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The state of global gender parity

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The World Economic Forum (WEF), based in Switzerland, has not only been convening economic summit attended by global political leaders, business executives and social activists, but also produces reports on important socio-economic issues from time to time based on its research and survey. One such research-based report is the Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI) prepared since 2006. It is the longest standing index which tracks the progress towards bridging the gender gap worldwide. The Index benchmarks the current state and evolution of gender parity across four key dimensions: (a) economic participation and opportunity; (b) educational attainment; (c) health and survival; and (d) political empowerment.

The 2022 GGG Index benchmarks 146 countries, providing a basis for robust cross- country analysis. Of these, a sub-set of 102 countries  have been represented in every edition of the Index since its inception in 2006, providing a long constant sample for time series analysis. The GGG Index measures scores on a 0 to 10 scale and the scores can be interpreted as the distance covered towards gender parity i.e. the percentage of the gender gap that has been closed. The cross-country comparisons can help policy makers to identify the most effective policy measures to attain gender parity by closing the existing gap.

Key findings in the 2022 Global Gender Gap Report includes the index results, trend analysis of the trajectory towards parity and data through new matrices. The report finds that global gender gap has been closed by 68 per cent. But the rate at which the gap is being closed indicates that it will take 130 years to reach full gender parity. This being the average, it means some countries will reach parity well before 130 years while others will take longer. The average figure of 130 years, however, represents a four-year improvement compared to the 2021 estimate (134 years to gain parity).But the progress achieved does not compensate for the generational loss that occurred between 2020 and 2021 .According to trends leading up to 2020,the gender gap was set to close within 100 years.

Across the 146 countries covered by the GGG Index, the health and survival gap has closed by 95.8 percent; the educational attainment gap by 94. 4 per cent; economic participation and opportunity by 60.3 per cent and political empowerment by 22 per cent.

Although no country has reached full gender parity, the top 10 countries have closed at least 80 per cent of the gender gap, with Iceland, at 90.8 per cent, leading the global ranking (1st). Other Scandinavian countries such as Sweden (82.2 per cent), Norway (84.5 per cent), Finland (86 per cent) feature in the top five countries with south European countries such as Ireland (80.5 per cent) and Germany (80.1 per cent) in 9th and 10th positions. The other countries in top ten are: New Zealand ( 4th), Rawanda  (6th), Nicaragua (7th), and Namibia (8th).

What does the GGG Index say about progress under the four sub- index mentioned above? Based on the evolution of the average scores for each sub-index over the past 16  editions of the Report for the constant sample of 102 countries, the Index indicates that at the current rate of progress towards parity it will take 151 years to close the economic participation and opportunity gap,122 years for the educational attainment  gender gap and 155 years for the political empowerment gender gap.  According to the WEF Report,t he time to close the health and survival gender gap remains unidentified and its progress to parity has stalled.

During the 16 year period since 2006, each sub- index has shown different trends. Economic participation and opportunity  had one period of increasing parity, between 2006 and 2013 and one long period of negative evolution after 2013  until 2017.The educational attainment  sub-index also improved steadily towards parity with  marked changes in 2008 and 2015.The health an survival sub-index has varied only slightly over time, reaching the lowest point in 2018 and recovering marginally since then. The political empowerment sub-index registered significant advances towards parity between 2006 and 2016, fluctuating until 2020 after which it stalled below its 2019 peak.

Among the eight regions covered in the WEF Report, South Asia ranks the lowest, with only 62.3 per cent of the gender gap closed in 2022.This lack of progress since the last edition extends the wait to close the gender gap to 197 years for the region. South Asia as whole is in a broad stagnation in closing gender parity. However, Bangladesh can have some satisfaction as having been sown in leading the region, along with Nepal, with over 69 per cent of gender gap closed. Needless to say,  this average figure conceals differences of experiences  of various  socio- economic groups under each sub- index .

The distribution of country scores across each sub- index offer a more detailed picture of the  major challenges  to gender parity in 2022. Overall, this year's results show that performances of countries are widely dispersed across the gender gap  index. Most countries are clustered around  the 2022 average score( 0.681 points)  with two clear outliers, Afghanistan (0.435 points)  which trails behind every country on almost every sub- index and Iceland (0.908 points) which leads global ranking in GGG Index. At a sub- index level, the two dimensions with the least variation since 2006, educational attainment and health and survival, are also where the country scores are highly concentrated.

BANGLADESH: In the 2022 Global Gender Gap Index, Bangladesh ranks 71st among 146 countries covered in the WEF survey. According to the Report, women in Bangladesh experienced decline in overall gender parity, as reflected in a lower gender gap score (0.750) and index ranking (71) compared to 2021.

The Report has concluded that the change is in part due to slightly lower country performance on educational attainment (0.028 decrease in score) sub-index with high concentration of scores near parity. A small drop in the gender gap score for literacy and the absence of recent data on primary education, according to WEF researchers, overshadow a slim increase in gender parity in tertiary education. According to GGG Index Report, Bangladesh reported no change in political empowerment and health and survival indices. On the economic participation and opportunity sub- index there was reduction in both men and women workforce participation, by 3.6 and 5.45 percentage points, respectively. The proportional impact of this decline was higher on women. The Report has noted that the negative impact of this shortfall was compensated by a 5.3 per cent increase in the share of women who are professional and technical workers, as well as a 13 per cent increase in woman' s estimated earned income (compared to men's 11 per cent) that improved gender parity overall.

The inadequacy in the estimate of the gender gap and progress towards parity in Bangladesh in the WEF Report for 2022 is apparent. This can only be attributed to difficulties faced by researchers in collecting data. Same may be the case in respect of other developing countries where data collection and their reliability leave much to be desired. Nevertheless, the World Economic Forum deserves commendation for its regular tracking of the trajectory of gender parity across the world. The findings in the Report, prepared annually, can be of great help to policy makers and international agencies in undertaking policies and programmes to bridge the gender gap and move towards the cherished goal of parity.

This column is concluded by quoting an extract from the WEF Report: "In 2022, amid multi-layered and compounding crises, including the rising cost of living, ongoing pandemic, climate emergency, large-scale conflict and displacement, the progress towards gender parity is stalling. As leaders grapple with other issues, the silent emergency of closing the gender gap is intensifying. Not only are millions of women and girls losing out on access and opportunity at present, this halt in parity is catastrophic for the future of economies, societies and communities. Accelerating parity must be the core part of the private and public agenda.'"

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