Political Empowerment - A Misleading Indicator Of Women’s Progress

Part 1 of a Series: Let Her Live… And Study And Contribute! by Sangeeta Robinson

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Political Empowerment - A Misleading Indicator Of Women’s Progress

In most countries of the Indian sub-continent, there is a critical need to look at gender disparity and inequality with greater granularity instead of what meets the eye. If we are to hope for overall development in this part of the world, we need to relook at the social eco-system with a high-powered gender-lens to be able to see well below the surface and analyse the actual problems and thereby, find a solution that works! It is impossible to even fathom the idea of growth and development if one-half of our population is oppressed, dominated and deprived of their basic rights like education and a chance for survival, a health life and livelihood opportunities.

It may be noted that in 2006, when the first Gender Gap Report came out, the total number of countries it covered was 115; in 2011 there were 135 and in 2015 there are 145 (There are still 51 countries that are most featured here out of a total of 196 -including Taiwan).

For the purpose of analysis and to establish reasons for trends in scores, I studied the reports of the last 10 years. The table below shows a snapshot of overall ranking of these countries from 2006 to 2015 (rank 1 being the best). Afghanistan is among the countries that have never been surveyed till date; Bhutan* first got surveyed in 2013 and Maldives in 2007.

gender data

In the overall ranking, we see that smaller countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are doing far better than India. Pakistan’s performance has been consistently the worst and has been slipping, so much so, that in 2015 it is at rank 144 out of 145 countries. India has been improving gradually but should be doing much better, considering it is a G20 nation. Maldives, is doing well on critical parameters, although it has fallen last year. Nepal is making slow and steady progress and so is Bhutan.

When analysing each country, we note that in case of India, our performance has gone down on 3 of the 4 parameters except Political empowerment, in which case we seem to be doing wonderfully. However, we also realise that there is a huge gap between Political Empowerment and the other 3 parameters; which makes it clear that this is having no impact whatsoever, on making women a more empowered lot in this country. While it should translate into progress on the other parameters for women, it has not done so in India’s case. What is most shocking is our performance on Health and Survival, on which we have never done better than being the last 3 since 2007; where even Pakistan is better than us.

Pakistan has deteriorated on Political Empowerment, and has been almost the same on the rest of the parameters. There has not been much progress on this front and there’s no significant story to tell.

Bangladesh is one of the few MDG success stories and definitely the biggest in the developing world.

Sri Lanka has been doing brilliantly on health and survival all through, and the other countries in the region need to see what it is that they are doing that is right and where have the others, especially India and Pakistan gone so wrong. I keep stressing on Health and Survival because in the region we are referring to, even to exist seems to be a challenge.

The Bhutan story is interesting; they are the worst on Political Empowerment, but best on Economic Participation. It is a hopeful situation as Economic Participation of women have a higher likelihood of impacting education and health and survival, rather than what Political Empowerment.

Nepal is the best on Political Empowerment and worst on Education Attainment; although we have seen improvement on health and survival; the rest is similar to the India Story. gender data 1

Conclusion: Political Empowerment has not demonstrated that it is an effective enabler to improve the Gender Gap; the only enabler that has the potential to work is education; Health and Survival and Economic Participation are the lead and lag indicators of empowerment. Hence the central pillar for improved levels of women empowerment rests on education attainment.

Corporate participation can play a critical role in addressing the issue of health and survival, high drop-out rate among girls in higher education and at the work place at various stages. The Tata Group recently announced a slew of women-friendly policies like extended maternity leave and extended flexibility post maternity among others. While these are a huge leap in the positive direction, I feel we need something more; and that is an eco-system that encourages and supports women to go out and work or stay at home and contribute beyond the home. There are various stages at which this is required and I will elaborate this in subsequent articles.

Sangeeta RobinsonFounder & CEO of Enduring Value Advisory & Practice LLP, Sangeeta Robinson has been in the Business Responsibility Advisory space since 2013. Prior to this, she led Sustainability in Tata Teleservices and Tata Power DDL and also led Marketing Communications at IBM India, Tata Tele, Tata Power DDL, Cummins and LML. With over 22 years of experience, she has spent more than 8 years leading, devising and implementing innovative and sustainable, value-creation strategies for the organisations she has worked for and client organisations. Sangeeta is a CII-certified Sustainability Excellence Assessor, an IOD-Certified Independent Corporate Director and certified by GRI to report as per G4 Guidelines.