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Bridging the gender gap

Bridging the gender gap

It is quite encouraging that Bangladesh's ranking in global gender gap index has risen to 50th in 2020 from that of 91st in 2006 - the first year of publishing the Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum (WEF). The index is measured based on the extent of gender-based disparities in four key dimensions or sub-indexes across the world, viz. economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.  The latest report incorporates survey findings on gender disparity and gaps in as many as 153 countries of the world.

The WEF report has found that there still remains an average gender gap of 31.4 per cent globally, i.e. gender parity worldwide currently stands at 68.6 per cent. Among the sub-indexes, political empowerment showed the largest disparity, as only 24.7 per cent of this gap has been bridged till 2020. It is followed by the economic participation and opportunity sub-index, where the gap stands at 57.8 per cent. Only 25 per cent of the global parliamentary seats are now occupied by women and the proportion of female ministers is only 21 per cent. On the other hand, merely 36 per cent of senior private sector managers and public sector officials are women globally. With regard to participation in the labour market, 55 per cent of adult women are in the labour market as opposed to 78 per cent for men. Besides, there is a wage gap of 40 per cent and an income gap of over 50 per cent between men and women. Women also face significant disparity in accessing credit, land and financial products, which put them at a disadvantage in the economic sphere.

The gap in educational attainment sub-index globally is however comparatively small. But although gender parity in education has been achieved in 36 countries, some developing countries are yet to bridge over 20 per cent of this gender gap. Women's skills are not always in conformity with those required for succeeding in future professions, and they face barriers to employment even in the most dynamic occupations having greater demands. There are also certain occupations where females are under-utilised despite having the required skills. If prevailing barriers could be addressed, then they could make further contributions to many of these jobs, including some high-tech and managerial ones. The gender gap in the fourth sub-index related to health and survival has remained almost unchanged since last year, with 40 countries having achieved gender parity in this area. 

Based on the current trends, the WEF estimates that the gender gaps will be eliminated in 99.5 years on an average in the 107 countries covered continuously by this report since 2006. Lack of sufficient progress in bridging the economic participation and opportunity gap has been identified as the main contributing factor to this time-lag, followed by political empowerment. Iceland has topped the global gender gap ranking for the eleventh time in a row this year, followed by Norway, Finland, Sweden, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Ireland and Spain. Among the regions, the Middle East & North Africa are the worst performers, followed by South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Notable improvement in the ranking for political empowerment has led to Bangladesh's rise in overall ranking, as the rankings in other three dimensions appear to have gone down over the years. The most satisfactory aspect of the global gender gap ranking for Bangladesh is that it has topped the list among the South Asian countries, with Nepal, Sri Lanka and India occupying 101st, 102nd and 112th positions, and Maldives, Bhutan and Pakistan getting 123rd, 131st and 151st slots respectively. Bangladesh has a score of 0.726, with score of 1.00 signifying perfect gender parity.  

Noticeably, Bangladesh has been ranked seventh in the globe in terms of political empowerment as it boasts of a world-record for political rule by female heads of government in any country during the past 50 years. However, the country has been ranked 86th in the sub-sub-index of parliamentary participation and 124th with regard to cabinet portfolios. The ranking of Bangladesh in educational attainment has surprisingly slipped to 120th, although Bangladesh topped the ranking in gender parity at the primary and secondary level enrolments. Visible social discriminations against women in colleges and universities have led to the worsening of this sub-index ranking.

The most remarkable achievement for Bangladesh in the global gender gap index is topping the list in 4 sub-sub-indices out of a total 14. These are: enrolment in primary education; enrolment in secondary education; sex ratio at birth; and years with female heads of government. In the dimension of economic participation and opportunity, Bangladesh has been ranked 141st owing to various impediments to women's involvement in the business and manufacturing sectors. However, Bangladesh ranked 98th in terms of parity in wages and 134th with regard to professional and technical workers. Bangladesh's ranking in the health and survival sub-index has been boosted by its top ranking in the sex-ratio at birth criterion, although the country has been ranked 129th in the area of healthy life expectancy.

Some observers however opine that gender disparity has in fact exacerbated in Bangladesh as the country's ranking in three out of four WEF sub-indexes have deteriorated over the years. Besides, the overall score has also declined compared to 2006. This may be attributed to the challenges faced by women in the field of economic participation and opportunity, disparities in educational attainment at college and university levels, and the neglect women experience in the area of health and survival.

The younger generation in our society mostly hold progressive views on gender equality, and a timeline of one hundred years for achieving parity cannot be acceptable to them. There is, therefore, an urgent need now for effective measures and actions, as it will not be possible to exploit the full potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, catapult greater shared prosperity for growing economies, and achieve the UN-declared Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) without equal and equitable role by our womenfolk - who account for half the world's talents and population.

Significantly, recent studies on labour market segregation along gender lines show such segregation not only contributes to lower innovation levels in professions that lack gender diversity, but also has a compounding effect on gender pay gaps. Therefore, promoting gender parity in the professions of the future would provide an opportunity to steer emerging labour markets to more equitable outcomes in the future of work. Business firms should therefore leverage gender diversity and invest in the workers' talents through up-skilling and re-skilling initiatives. The governments should adopt policies that foster talent development, deployment and integration opportunities for both genders, help diversify the leadership pool and extend support to families and caregivers in both ageing and youthful societies. The businesses and governments should also work together for devising new action-oriented socio-economic narratives in order to expedite the process of gender-wide improvement and transformation.                     


Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed is a retired Additional Secretary of GoB and former Editor of Bangladesh Quarterly.

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