Despite progress in education and health, women continue to face economic hurdles, dwindling political participation and workplace challenges. The coronavirus pandemic has further widened the inequalities with 5% of all employed women losing their jobs, compared with 3.9% of employed men. The World Economic Forum’s latest report on the gender gap projects a grim scenario and highlights how the pandemic has hampered the progress, albeit a modest one, made in addressing gender inequality. The situation in India is much more alarming. It is ranked 140 out of the 156 countries analysed, slipping 28 places from the previous year and trailing behind Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. While the country has done better on political empowerment of women, placed at 51st position, it fares very poorly in health and survival where it ranked 155. The WEF’s Global Gender Gap Index benchmarks the evolution of gender-based inequalities among four key dimensions -– economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment –- and tracks progress towards closing these gaps over time. The reduction in women’s labour force participation rate was an important reason for the drop in India’s rank. In addition, the share of women in professional and technical roles declined further to 29.2% while their share in senior and managerial positions also remains low at 14.6%. Globally, Iceland, Finland, Norway, New Zealand and Sweden are the world’s most gender-equal countries. It comes as no surprise that South Asia is one of the worst performing regions, followed by the Middle East and northern Africa.
Even in several large economies, the efforts towards gender parity have failed to yield the desired results, partly due to women being more frequently employed in sectors hardest hit by lockdowns combined with the additional pressures of providing care at home. The key challenge before the organisations is not just how to recover from the pandemic but to address the long-term systemic issues that create inequality across the workforce. The pandemic’s combined effect of accelerated automation and the growing “double shift” of work and care is likely to have a long-term impact on economic opportunities for women, risking inferior re-employment prospects and a drop in income. The governments and the private sector need to build diversity, equity and inclusion into their plans for recovery. In India, the estimated income of women was only one-fifth of men’s, which puts the country among the bottom 10 globally on this indicator. Women continue to face many barriers to enter the labour market relating to access, choice of work, working conditions, employment security, wage parity and discrimination. At 21%, India has one of the lowest female participation rates in the workforce across the world. It is less than half the global average.
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