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Gender gap divides India from the rest

In the South Asia region,Afghanistan is the only country ranked lower than India.

Written by Express News Service | New Delhi |
November 3, 2011 12:00:25 am

For a country making strides as an emerging economic power,gender inequality remains an area where it compares poorly with the rest of the world. India is placed 129th among 146 countries in terms of GII,or gender inequality index,far behind neighbouring Sri Lanka at 74 and lagging most other countries in the region.

Bangladesh,Nepal and Pakistan are ranked 112,113 and 115 in terms of this index in the Human Development Report of 2011,released by the United Nations Development Programme today. In the South Asia region,Afghanistan is the only country ranked lower than India.

India’s GII is 0.617,matching the 0.61 of the Sub-Saharan region,against a global average of 0.492. The GII is calculated using indicators from three broad dimensions — health,empowerment and the labour market.

The indicators from health used are maternal mortality ratio and adolescent (age 15 to 19) fertility rate. Those from empowerment are secondary education and representation in Parliament. From the labour market,the calculation uses what proportion of the female population is employed.

On maternal mortality,India does fare better than Bangladesh,Pakistan and Nepal,though it is far behind Sri Lanka. Where India is behind most of its neighbours is the proportion of women in Parliament. Just over a 10th of Indian Parliament’s members are women. Only Sri Lanka has an even lower representation.

The way this parameter was used in the calculation,in fact,came under criticism from Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh,who released the report in Delhi today. He pointed out that Panchayati Raj institutions across the country have about 40 per cent women members. “Non-inclusion of women representation in the Panchayati Raj institutions pulls us down on the dimension of political empowerment of women,” Ramesh said. “This index (GII) is heavily vitiated by the nature of its political representation index.”

India compares poorly with its neighbours on childbirth-related indices too. Its adoloescent fertility rate is much higher than those of Sri Lanka and Pakistan,and slightly higher than Bangladesh’s,though Nepal’s is even higher. There could be many reasons,including lower access to contraceptives,but UNDP researchers today acknowledged early marriages could be a major contributor.

Though the proportion of women in the labour force is low,Indian policymakers have seen a silver lining. They feel this is an indicator of the fact that more women have access to education. This too drew criticism from Ramesh.

“The low labour force participation rate in India is because of (higher) female participation in the education system. In fact,the higher labour force participation rate may be an indicator of poverty…” Ramesh said.

Outside the neighbourhood,India struggles against Brazil,Russia,China and South Africa,its contemporaries in the BRICS group of emerging economies. Health has the widest gaps,with India’s MMR much worse than those of China,Russia and Brazil,and adolescent fertility rate worse than those of all four others.

India compares poorly on the index based on secondary education,too. Less than 27 per cent of Indian women aged over 25 have had a secondary education. A similar gap exists between India and the rest of the BRICS countries in terms of the women labour force participation rate.

The HDR also compares the use of contraceptives among women in the reproductive age group. India shows 54 per cent,lower than most of its BRICS counterparts — no figure is given for Russia.

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