Gender Parity Index Worsening women’s status

Dr S Saraswathi
The annual Gender Survey of the World Economic Forum (WEF) for 2014 has ranked India at 114 in a list of 142 countries. This has raised fears among women activists in the country of worsening status of women. The rank shows a decline by 13 places from the previous rank of 101 in 2013.
The Forum introduced the global survey on gender gap in 2006. It covers three areas – education, health, and remuneration for equal work. Though the over-all rank is an indelible blot on the country’s progress, India has scored higher ranks on specific indicators raising a hope that all is not bad for women. It holds rank 15 on political empowerment and placed above the US and UK.
The index comes in the age of incredibly fast information system, very vigilant media, strong expressions of direct public reaction, and growing awareness among women – all of which may indicate the possibility of a mixed future for women. Global index is a method to measure individual and comparative performance of countries and is widely used by international agencies to measure development using certain indicators.
“Inequalities can reverse progress in women’s status”, warns a UN Report on the “International Conference on Population and Development Beyond 2014”. It is the first global review of progress made since the Women’s Conference at Cairo and the Programme of Action that followed in 1994 pointing out the obstacles and emerging issues. Twenty years is a long period in one’s life, but not in the life of customs and traditions, mindset, social beliefs and prejudices, etc, that are entrenched in a society and passed on through generations without any conscious effort. Women’s status is not a simple problem to respond and change to a singular solution. Multiple actions on diverse fronts are required.
The UNDP introduced two composite indices of gender equity measures – the Gender Development Index (GDI) and the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) in 1995 which made the Human Development Index (HDI) gender sensitive. GDI was introduced in response to the requirement of sex-wise data for various international bodies to understand gender gap in development to help identify areas that need special attention and bridge the gaps. Originally, HDI was a composite index comprising life expectancy, adult literacy, and real GDP per capita.
GDI represents the ratio of female to male HDI. In 2013, female HDI value was calculated as 0.519 in contrast with male HDI of 0.627 for India.
In UNDP’s Gender Related Development Index, India ranks 135 in a list of 144. It pertains to three aspects – life expectancy, mean years of schooling, and expected years of schooling. Gender gap is +2.6 for the first in 2013, -2.4 for the second and -0.5 for the third aspects for 2002-12. India’s regressive performance in GDI is unacceptable at past record. It ranked 99 among 130 countries in 1995.
The GEM of the UNDP measures relative empowerment of women and men in economic and political spheres. It comprises three components. Two of them relate to participation and decision-making power in political and economic spheres; and the third relates to power over economic resources. The concept of empowerment dominates discussions on development in recent years. It implies that development should not only be for the people but by the people. Participation is the crucial indicator of empowerment. It is a goal and also an instrument of development. Promoting women’s capabilities and encouraging women to participate and exercise their choice are ends as well as means for economic growth and all-round development.
Empowerment should enable women to fight against oppression and deprivations and inequalities. It should encompass the entire society from bottom to top. Such empowerment is expected to free men from bonds of outdated notions of superiority and power, liberate them from false value systems, and help them realize the importance of gender parity for comprehensive development.
The UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index (GII) measures three vital aspects of human development. These include  reproductive health in terms of maternal mortality rate and adolescent birth rates, empowerment through the proportion of parliamentary seats held by women and secondary education of adult females and males over 25 years, and economic status assessed by labour market participation and labour force participation of females and males above 15 years.
This index covers 150 countries and varies widely from 2.1% to 73.3%. It shows India in a bad light on the whole – a spectacle that stands in sharp contrast with remarkable and outstanding achievements of many extraordinary women in all fields. It is an eye opener to the inadequacy of laws and regulations to reach goals and performance deficiency in implementing schemes and programmes.  Gender Parity Index (GPI) reflects the over-all female level compared to that of male. GPI less than 1 indicates that there are fewer females than males; GPI more than one indicates proportionately more females than males; and score 1 means gender equality.
The term “gender” loosely applied to refer to the sex of a person has a special sociological significance. It denotes differences in the status of a man and a woman in a society. Gender differences mean that the status of women is lower than what they are really worth.
The term “gender” is used in relation to cultural aspects and the term “sex” to biological matters and is different. Differences based on gender are man-made and can be altered and those deriving from sex are natural and biological. Gender parity demands changes in culture and conventions – partly achievable by reforms and legislations and partly by education and understanding.
It is inability to distinguish sex and gender that is largely responsible for gender inequalities in India. Added to this are conventional notions of male preference from birth carefully safeguarded across social, economic, geographical and other boundaries. It is indeed a transcontinental phenomenon that tends to linger long in the Indian society.
Measurement of gender bias is not revealed in any index. It is concealed in hundreds of forms in everyday life and mostly taken as part of normal life.
Declining sex ratio, which is alarmingly rapid in some States and in some of their pockets, is considered a challenging problem in bridging gender gap. Linked with this is persistence of female foeticide as normal practice in many places. No amount of sermonizing will help unless laws are strictly enforced and loopholes plugged.
There is a long way to go in matters of education and health.  Monopoly of men over better paid jobs still continues in many places leaving women to render extraordinary performance to get what a man gets without extra effort.
Gender perspective in allocation of resources was started in India in the Seventh Plan. Women’s Component Plan was adopted in the Ninth Plan. The Tenth Plan reinforced commitment to gender budgeting to use fiscal policy to reduce gender gaps.
All these remain insufficient. There are myriads of ways of gender discriminations in practice. Not all of them are measured or even measurable. A curious feature of gender gap is the gap among women. This gap makes gender difference less pronounced than economic class or rural-urban differences.
The point is that the gender gap on the whole remains a great obstacle to development. There is truth in the statement of the Human Development Report several years ago that “development, if not engendered, will be endangered”.-INFA
(The author is Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


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