India could boost its GDP by $770 billion by just treating women better

Slow progress.
Slow progress.
Image: Reuters/Danish Ismail
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India, the world’s fastest-growing major economy, could do a lot better if only it treated its women better.

The country could add up to $770 billion—more than 18%—to its GDP by 2025, simply by giving equal opportunities to women, according to an April 23 report by the McKinsey Global Institute.

McKinsey estimates that a higher participation of women in the workforce, raising the number of hours spent by them on the job, and including them in higher-productivity sectors will help spur such economic growth.

As women’s contribution to the country’s GDP is currently just 18%, one of the world’s lowest, with only 25% of India’s labour force being female, India’s economy also has the second-largest potential in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region from improving gender parity, the report said.

The APAC region itself could add $4.5 trillion to its collective GDP annually in 2025 if such a course is followed, the McKinsey Institute noted.

Chronic bias

Indian women don’t enjoy the same rights and privileges as men. Strong preference for the male child has anyway blighted the country’s gender ratio and squeezed resources available for the girl child. As pointed out by the government’s latest economic survey, there are 21 million “unwanted women” in the country today.

“Cultural norms still militate against equality,” the McKinsey report said.

This is manifested in the country’s performance on four key parameters: equal work opportunities, access to services, physical safety, and legal and political representation. India ranks amongst the lowest in a list of 18 from the APAC region on these four criteria.

“(India) has a considerable way to travel to match the best performance in the region on female-to-male labour-force participation rate, maternal mortality, financial and digital inclusion, sex ratio at birth, and violence against women,” the report said.

And it’s not just about jobs: India’s women could benefit from better quality of work, too.

McKinsey’s research suggests that 97% of all female workers in India are active in the informal sector, engaged in low-paying activities and domestic work. “Improving the quality of work and its remuneration and enhancing the well-being of such women are an urgent priority,” the report noted.

But there is some good news.

Over the last decade, India has shown considerable improvement in achieving gender equality in areas such as education and maternity care. “India is somewhat ahead of its closest neighbours, Bangladesh and Pakistan, on the path to gender parity, but behind the Asia-Pacific average on gender equality in both work and society,” the report said.