Gender Gap: Miles to go before we sleep

India’s story in the global gender gap review is a little good news followed by a lot of bad news. The good news first: The 73rd (Panchayat) amendment to the Constitution, passed in 1993, has brought over one million women at the grassroots into the political system. Another shining indicator relates to the female head of government. Sixteen of the last 50 years were occupied by a female in the executive office and India holds the 4th position in the world. (And this is without counting bigwigs like Sonia Gandhi, Mayawati and Jayalalitha!)

India’s performance in the political empowerment subindex is strong relative to the rest of the world, ranking at 24th position, although only 27% of the gender gap has been closed in this category. Women hold 11% of the positions in parliament and 10% of ministerial-level positions, placing India in 100th and 93rd positions, respectively, on these indicators.

And now the bad news: India holds the last position (134th) in the health and survival subindex. Women live only one year longer than men (54 years for women vs. 53 years for men). By comparison, the standards used by the UN’s Gender-Related Development Index reflect an “optimal” gap of five years. This places India in 119th position among the 134 countries on this variable.

The special edition of The India Gender Gap Review 2009 ranks India 114th out of 134 countries covered by the Global Gender Gap Index, even though it has closed 93% of the health gender gap, 84% of the education gap, 41% of the economic participation gap and 27% of the political empowerment gender gap.

Only 42% of births in the country are supervised by health professionals. Close to 300 Indian women die every day during childbirth or of pregnancy-related causes. India also has among the worst sex ratios at birth in the world, ranking 131st on this variable. While the “normal” sex ratio at birth is considered to be 1.06 boys for every girl that is born, in India this average is 1.12 boys for every girl.

The infant mortality rate for boys and girls is 56 and 61, respectively, out of 1,000 live births.

India’s performance on girls’ education variables remains weak. In the educational attainment subindex, India ranks 121st. The literacy rate for women (53%) is still only two-thirds that of men (76%). Close to 245 million Indian women lack the basic capability to read and write. Current gaps on primary, secondary and tertiary enrolment rates place India in 113th, 123rd and 103rd positions, respectively. Almost twice as many girls as boys are pulled out of school or never sent to school.

In the economic participation and opportunity subindex, India holds 127th position, having closed a little over 41% of the gender gap in this category

Women’s labour force participation, at 36%, is less than half of the labour force participation rate of men (85%). Women’s estimated earned annual income (US$ 1,185) is less than a third of men’s income (US$ 3,698). However, the perceived gap in wages for similar work is a little narrower, with women’s incomes perceived to be roughly two-thirds of men’s incomes. Finally, women make up only 3% of legislator, senior official and managerial positions.

Women, as half of the human capital of India, will need to be more efficiently integrated into the economy in order to boost India’s long-term competitive potential. In order to achieve this integration, Indian companies will need to set targets, improve policies to close salary gaps and promote work-life balance.



Gender gap: India ranks a poor 114th!, 9 November, 2009,


Global Gender Gap Report 2009,

WEF Report: Gender Gap in India Still Gaping by Saabira Chaudhuri, October 29, 2009,

India at bottom in man-woman equality index, 10 November 2009,

India Gender Profile by by Gautam Bhan (2001), Report commissioned for Sida,

India ranks 113th on Gender Gap Index, 25 November 2008,

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