Women are still missing from India’s workforce

One foot forward, two steps backward.
One foot forward, two steps backward.
Image: AP Photo/Yirmiyan Arthur
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

It’s 2015—and women’s participation in India’s workforce still continues to be shockingly low.

Asia’s third largest economy ranked 139 out of 145 countries on the economic participation and opportunity index in a new report on gender by the World Economic Forum (WEF). That’s five spots below its ranking in 2014 when it stood 134 out of 142 countries. It is also the lowest score since 2006 when the first edition of the report was published.

The study—called the Global Gender Gap Report 2015—found that India’s score on economic equality is a dismal 0.383, where 0 stands for inequality and 1 represents perfect equality. ”Economic participation and opportunity (in India) has declined due to a decrease in wage equality for similar work and less female labour force participation,” the report said.

India’s female to male ratio in their estimated earned income is 0.25—i.e. a female worker earns one-fourth of her male counterpart.

Earlier in September, a research report by the McKinsey Global Institute, the business and economics research unit of McKinsey & Co, noted that India’s skewed female participation in the workforce was hurting the economy.

Currently, women contribute only about 17% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). ”Bridging the gender gap will have a huge economic impact and could add Rs46 lakh crore ($700 billion) to India’s GDP in 2025,” the McKinsey report added.

According to the WEF report, however, the country’s overall ranking—based on an average of its performance on economic, political, education and health categories—improved from last year. Out of 145 countries, it ranked 108—a jump of six places from 2014 when it stood at 114 out of 142 countries.

Iceland topped the global index, followed by Norway and Finland. The US ranked 28th, while China was placed 91st. Syria, Pakistan and Yemen were the last three countries on the list.

Political empowerment

A stronger representation of women in political leadership is actually the only reason for India’s improved overall global ranking. In the last year, the number of women in ministerial positions has more than doubled—from 9% to 22%.

India stood ninth out of the 145 countries, with a score of 0.433. Last year, India was ranked 15th.

But the ranking on this particular index only takes into account the ratio of women to men in minister-level positions, parliamentary positions, and the number of years a male or female has spent as prime minister or president in the last 50 years.

“A clear drawback in this category is the absence of any indicators capturing differences between the participation of women and men at local levels of government,” the report said.

Health and education

India’s performance on the health index is also dismal. In 2015, it ranked third-lowest in the world at 143 out of 145 countries, only ahead of China and Armenia. Last year, India ranked 141, above only Armenia, on the health index.

In the last decade, according to the report, India has emerged as “the world’s least improved country” on the health index.

In educational attainment, India ranks 125, with a score of 0.896, compared to 126 last year. The country’s female to male ratio for literacy rate is 0.75. In 2014, India’s literacy rate was 0.68.