Gender Gap in India

By Virginia Saldanha

Mumbai, Dec. 21, 2018: Not long back the headline “India is the most dangerous country for women” caught our attention. Today the headlines speak of India’s dismal ranking in the Gender Gap report for 2018.

Standing at 108, 60 slots below our poor neighbor Bangladesh, despite the much publicized slogan “India Shining”, we ought to be ashamed.

The answer begs the question, “For whom is India Shinning”?

India may boast of creating a few of the world’s richest men, and a growing GDP, but wither its women? The report points out that India’s drop in ranking is “largely attributable to a widening of its gender gaps in political empowerment as well as in healthy life expectancy and basic literacy.”

On the health and survival index India is the world’s 3rd lowest in the gender gap report at 147 only ahead of Iran and Iraq. This gap makes it “the world’s least-improved country on this sub-index over the past decade”.

In economic participation and opportunity, India has dropped to 142 from 139 in 2017 but “records improvements in wage equality for similar work.”

On education attainment India ranks 114 two slots lower, however it succeeds in fully closing its tertiary education gender gap for the first time, and keeps primary and secondary education gaps closed.

When it comes to Artificial Intelligence (AI) India has the second biggest AI talent pool but a work place dominated by men. According to the report, 78 per cent of India’s AI professionals are men and only 22 per cent are women.

The report reflects the impact of poverty and culture in India.

The proportion of women living in poverty is among the highest in the world. Woman headed households are among the poorest. Whether rural or urban, poverty hampers their access to nutrition, education and proper health care.

The Government is only concerned about economic development not the holistic development of all its citizens. The budget allocation in infrastructure and financial development is equal to the combined allocation to health: 1.5% and education: 3.48% GDP.

With India moving from a mixed economy to a global capitalist economy, where profit is its sole motive, exploitation of the poor and women has become an important driver towards that goal. It helps to manage this ‘workforce’ to maximize their profits.

One of the first demands of the World Bank on India during the transition to ‘globalization’ of its economy was a progressive cutting down of welfare measures. The argument was that globalization will produce a trickle down effect that would benefit those at the bottom.

But we have seen the gap between the rich and poor get larger and the gender gap widen. It is well known that gender inequality is a major cause and effect of hunger and poverty: it is estimated that 60 percent of chronically hungry people are women and girls.

Gender bias towards women in India has created a blind spot in the vision of development, hence women’s safety concerns, her health needs like access to toilets, hygiene during menstruation, modifying the work place to accommodate mothers, increasing opportunities for entrepreneurship, access to information and technology, ensuring minimum wage for women in the informal sector are minimal or absent.

The biased attitudes towards women are the most visible in the fact that the Women’s Reservation in Parliament Bill has been hanging fire for the last ten years, through the terms of two governments.

Cultural attitudes have produced women who take care of others before they address their own health and nutritional needs. Even if she has a job outside the home she is pressured to take care of the home as well. The pressure is mentally and physically challenging.

Women have internalized inequality accepting it as inevitable and a natural part of their destiny. Religious teachings and practice are used to reinforce this conditioning. Women’s role as wife, mother and care giver is glorified as a sacred duty. This type of conditioning effectively silences women when it comes to violence.

Violence to women is another cultural fallout that remains the single most important concern that affects women’s lives and performance especially in the workplace. It is the greatest threat to women’s health and life expectancy be it in the home, workplace, education institutions, or on the street. If the laws that protect women’s rights are not implemented and women lack access to mechanisms that protect their rights and dignity, women will continue to suffer the effects of violence and withdraw from public spaces thus hampering her economic and political development.

Unless teaching to change cultural attitudes that hamper women’s development and threaten her very survival is integrated into the educational system from the kindergarten to the tertiary level, things cannot change.

Research has shown that when women have an income they invest their resources in children’s health, nutrition, and education. The UN has declared that the participation of women is central for the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, peace and justice.

India will really shine when an environment is created that allows women to enjoy freedom from violence, to be able to access resources and opportunities required for her holistic development to participate in economic and political activity as well as decision making in every sphere of life.

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