We have come a long way in terms of progression as a society, yet, today one half of the world’s population lags behind. Since 2006, World Economic Forum (WEF) has been coming out with a report on gender disparities and tracking the progress of women and the gap between men and women across four key areas – health and survival, educational attainment, economic participation and political empowerment. Data of over a decade from the Global Gender Gap Index reveals that the progress is slow and women are far behind their counterparts in all the key parameters considered, and not likely to catch up in the near future.

The Index ranks countries based on how much the gap between women and men has declined according to the various parameters. The 2016 report covers 145 countries and India ranks 108. The Nordic countries – Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Ireland top the Index. Of India’s neighbours — Bangladesh, China and Sri Lanka — are ranked higher than India.

The only good news for India is its performance in political empowerment of women, with a ranking of nine, jumping six positions in the sub index compared to last year. India is ranked second in the Asia and Pacific region in political empowerment. This is because India has more than doubled the percentage of women in ministerial positions from 9% to 22%. However, India’s progress is disappointing in all other sub indices. India is ranked 125 in educational attainment and 143 in health and survival – in the bottom three. Despite a fairly high economic growth with GDP growing at 6% over the past decade, India ranks a poor 139 in economic participation and opportunity, which considers labour force participation and wage equality. There has been a huge decline in female labour force participation from 34% to 27%. The male-female wage gap has been stagnant at 50% with a 27% gender pay gap in white-collar jobs.

Though India shows an upward trend in terms of women in leadership positions, it is too little to be proud of. The biggest reason why women occupy fewer leadership positions is the lack of support after marriage. Traditional gender role that stereotypes women as nurturers is deeply embedded in the Indian society and culture. Women end up compromising their career for family. The other reason is workplace biases, lack of well developed organisational policies that encourages gender equality and supports women to advance their careers. Also, work demands that conflicts with family responsibilities impede women’s career progression.

Although technological advances have made it possible to stay connected and telecommuting easy, much needs to be done in the development of organisational policies addressing work family balance. Fostering gender equality also requires a change in the mind-sets of individuals within organizations. Biases both conscious and unconscious should be eliminated at all levels.

The leaders of corporate India must take steps to establish parity in gender roles and abolish gender inequality at the workplace. Mechanisms must be put in place to create a space where employees can speak freely about discrimination they face at work.

India has to seriously consider focusing on measures to attain gender equality as women are discriminated at all levels of society, with socially prescribed roles preventing them from realising their potential. There is an alarming rise in crimes against women which is disturbing; as progress and development should result is well being and equal opportunity for all.

To achieve economic leadership, women need be brought to parity with men. Policy initiatives that provide women access to education, health, financial and digital inclusion and equal economic opportunities will pave way in this direction. Women should be sensitized to positive effects of economic independence and given the requisite professional training. An attitudinal shift is important for women to be considered as equal within their homes and outside, in society at large.

Blog by Vandana Madhavkumar