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Higher gender inequality in India than Pakistan, Bangladesh

New Delhi: India lags way behind Pakistan and Bangladesh in the 2014 Gender Inequality Index (GII), with a rank of 130 out of 155 countries, according to the latest Human Development Report (HDR) 2015 by the United National Development Programme.

While Bangladesh and Pakistan respectively hold a rank of 111 and 121, among South Asian countries, India is at a better position only compared to Afghanistan, which is at 152.

The GII takes into account the inequalities seen in gender-specific areas such as, women empowerment measured through the number of parliamentary seats occupied by women and women’s education level; reproductive health of women measured by adolescent birth rates and maternal mortality ratio.; and economic contribution measured by the rate of labour market participation.

India has fallen behind its neighbors with respect to almost each of these parameters.

  • Indian women hold merely 12.2 per cent of parliamentary seats, while the percentage is 19.7 in Pakistan and 20 in Bangladesh.

  • For every 100,000 live births, 190 mothers die in India. The country has a high maternal mortality rate compared to both Bangladesh and Pakistan, where there are 170 pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 births.

  • At 34 per cent women receiving secondary education, Bangladesh is far more developed than India, which is at 27 per cent.

  • Bangladesh has 57 per cent women participating in its labour force, while India has just 27 per cent.

India’s performance, according to the above indices, is even lower than the South Asian average. It is just in the sector of adolescent birth rate that India’s figures are better than Bangladesh and over the South Asian average, though Pakistan marginally out-performs it.

The adolescent birth rate refers to the number of births per 1000 women aged between 15 and 19 years. A lower rate is indicative of a female population who marries and conceives late, thus showing their control over their own choices.

In the last couple of years, improvements in maternal mortality rate and women’s representation in parliaments have slightly pushed up India’s GII values from 0.61 to 0.563, said UNDP officials. Other indicators however remained stagnant during this time.

A global drop was documented by the HDR 2015 in the female labour force participation rate, which refers to the working age female population in paid employment or looking for paid work. “This is mainly owing to the steep reduction for India, from 35 per cent women in 1990 to 27 per cent in 2013, and China from 73 per cent to 64 per cent in the same period,” said UNDP resident representative in India, Yuri Afanasiev.

National coordinator of Self-Employed Women’s Association, Renana Jhabvala stated that women’s workforce participation is missed by government surveys many a time due to the fact that they are virtually invisible.

“For instance, these surveys fail to capture details on large number of women in agriculture since land is in the name of the man. Due to this invisibility in official data, such women are often bereft of benefits such loans or seeds which the land-holding men are eligible for. This creates in India what we call a ‘sticky floor’ situation, where a majority of women cannot rise above a certain level of earnings, skills and benefits. It is the opposite of what the West refers to as ‘glass ceiling’,” said Jhabvala.

In case of Human Development Index (HDI), however, India out-performs both Pakistan and Bangladesh. While India ranks 130 out of 188, Pakistan is at 147 and Bangladesh at 142.

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