347 in labour force participation, 0.620 in wage equality for similar work, 0.232 in estimated earned income, 0.148 in legislators, senior officials and managers, and 0.338 in professional and technical workers in the latest Gender Gap Report. 

The main observations of the World Economic Forum which give a rationale behind the stagnation of economic participation of women (and widening gap in case of India) have been three:

  1. Accentuated decline in labour force participation for women
    There has been a global decline in labour force participation. However, it has been more accentuated for women; the data from WEF calculated every year notes. 
  2. Steeper increase in income of men
    Globally, income of both women and men has increased. But the increase has been much steeper for men than women.
  3. Dwindling representation of women at senior positions
    The representation of women at senior positions is still very low, despite the tightening of the noose of SEBI or women’s own admission to ambition. 

What does it mean for the industry?

Of all the four parameters that are used to calculate gender gap, corporates and businesses have the most direct hand in economic participation, and that is where the concerns lie for the country that very recently jumped 30 places in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index. It is the responsibility of industries to ensure gender equity in workforce representation, giving equal wages for equal work, preparing women to take leadership roles and creating a fair and conducive environment where they feel empowered to take leaps in their careers. 


(i) The analysis of 2017 includes 144 countries, while the analysis of 2007 includes 128 countries 
(ii) World Bank data -

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Topics: Diversity

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