By Charitha Ratwatte –
Yet, there are issues to be addressed
The World Economic Forum (WEF), which organises the iconic Economic Summit at Davos, Switzerland, annually and other regional economic summits worldwide, has recently published the 2012 Gender Gap Report, for the eighth consecutive year.
The report indicates that in most countries the gender gap decreased slightly in 2012. In the three sectors of Political Participation, Education and Health and Economic Equality, the Nordic countries of Iceland, Finland and Norway come out tops out of 136 nations included in the survey. These countries had closed over 80% of the gender gap, with 100% representing full equality.
Yemen was at the bottom of the list, while in that region, North Africa and the Middle East were the only regions which did not show any improvement. Developing countries of Philippines and Nicaragua were within the top 10 places. Iceland, as the world’s most equal nation, has made a record of winning top place for the fourth consecutive year.
Progress in narrowing the gender gap
Saadia Zahidi says that since she started compiling the WEF’s Gender Gap Report in 2006, 80% of the countries had made progress in narrowing the gender gap. But the disturbing feature is the corollary of that statement – the fact that 20% of countries analysed made no progress at all or are dropping standards of equality between the genders.
This has happened to Sri Lanka too. In 2011 Sri Lanka stood at number 31. In 2012 Sri Lanka ranks at 39th position out of the 135 countries surveyed. In 2010 we were at number 16, which was the same position as in 2009. In the detailed assessment Sri Lanka has come first in Health and Survival. In Political Participation our position is at 22. In Educational Attainment Sri Lanka is at 48. The lowest ranking for Sri Lanka is in Economic Equality – number 106.
Sri Lanka’s decline is probably due to two reasons, other countries making comparative gains in bridging the gender gap and the under-expenditure and low allocations in the national budget for the education and health sectors is the past years.
Perplexing cases of Saudi Arabia and UAE
Zahidi referred to the perplexing cases of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which had invested substantially in education and health services, both generally and specifically for women, but had made no discernible progress in the integration of woman in the economy.
The current news is of a huge dispute between women, the Mullahs and the Saudi Government, of women being allowed to drive vehicles and be employed in lingerie and other shops, which specifically serve women’s needs!
In Yemen, 35% of girls in the age group of six to 14 years are not attending school. In many sub-Saharan countries, though special investments had been made in women’s education and health, purely driven by necessity and need, women play a major role in economic life.
Nordic countries continue to top the table
The Nordic countries continue to top the table due to their long history of investing in human resources overall without discrimination. Countries with small, diminishing populations, due to a low birth rate, ageing rapidly due to this combined with longevity, recognise that human talent must be invested in and that men and women must be given the skills the economy demands. Even when these countries have a large number of migrants, they have to skill these migrant people with the capacity the economy requires.
In Asia the Philippines was the highest ranked Asian country (5th). The Philippines was praised for its success in reducing the gender gap in education. Asia’s powerful economies such as Japan and China performed poorly in the evaluation – Japan at 105th place and China at 69th. India, placed 101st, also did not do well, mainly due to low scores on Education, Health and Economic Participation.
In North and South America, Nicaragua was the best placed, at 10th place, Nicaragua was praised for its strong performance in political empowerment. In the rest of the region the USA was at 23rd position ns Canada at 20th. Both the US and Canada score well on education, they are joint toppers along with several other nations. In politics however, the US scores below Canada. But the US is ahead of its neighbour on economics and health.
In the Caribbean while, Nicaragua topped the list, both Cuba and Ecuador are within the top 25 nations. Heavily populated Brazil holds last year’s position at 62nd position. In Europe, Germany actually dropped down a place, form last year, to 14th place and Britain held its position at 18th.
The WEF’s Gender Gap report discloses that in terms of education, the global gender gap in 93% closed, with 25 countries adjudged to provide equal opportunity and treatment to both boys and girl at school. However on the issue of economic parity, the situation differs: the gender gap has closed by only 60%.
Politics and business
In both developed and developing economies, the position and status of women in positions of economic leadership is limited. There were small gains in the aspect of political leadership, 2% in 2010; only 21% of the gender gap has been closed.
Zahidi of the WEF makes the point that “women make up one half of the human talent available to any economy, any company; if that talent is not integrated, that is going to be a loss for both women and men.”
The World Economic Forum, whose main focus is the business world and related policy has stated in the 2012 Corporate Gender Gap Report, that “women are still failing to break into senior management” in business.
The Daily FT some time ago ran a headline ‘No Place for Women in Lankan Boardrooms’. The editorial the next day, on ‘Women: Undisputed equal partners of progress” highlighted the fact that the performance of Sri Lanka in women’s participation in politics was worst in the region.
Some vote hunters and gatherers complained that women were in the basement of politics and hailed India’s initiative on a constitutional amendment for reservation of slots in Parliament for women. But if they watched how some Indian male politicians behaved in Parliament’s Rajya Sabha to block the amendment, live on TV, it would be a reality check on male attitudes!
Arun Jaitely, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said that it was a historical occasion on two counts; firstly they were enacting the most progressive legislation ever, the Women’s Reservation Bill, and secondly, the behaviour in the House reached a new low! Unruly MPs were ejected by Marshals.
The law reserves a third of all seats in the Indian National Parliament and State Legislatures for women. Rajiv Gandhi when Prime Minister enacted legislation which reserves a third of Panchayats seats for women; this has significantly increased the role of women at that level of government. Sonia Gandhi was the moving force behind the current initiative, it was first proposed in 1996. It is still pending.
Even more depressing is how the male-dominated political parties have dealt with the draft of the statute brought to the Indian Parliament after the horrific gang rape of a woman student in a moving bus. One politician has gone on record that there is no such thing as ‘marital rape’! Another has said that ‘rape’ should be confined to women, for males who are abused it should be merely an unnatural offence! These people are living in the dark ages.
When the bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha, the real attitude of the average male Member of Parliament to their women voters was laid bare. Chauvinistic stories, anecdotes and satire came into play in the debate. Sharad Yadav, Leader of the pro-Government JD (U) from Mumbai, who at one time chaired the Indian Cricket Board and International Cricket Council, confessed: “Who amongst us have not followed girls?”
Admitting to and trivialising the offence of ‘stalking’ was made a crime under the new law. He should be happy that the law does not apply ex post facto, to stalking committed before it was a criminal offence! He went on to express the opinion that after this new law, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013, is enacted, women might not get jobs: “Men would be scared to give jobs to women.”
He cited as evidence the so-called misuse of the Anti Dowry Law in India, which Indian women fought hard to get enacted to protect young brides from dowry deaths, being burnt alive in most cases, due to the in-laws and husband supposedly not being paid the negotiated and agreed dowry. No wonder Indian women international cricketers complain that they are discriminated against, if this is the attitude of a one-time Chairman of the Indian Board of Control for Cricket and the ICC.
The SP Leader Mulayam Singh said: “There is no need for this law. You are giving all rights to the Police. We men will be wrongly implicated.” He went onto say that the prevailing law was perfectly adequate to deal with rape offences. He even proposed abolishing co-educational institutes.
Lalu Prasad of the RJD, former Chief Minister of Bihar, who very graciously installed his illiterate spouse as Chief Minister when he was confined to the Chief Minister’s bungalow, a luxurious, substitute jail, for a corruption inquiry, while in office over a cattle fodder scam, questioned: “Should we cover up the naked sculptures at Kahjuraho and Konark?” to adhere to the spirit of the new law, these are ancient sculptures depicting various poses for copulation and sexual relations among human beings as said to be described in the Indian epic the Kama Sutra.
Yadav is presently serving a jail term after being convicted by the Courts in this same case.
An attempt to bring in legislation to stymie a Indian Supreme Court judgment which said that convicted criminals should not sit in Parliament was shot down by the Congress heir apparent Rahul Gandhi, However, the few women Parliamentarians in the Indian Lok Sabha aggressively supported the new law – demanding a change in the mindset of Indian people, arresting false moral values and for the launch of a reformist campaign which would educate people on equal gender rights, respect and dignity of women.
The law, a milder version than the original draft, as finally passed provides stringent punishment for crimes against women, including natural life term and even death for repeated offences of rape. For the first time penalties are imposed for offences such as stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks and trafficking in women. For the first time it is a punishable offence for Police personnel to decline to register a First Information Report.
The law has been enacted in India, but a mindset change will take at least a generation more. The new educated and upwardly mobile, internet and mobile phone savvy, young middle class Indians, with their Apple iPhones, Barista cappuccinos, Beamers (BMWs), SUVs and designer outfits, will be the catalysts, at the front line of the battle, driving for the change of ideas and attitudes towards women in India.
Incidentally, Ram Singh, the leader of the gang rape gang and who stole and drove the bus for the purpose, is supposed to have committed suicide inside Delhi’s high security Tihar jail! His family and lawyer allege that he was murdered. He was found hanging in his cell, in which other cell mates were also confined. The accused have since been jailed for life, other than one who claimed to be a juvenile.
Gender gap in Sri Lanka
In Sri Lanka, at the last count only four of the top 20 listed companies on the CSE have female directors. In this country where the female population outnumbers the male statistically, where it is said that over 60% of the accountancy students are females, where 63% of professionals are women, why this gender gap in the fields of business and enterprise?
But in generality an affirmative and liberal attitude has prevailed on gender issues, which has been strengthened by non-fee levying education cutting across gender biases, and non-fee levying health services being available to all, empowering women by permitting them to control their own fertility, and not to be dictated to on it, by men. Free health services to those who could not afford it have been available since around the time of universal franchise in 1931.
Education is the great leveller, the greatest provider of upward mobility, but there exists a glass ceiling; we need systemic changes if we are get a maximum return of the potential among our female population for the huge investment made in education, healthcare and other social welfare expenses. In the employment pyramid, at the bottom and mid levels, female participation and contribution is high – one has to only look at the teaching service, government clerical, garment, plantation and subsistence agriculture and foreign employment sectors.
Exorcising gender discrimination
We have to examine gender discrimination and exorcise it from the system. The WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report is a very useful resource for such an exercise, as it documents countries which have bridged the gender gap and allows other countries to study the steps taken to do so.
For example, is it justifiable that we consider and classify, stay-at-home housewives, homemaker assistants, those involved in child rearing, caring for elders, household assistants, a socially vital and key economic task that the majority of women are involved in, as unemployed?
The Daily FT sometime ago referred to 48.4% of the female population over 15 years being economically inactive – homemakers, child minders, carers of the aged – economically inactive!? This is a clear case of ‘statistics, lies and damned lies’. It’s time that someone should take another look at this definition!
International conventions may have definitions, but surely we need data and statistics which accurately reflect the economic and social reality of our national situation, if we are to plan effective remedies? Women involved in those tasks may not bring an economic return immediately, but they are nurturing the future generation or caring for the aged, releasing professional women from the drudgery of housework to be active economically outside the home, and play a vital social, political and economic role, on which the future of humanity depends.
If women are to focus less on this aspect and go out to work or even engage in economic activity in the home, arrangements must be made for childcare facilities, homemaker support and care for elders – or in the alternative women involved in that type of work should be given an economic reward and benefit. Consider homemakers, child and aged carers as playing a vital role and recognise their economic contribution, quantify it and reward it. Such strategic steps will help to address the gender gap in a meaningful way.