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Pandemic widens gender gap; need 135.6 years to close: Study

Pandemic widens gender gap; need 135.6 years to close: Study

The Covid-19 pandemic added decades to the estimated time of closing the gender gap globally, says the annual Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum. The pandemic and ensued lockdown widened the gender gap further so that the estimated period to close it shot up from 99.5 years in the 2020 report to 135.6 years in the current report.

Women's sectors worse hit by Covid

"Preliminary evidence suggests that the health emergency and the related economic downturn have impacted women more severely than men, partially re-opening gaps that had already been closed," the report reads.

"Pre-existing gender gaps have amplified the crisis asymmetrically between men and women, even as women have been at the frontlines of managing the crisis as essential workers," said Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director and Head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society. "Combined with the additional pressures of providing care in the home, the crisis has halted progress toward gender parity in several economies and industries." She also added that lockdown and rapid digitalisation hit those sectors hard where women are more frequently employed.

The Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI), conceived in 2006, benchmarks the evolution of the gender gap in Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, Political Empowerment. The Index tracks progress made towards closing the gap on these fronts over time. The current report subjected 156 countries and provided the most effective policies needed to bridge the gender gaps.

The gap in Political Empowerment gapes

The gender gap closed at 22% in political empowerment and became the largest of the four tracked by the study. The gap widened when compared to the 2020 report by 2.4%. Women represent only 26.1% of some 35,500 parliament seats across the subjected nations and 22.6% of over 3,400 ministers globally. As of 15th January 2021, 81 countries were never headed by a woman. Even though there are more women in parliaments and two countries elected females as their prime minister, the negative trends in some larger countries counterbalanced the net progress after the 2020 report. With the current progress, the world needs 145.5 years to close the gender gap in political empowerment.

Economic Participation and Opportunity runs second

The 2021 report states that the gender gap has been closed by 58% in Economic Participation and Opportunity; it bears the second-largest gap out of the four. Though it found marginal improvement than the last report, another 267.6 years is estimated to close this gap. This gap's closure is prolonged due to two opposing trends: increasing skilled female professionals and a persistent lack of hiring women in leadership positions. The report added that women covered only 27% of manager positions. It also says that the 2021 edition may not wholly reflect the pandemic's impact, and the gap may thus be 1% to 4% wider than reported.

The report collected data from ILO and LinkedIn, which showed 5% of all employed women lost their jobs compared to 3.9% of employed men during the pandemic. Also, a decline of women's hiring into leadership roles brought a reversal of 1 to 2 years of progress across multiple industries. The report believes that the pandemic would impart a "scarring effect" on women's future economic opportunities, which ends in a persistent drop in income.

Education and Health fares better

With 37 countries already at parity, 95% of the gender gap has been closed in Educational Attainment. The index estimates that in 14.2 years, the gap will be closed entirely with its current progress.

In Health and Survival, 96% of the gap is closed. But there was a marginal decline since the last report, and it is not due to COVID-19, the report reads. The estimate for closing the remaining gap is undefined. The report also adds that though both health and education have higher progress in all the four, "there are important future implications of disruptions due to the pandemic, as well as continued variations in quality across income, geography, race and ethnicity."

India ranks 140th; Worse than neighbouring countries

India is ranked at 140 out of 156 countries in the GGGI index, lower than neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Srilanka, China, Maldives, Bhutan and Myanmar. In GGGI 2020, India was ranked at 112 but slipped this year, scoring a -28. Iceland was ranked first for the 12th time.

On regional-based analysis, South Asia ranked last. By the current trends, South Asia will close the gender gap in 195.4 years while Western Europe, ranked first, needs 52.1 years.

The report underscored the need for gender-sensitive recovery strategies to prevent "long-term scarring in the labour market." The report also reiterated the need for more resilient, gender-equal economies to withstand pandemics, economies that advance women's rise to leadership and redeploy gender parity into the future.

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