Economic gender gap will take 217 years to close: WEF report

Tina Edwin New Delhi | Updated on March 07, 2018

Key contributors India has made mixed progress on closing the gap in various spheres   -  THE HINDU

‘Increased participation of women in economic activity can boost economy’

When the theme for 2017 International Women’s Day was set as ‘Be Bold for Change’, little did anyone imagine that later that year Hollywood actress Ashley Judd would come out and speak up against film production and distribution house Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein who had sexually harassed her in the early years of her career.

Judd proved to be an inspiration for many other actresses in Hollywood and several other women elsewhere to share their own experiences of sexual harassment at work or by men who were in positions of power, something that was commonplace yet rarely debated widely.

But sexual harassment at work is only one of the many problems that women face. Economic inequality is another equally disturbing problem they face across the world.

So much so that the World Economic Forum in its 2017 edition of Global Gender Gap Report estimated that it would take 217 years for the economic gender gap to be closed, mostly because the gap has widened. Economic inequality includes disparity in pay for the same work done by a man and a woman.

The same report estimates gender gap in politics would take up to 99 years to be closed. The education specific gender gap is estimated be reduce to parity in next 13 years — but that’s cold comfort when the overall global gender gap can be closed only in 100 years across 106 countries that the report has been tracking since 2006.

Mixed progress

India has made mixed progress on closing the gap in various spheres since 2006 when WEF started tracking gender gap — while it narrowed the gap in education and political empowerment, there has been slippages on economic participation and health and survival.

However, legislative changes such as the amendments to the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 if implemented well can help women with young children to return to work in the organised sector.

Yet, India still has a long way to go — some of the gains made can be easily reversed if conscious efforts are not made to constantly improve. Consider for instance participation of women in politics.

While the country has a woman Defence Minister in Nirmala Sitharaman for the first time since Indira Gandhi, women hold just about 12 per cent of the positions in the Union council of ministers. The number of women elected to nine State Assemblies where elections were held in the past year has declined from 83 to 76, thus reducing their collective representation in these Assemblies from 7.9 per cent to 7.3 per cent.

Rising participation

Increased participation of women in economic activity can give a boost to the Indian as well as world economy. The International Monetary Fund estimated that raising the level of participation of women in economic activity to bring it on par with men could increase India GDP by 27 per cent.

Similarly, the WEF Global Gender Gap report estimates that global GDP could increase by $5.3 trillion by 2025 by closing the gender gap in economic participation by 25 per cent over the same period. China could see a $2.5 trillion GDP increase from gender parity.

Experience shows gender parity cannot be achieved instantly and that both women and men need to work together towards reaching that goal.

Global activism for women's equality fuelled by campaigns such as MeToo and TimesUp need to be sustained and that explains the theme for the 2018 International Women’s Day: Press for Progress.

Published on March 07, 2018

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