SN Misra & Sanjaya Kumar Ghadai
orld Economic Forum’s recently published Gender Gap Report (2021) shows that India has slipped by 28 places compared to the Gender Gap Report (2020), with a ranking of 140 out of 156 countries surveyed. Sadly, in South Asia, India is in the dubious company of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The overall refrain of the report is that out of the four dimensions of gender gap viz. economic participation, political empowerment, educational attainment and health and survival, most countries seriously lag behind gender gap in political employment empowerment and economic participation. Globally only 26.1% of women have parliamentary seats and 22.6% hold the post of ministers. In contrast, India has 13.3% women who are in the Parliament as against 20.9% in case of Bangladesh, which has achieved the highest ranking amongst the South Asian countries. The report brings out how in terms of educational attainment 95% of the gender gap has been closed and 96% in terms of health and survival. However, in contrast, India has the dubious record of ranking 155/165 in regard to health and survival index. This is largely due to its abnormally high maternal mortality rates, and very high percentage of girls who are anemic during their adolescent period.
The Human Development Report contains a Gender Inequality Index where it expressed serious concerns regarding the dwindling participation of female workforce in India. The female workforce participation is a measly 20.5% against male workforce participation of 76.1%. This is significantly less than China, where female workforce participation is 60.5% as against 75.3% for male workforce participation. It would be interesting to note that India’s economic participation and opportunity index for women was rising till the year 2012. It has been declining since then, reflecting their vulnerable position in the job market. Steven Kapsey, Silbaman et.al. in a perceptive report for the International Labour Organisation in 2017 have brought out how India is passing through the paradox of falling female workforce participation, and fertility rate is falling from 3.1 in 2000 to 2.6 (2011). The NSSO Survey in 2009-10 has also brought out that during the decade (2000-2010) there was a 10.1% drop in workforce participation compared to previous survey, a decade back. They have assessed that the loss of jobs of female workers would be in the region of 22.6 million during 2005-2010. The ILO study brings out how the falling trend of economic participation is due to lack of employment opportunities (42%), poor level of education and pressure of child care and gender-based discrimination and occupational segregations.
The 68th NSSO survey has brought out three specific reasons for the precipitate fall in female workforce participation. Increased mechanisation in agriculture by use of seed drillers, harvesters, threshers, and husk equipment has displaced women by bringing in male workers. The female workforce which was earlier 63% as against 37% by of men has gone down considerably. Further, textiles, power looms, button stitching, mechanisation has phased out women labour significantly. As per the McKinsey Global Institute Report, around 12 million women could lose jobs owing to automation.
The other concern area is poor vocational training to women. The NITI Aayog’s Three Years’ Action Agenda (2017-2020) has brought out how only 3.4% women underwent vocational training in mechanical, electrical and electronic engineering trades as against 29% men. Sectors that require disruptive technical skills are not adequately represented by women. As per the World Economic Forum Report, only 17% of women are into cloud computing, 20% in engineering and 24% in artificial intelligence. Therefore, the major opportunities for employment in sunshine sectors like Industry 4.0 are eluding women. Besides, the NSSO survey brings out how, on an average, a woman is engaged in five hours of domestic work as against 30 minutes by men. Gender budgeting was introduced in 2005, with around 57 government departments setting up gender budget cells. An analysis conducted by NIPFP reveals that GRB has not translated effectively into policies that impact women.
The Indian Constitution provides in Article 15(3) that the state can make special provisions for women, apart from ensuring that there is not gender discrimination for entry into educational institution and employment. However, the momentous change came in 1992 through the 73rd amendment by establishing grassroots democracy at the Panchayat level. Article 243(d)(3) stipulates that not less than 1/3 of total seats would be reserved for women. Odisha has the proud record of increasing it to 50%. However, the debate for reserving 33% of seats parliamentary and state Assembly seats for women has been caught in the vertex of caste politics. Unfortunately, unlike many developing economies, India has a poor record in terms of health and survival of women. The preference for sons and gender-biased prenatal sex selection practices are rampant. The gender gap report 2021 brings out how India and China account for 90% of the estimated 1.2 to 1.5 million missing female birth annually. In terms of maternal mortality rate the HDR brings out that India still carry a dubious record 133 deaths per lakh, as against 29 by China and 2 by Norway.
The major lessons that the report has for India is to provide proper educational and skilling opportunities to women, ensuring nutritional food to adolescent girls and women and ensuring that women get proper representation in the parliament and assemblies to lend their voice for making effective change in the way that can promote true gender justice. The NITI Aayog has suggested that the skill development programme should move beyond traditional skills for women and provide them training for professions like taxi driving and missionary. The present trend of dwindling female workforce and their high vulnerability can be mitigated through effective political will, which puts a premium on gender justice.
SN Misra teaches Economics and can be reached email@example.com. Sanjaya Kumar Ghadai is a Research Scholar and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org