World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report shows 134-year wait for parity

Global gender parity stands at 68.5 per cent, and at current rates, full parity is not expected until 2158. India ranks third-lowest in Southern Asia.

Published : Jun 22, 2024 14:00 IST - 6 MINS READ

Globally, women make up only 42 per cent of the workforce and represent just 31.7 per cent of senior leadership positions.

Globally, women make up only 42 per cent of the workforce and represent just 31.7 per cent of senior leadership positions. | Photo Credit: iStockphoto

The Global Gender Gap Report 2024, released by the World Economic Forum, presents a dire picture of the current state and evolution of gender parity across four indices: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. It would take 134 years, that is, till 2158, to reach full gender parity, says the report, which translates into five generations beyond the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target. The global gender gap score, interpreted as the percentage of the gender gap that has been closed, stands at 68.5 per cent for 2024, improving by a mere 0.1 percentage point from last year. Notably, 97 per cent of the world’s economies have closed more than 60 per cent of the gender gap, a significant increase from 85 per cent in 2006.

Of the sample of 146 countries, 50.1 per cent of economies reported increases in their score across the board; 6.1 per cent showed no change in score, and 43.8 per cent reported negative score changes. Of the global top 10, seven ranks are occupied by European economies, with the remaining three spots occupied by New Zealand (rank 4), Nicaragua (rank 6), and Namibia (rank 8). Although no country has achieved full gender parity, the top nine countries (Iceland, Finland, Norway, New Zealand, Sweden, Nicaragua, Germany, Namibia and Ireland) have closed up to 80 per cent of their gap. Iceland remains at the top, having closed 93.4 per cent of its gender gap, leading the index for over a decade and a half. It remains the only economy in the index to have closed over 90 per cent of its gap.

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In its assessment of the four indices, the Global Gender Gap Report reveals that the global health and survival gender gap has been bridged by 96 per cent, the educational attainment gap by 94.9 per cent, the economic participation gap by 60.5 per cent, and the political empowerment gap by 22.5 per cent. Although these numbers reflect significant progress, achieving gender equality will still take considerable work, particularly in political empowerment where the gap is the widest.

There are, however, some areas of progress. The economic participation and opportunity parameter, which is based on gender gaps in labour force participation, share in managerial positions, wage gaps, and wage parity, reached its highest gender parity score to date at 60.5 per cent. The sub-index of economic participation remains the second largest gap to bridge globally, after the gap in political empowerment. In 2024, 94 countries (64.4 per cent of the sample) registered an increase in this indicator, including 10 of the 15 most populous economies. Bangladesh reported the lowest score (31.1 per cent) on this subindex, while Liberia had the highest (87.4 per cent). India has the fourth lowest level of economic participation parity at 39.8 per cent, with less than 30 per cent gender parity in estimated earned income and under 50 per cent parity in labour force participation rate.

The political empowerment subindex, with a score of 22.8 per cent, shows virtually no progress since last year. This component peaked at 25.2 per cent in 2019 but has been on a declining trajectory since 2021. This decline is partly due to the diminishing tenures of women as heads of state over the past 50 years. On the other hand, the share of women in Parliamentary positions shows an almost uninterrupted positive trajectory since 2006.

Enter India

Southern Asia ranks seventh among eight global regions, with a gender parity score of 63.7 per cent, an improvement of 3.9 percentage points since 2006. However, six out of the seven economies in this region, including India, are ranked below the top 100. Only Bangladesh, for the first time in the region, has achieved a double-digit rank of 99.

India’s performance within Southern Asia is particularly concerning. India closed 64.1 per cent of its gender gap in 2024, ranking the third lowest in the region, only ahead of Maldives and Pakistan. Despite doing relatively well in the political empowerment parameter (65th) as compared to the other three indices, India’s overall rank is 129th, marginally lower than last year (127). This decline is attributed to reductions in educational attainment and political empowerment, although there has been a slight improvement in economic participation and opportunity.

The representation of women in India’s political sphere remains notably low. In the newly formed council of ministers, only seven are women, with only two holding cabinet roles. In comparison, the previous council, dissolved on June 5, had ten women ministers. Further, according to the report, women hold only 6.9 per cent of ministerial positions and 17.2 per cent of Parliamentary seats. Despite being among the top 10 globally for the head of state indicator (40.7 per cent), the overall political empowerment of women in India is lacking.

Educational attainment in India also shows significant gender gaps. The country ranks 112th in this parameter, with a notable disparity in literacy rates between men and women. The economic participation and opportunity for women in India has seen some improvement, although it has not reached the 2012 peak of 46 per cent economic parity since. Achieving this requires bridging gender gaps in estimated earned income (28.6 per cent); legislative, and management roles (14.4 per cent); labour force participation rate (45.9 per cent); and professional and technical workers (49.4 per cent).

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Globally, women make up only 42 per cent of the global workforce and represent just 31.7 per cent of senior leadership positions. Among well-populated and major economies such as India, Brazil and the US, the representation of women in government leadership positions remains a key area of concern. Although gender parity in global Parliamentary representation touched a record high of 33 per cent in 2024, nearly doubling since 2006, South Asia still lags behind, with only Nepal (49.9 per cent) surpassing the global average.

According to the report, professional networks play a crucial role in advancing gender parity in the workforce. Men, with typically larger and stronger networks than women, are able to draw benefits for increased career progression and more recruiter outreach. Equitable care systems also show significant gaps, with varying formal protections and provisions for parental leave across regions. The average number of maternity leave days has increased from 63 to 107 in the past 50 years, and paternity leave days from less than a day to nine days.

Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director of the World Economic Forum, called on businesses and civil society to collaborate to make gender parity an economic imperative by providing women with free access to resources, opportunities and decision-making positions.

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