Author: Ranjani.K.Murthy, November 10 2014 - Yesterday, a few students asked me what I thought of the “Global Gender Gap report, 2014” and how India was doing.  It set me thinking on interpreting the results of the report itself, which benchmarks national gender gaps of 142 countries on economic, political, education  and health-based criteria listed in Box 1:

Box 1: indicators used in global gender gap report
Economic participation and opportunity:
•    Difference in labour force participation,
•    Ratio of estimated female-to-male earned income,
•    Wage equality for similar work, 
•    The ratio of women to men among legislators,
•    Senior officials and managers,
•    The ratio of women to men among technical and professional workers.

Educational Attainment:
•    Ratio of women to men in primary, secondary- and tertiary-level education.
•    Ratio of the female literacy rate to the male literacy rate.

Health and Survival
•    The first is the sex ratio at birth,
•    We use the gap between women’s and men’s healthy life expectancy.

Political empowerment:
•    The ratio of women to men in minister-level positions
•    The ratio of women to men in parliamentary positions.
•    The ratio of women to men in terms of years in executive office.

The report has been brought out for nine years, and trends are available for 111 countries.  The 2014 edition reports that only small improvements in equality have been noted in economic participation and opportunity, with the gender gap reducing from 0.56 in 2006 to 0.60 in 2011 (A score of 1 denoting equality) .  The 2014 Global Gender Gap report observes that the gender gap is narrowest in health and survival at 0.96, but it is the only sub-index that declined in the course of nine years.  The educational attainment gap is the next narrowest, standing at 0.94 globally, and, over the nine year period, the gender gap with regard to education has declined. Though the gender gap in political empowerment has reduced, the gender gap is still high at 0.21 in 2014. 
This year’s findings show that Iceland continues to be at the top of the overall rankings in the Global Gender Gap Index for the sixth consecutive year. Finland ranks in second position, and Norway holds the third place in the overall ranking. Sweden remains in fourth position, and Denmark gained three places and ranks this year at the fifth position.

The report notes the countries in which there is a strong correlation between a country’s gender gap and its national competitiveness. While this observation may or may not be true, there are several other factors that need to be taken into account in explaining the status of, and trends in, Global Gender Gap:  
i)    The growth model that has been adopted in many developing countries: Women’s economic participation is more in agriculture than in industries and services.  However developing countries like India that have grown economically have placed little emphasis on sustainable agriculture growth.  Further, land grab practices have reduced the amount of agricultural land available. 

ii)    Construction of dominant masculinity in many countries:   Men are considered as heads of households, bread winners and political agents.  With increase in household income, it is not uncommon for high school educated girls to be asked by husbands and in-laws to sit at home and look after children, as they would lose prestige if they send the daughters-in-law to work.  Politics is considered a masculine sphere, in particular at levels beyond local government.  This is true of parts of the Middle East (economic) and India (economic and political).

iii)    The construction of worker and politician as male:     Work places revolve around the around the assumption of the unfettered male, who has somebody to do housework and child/elderly care. Few formal work spaces provide child and elderly care, adopt flexible work spaces and work timing and provide ‘family’ leave for taking for child or elderly people.  The informal sector- where women dominate- provides flexibility, but remains invisible.  The calculations on female labour force participation rates may be underestimated in contexts wherein the majority of women are in the informal sector.  This includes a majority of developing countries.

iv)    Lack of reproductive rights of women: The gender gap on health does not measure gaps in reproductive rights. Decision on when to marry, whom to marry, whether to have children, whom to have, etc. are taken by men or relatives of men.  As a result reduction in gender gaps in education does not automatically translate to reduction in gender gaps in economy or political sphere. If adolescent pregnancy is 30% it is difficult to engage in paid work even if the girl is educated to high. Women/girls in many parts of Africa.

v)    Son preference:  There is a growing son preference in parts of South Asia, China, Republic Of Korea, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia etc. (40% of the world) With economic growth and increase in income, couples upholding patriarchal values (along with pressure from in laws) are able to access technology for sex selective abortion and prenatal sex selection.  Gaps in health life expectancy may reduce with growth, but son-preference needs addressing patriarchal values irrespective of who holds it – men or women and the very direction of growth (as it is female employment displacing).

To conclude, the dominant model of growth and patriarchy/dominant masculinity need to be addressed along with measures to promote substantive gender equality (sharing of domestic work and child care, accounting for care responsibility of women).

World Economic Forum, 2014, Global Gender Gap Report 2014, WEF, Switzerland.