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Global Gender Gap Report 2024: India's Perpetual Decline and Regression

India owes its fall in gender parity in 2024 to declines in educational attainment and political empowerment.

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As per the Global Gender Gap Report 2024, India ranks third-to-last in South and Southeast Asia, ahead of only Pakistan and the Maldives. The report finds that India has closed 64.1 percent of its Gender Gap, which is a regression of 0.17 percentage points compared to last year.

This fall resulted due to declines in political empowerment and education attainment in the country, while economic participation and opportunities for women only saw marginal improvement.

As of 2024, India has a higher female labour force participation rate (FLFPR) than other South Asian countries, with the exception of Bhutan.

However, at 35.09 percent, the FLFPR is much lower than the Southeast Asian countries, whose average FLFPR is 59.14 percent. India’s economic opportunity landscape for women continues to suffer from a gender-imbalanced growth story.  
India owes its fall in gender parity in 2024 to declines in educational attainment and political empowerment.

Figure 1: FLFPR Global Gender Gap Report 2024.

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The increase in the labour force participation rate in India, vis-à-vis other South Asian countries, is a recent phenomenon. As of 2022, India's FLFPR was the lowest in the region. This increase in labour force participation in the last two years resulted from the increased involvement of women in the labour force in rural areas. This increase has been in the primary sector for self-employed women (CEDA 2023). 

If the rise in FLFPR in the last two years was directed towards stable salaried employment and sectors other than primary, this would be a welcome change. But this increase might be indicative of increases in disguised unemployment (as higher employment has been observed in self-employed and casually employed categories).

Also, see how India’s disjointed labour market has seen a worsening trend in both identity-based and formal-informal-based divides over the last few months. Moreover, India continues to have a significant wage gap compared to other South and Southeast Asian countries, more minor only compared to Pakistan and Bangladesh.  

India owes its fall in gender parity in 2024 to declines in educational attainment and political empowerment.

Figure 2: Global Gender Gap Report 2024.

As argued earlier, the political system sees ‘women as part of an electoral focus group for maximising votes (during election seasons) while handing over basic entitlement-based transfers (particularly in rural areas).

There is hardly any focus on a coherent strategy for enhancing women's empowerment through jobs, training, and capacity-building efforts that ensure a better economic opportunity platform for those seeking secured and organised employment. The numbers from the Gender Gap Report add more to this dismal performance tale for India in relative comparison to other developing nations (within and outside the region). 

India owes its fall in gender parity in 2024 to declines in educational attainment and political empowerment.

Figure 3: FLFPR Global Gender Gap Report 2022.

As stated above, India owes its fall in gender parity in 2024 to declines in educational attainment and political empowerment. On education, recent ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) reports have been complimentary to support this claim that is intersectionally validated (see here). Our Access Inequality report provides a state-wise picture in this regard, under the ‘Access to Education’ pillar.

In the latter of those categories, Bangladesh has the highest ranking in South Asia (99th out of 146). Bangladesh has been credited with closing 68.9 percent of its gender gap, whereas India has closed 64.1 percent. Bangladesh and India rank similarly in education at 94 percent and 96.4 percent respectively, and in health and survival at 96.2 percent and 95.1 percent.

The widest gap between the two countries is in political empowerment.

India has closed only 25 percent of the gender gap, and Bangladesh is credited with closing 54.3 percent of the gap in political empowerment. The only category where Bangladesh's gender parity ranks worse than India's is in economic participation and opportunities, where India has closed 39.8 percent of the gender gap while Bangladesh has only closed 31.2 percent.

Even compared to other countries in South Asia, as of 2022, barring Sri Lanka, India had the lowest representation of women in parliament (World Bank 2024).

As seen in Figure 4, though this number had been rising with every election, it fell to 13 percent after India's 2024 parliamentary elections.

India owes its fall in gender parity in 2024 to declines in educational attainment and political empowerment.

Figure 4: India's Participation of Women in Parliament (in %).

(Global Gender Gap Report 2024/ CNES-Swabhimaan) 

India owes its fall in gender parity in 2024 to declines in educational attainment and political empowerment.

Figure 4: India's Participation of Women in Parliament (in %) compared to other countries. 

(Global Gender Gap Report 2024/ CNES-Swabhimaan) 

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As per a recent report in the Indian Express, the 18th Lok Sabha will have 74 women along with 469 men. While this cohort of 74 certainly includes many powerful, gritty, and diligent elected representatives, together, they comprise only 13.6 percent of all MPs (largely because most political parties had not given proportional representation to women across regions in contesting seats). 

Not only is the subsequent win percentage share abysmally skewed, but it’s also lower than the share of women elected in the 2019 election (14.4 percent). Even as women remained central to poll promises, and mere months after the historic Women’s Reservation Bill was passed, they remain on the margins of politics, the report added. The intersectional evidence on women belonging to lower classes and caste-based identity groupings in the representation space across regions is even more problematic. 

Although parliaments continue to be dominated by men in most parts of the world, India lags further behind most of its peers. “For instance, in 2023, 52 countries around the world held parliamentary elections — on average, 27.6 percent women were elected, data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) shows,” according to the aforementioned Indian Express report.

In fact, globally, women comprise 26.9 percent of all MPs currently. Before the election of the 18th Lok Sabha, India ranked 143rd among the 185 countries on this metric, as per IPU data. With this dip in women’s representation, the ranking is likely to fall further by five or six positions.

More importantly, India’s current challenges of (real) wage stagnation, increasing rural distress, and higher unemployment-underemployment is preventing the economy from growing in the future. Addressing this not only depends on channelising investments in financially productive areas but also increasing time-endowment for women to participate in more secure, ‘paid’ work opportunities while ensuring upward economic and social mobility over a sustained period of time. 

From a policy perspective, this requires a focused approach towards three channels (as discussed years ago here):

  • Increasing income elasticity through alternative growth opportunities for women (across sectors)

  • Investing in creating a robust care infrastructure for children and the elderly (to help women increase their work time endowment)

  • Ensuring legally enforced rights to women in property ownership and incentives for asset-based investments

In rural areas, creating greater social awareness on issues surfacing from the lack of attention given to the care economy and the disproportionate care work performed by women in households can go a long way in allowing women to enter ‘paid’ work outside the household and gain greater agency for their own well being. 

(This article has been written in support of CNES-Swabhimaan’s work. To review its website see here. Deepanshu Mohan is Professor of Economics, Dean, IDEAS, Office of Inter-Disciplinary Studies, and Director, Centre for New Economics Studies (CNES), OP Jindal Global University. He is a Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics, and a 2024 Fall Academic Visitor to the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Oxford. Shreeya Bhayana is a Senior Research Analyst with CNES-Swabhimaan and a graduate alumnus of Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities.)

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